10 Famous Females Who Used Male Pen names
Many famous authors throughout history have written under pseudonyms that became vastly more well known than the authors themselves — Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll, Jozef Korzeniowski wrote under the pen name Joseph Conrad, Eric Arthur Blair wrote under the pen name George Orwell, Alisa Zinov’yevan Rosenbaum wrote under the pen name Ayn Rand, and Samuel Clemens wrote under the name Mark Twain. While some authors choose to write under a pen name as a form of artistic expression, many authors do so against their will. Authors will also use pseudonyms to conceal their true heritage or to conceal their true gender. In a world wrought with a history of sexism and gender inequality, female writers have hidden their true gender behind the veil of masculine pen names for centuries. Acknowledging that the most famous of these women found success even after abandoning their male pseudonyms shows just how outdated the sexist notion truly is. The following 10 female authors changed the world of literature forever and were able to do so even after revealing their true identities.
- Louisa May Alcott: Prominent 19th century writer Louisa May Alcott began her career under the male pen name A. M. Barnard. While her most famous work, Little Women, was published under her real name, she gained considerable notoriety as Barnard in the mid 1860s. During a period in American history when female writers were taken less seriously than male writers, Alcott decided to publish her works either under her assumed male identity or anonymously. Poverty and war forced Alcott to work at a young age. While she performed jobs as a teacher and domestic helper, Alcott also earned money for her family as a writer for Atlantic Monthly. Alcott published short sensational stories for the newspaper under the pen name Barnard. Later, however, Alcott became a voice for women’s suffrage and civil rights. Achieving great success as a female writer in a male dominated world, Alcott is a revolutionary icon in both the literary world and the realm of gender equality.
- Mary Ann Evans: More widely known by her male pen name George Eliot, Evans was a prominent author and journalist during the Victorian Era. Evans entered the literary world as George Eliot with her essay, "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists," which criticized the work being done by women writers at the time. Evans published this under the male pseudonym in order to distance herself from the female romance novelists of the time and to ensure that her works were taken seriously. After her first novel, Adam Bede, was published in 1859 and reviewed positively by critics, Evans revealed her true (female) identity to the world. Her true identity had little effect on the critiques of her work and she continued to publish under her widely known pen name. Eliot’s novel Middlemarch has long withstood the test of time and remains one of the most highly regarded novels in history.
- Alice Bradley Sheldon: It was not known publicly that James Tiptree was the pen name of American author Alice Bradley Sheldon until ten years before her death. Sheldon adopted the male pseudonym to gain better recognition in the male dominated literary genre of science fiction and to distance herself from her past writings. Tiptree proved to be a hit within the genre of science fiction, winning several awards for her novels and short stories. James Tiptree’s identity reveal was a shock to the literary world. Although her novels and short stories explored societal gender roles and were written from a largely feminist perspective, few suspected that the male name was actually associated with a female author.
- Charlotte Bronte: As the author of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte is one of the most celebrated female novelists in all of history. Many, however, do not realize that this quintessential English novel was originally written under a male pen name. Charlotte Bronte published her works under the name Currer Bell. This name represented the male identity necessary to succeed during the time in which Bronte was actively writing. Charlotte Bronte wished to separate herself from the negative association female writers had at the time. The masculine pen name allowed Charlotte Bronte’s work to be taken seriously in an era when authoresses were looked on with severe prejudice. Jane Eyre is regarded as one of the most influential works of literature in history and is now published under Charlotte Bronte’s true name.
- Emily Bronte: Publishing under the male pen name Ellis Bell, Emily Bronte is most widely known for her only novel Wuthering Heights. She and her two sisters chose to write under masculine pseudonyms to deter any bias on the basis of their gender. Emily Bronte’s health (like her sisters’) was poor throughout most of her life. She died at the young age of 30 in the year 1948. In 1950, Charlotte Bronte edited Emily’s novel and re-published it under Emily’s true name. Portraying characters who are destroyed by unresolved passion, the novel received mixed reviews at the time of its publication. Today, Wuthering Heights (along with her sisters’ Jane Eyre) is considered one of the most important English novels in history.
- Karen Blixen: More widely known by her male pen name, Isak Dinesen, Blixen was a Danish author prominent in the mid twentieth century. It is likely that Blixen chose to write under a pseudonym because she comes from a well known Danish family. Her father, Wilhelm Dinesen, was a writer and army officer and her younger brother, Thomas Dinesen, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his service in the army. While Isak Dinesen was her most widely recognized pen name, Blixen used several others in various publications as well, including Osceola and Pierre Andrezel. Blixen’s novel Out of Africa was extremely well received within the literary world and beyond. The novel recounts Blixen’s experiences in Kenya as the owner of a coffee plantation. The book was celebrated for its vivid portrayal of the British Empire and was made into a film in 1985 after Blixen’s death.
- Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin: Born in Paris in 1804, Dupin is known in history almost solely by her male pseudonym George Sand. Her first novel Indiana was published in 1832 under this pen name as well as every subsequent publication that followed. Sand wrote dozens of novels and memoirs as well as several works of literary criticism and political discussion. Interestingly, Sand’s adoption of male qualities did not stop with her male pen name. Sand made a significant stir during her time for wearing men’s clothing in public and smoking tobacco in public (two activities that women during this time were not permitted to do). Sand’s fame has lived on through history with several references in modern culture and several different portrayals in film.
- Nelle Harper Lee: Writing under the abbreviated name Harper Lee, Lee’s pen name does not necessarily disguise her identity, but does make her authorship fairly androgynous. Harper Lee became wildly famous for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. This novel is on every high school reading list in the United States and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize soon after its publication. To Kill a Mockingbird explores issues of racism in a small southern town as witnessed by the central character Scout. Many of the details involved in the novel are thought to be based off of aspects of Harper Lee’s childhood. Although Lee only published the one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird became one of the most successful American novels in all of history.
- Nora Roberts: While having published works under several pen names, Nora Roberts is best known by her male pseudonym J. D. Robb. Popular (under her own name) for several bestselling romance novels, Roberts decided to branch out in the world of detective fiction. Reluctant to enter a completely different literary genre with an already established name, Roberts adopted the male pen name J. D. Robb. Robert’s book series In Death gathered a large following. While it is not certain whether Roberts intentionally chose a masculine pen name, it is widely agreed that the world of suspense literature is dominated by male authors. When Robert’s true authorship was revealed, fans happily welcomed both of the author’s identities.
- Joanne Rowling: As author of the outrageously popular series Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling gained widespread popularity in a span of only a few years. Known almost solely as J. K. Rowling to the public, Rowling’s full name is Joanne Rowling (with no middle name). Rowling wrote the first installment of the Harry Potter phenomenon and submitted the work to her publishers under the name "Joanne Rowling". Her publishers urged her to use only initials for the publication with fear that the target audience of young boys would not read something written by a woman. The "K" as the second initial of Rowling’s pen name is completely fabricated. It is impossible to say whether Harry Potter would have achieved the immense fame that it has if written under Rowling’s true name — but we certainly think it would have.