By in Writing

10 Successful Female Novelists Who Hid Their Sex

A pseudonym is also referred to as a pen name or a nom de plume. Writers take pen names for any number of reasons: to preserve their anonymity or that of people who inspired their characters, because their actual names are foreign-sounding to their target audience or difficult to remember, or even because it is common to adopt a pseudonym in their particular genre.

Women writing under male pseudonyms are particularly interesting, however. It is fairly common for men to choose male sounding pen names, and for women who use a pen name to choose one that sounds feminine. But there have been times when some women felt it more effective to choose a name that either sounded male, or that masked their female identity.

Women Who Have Published Under Male Pseudonyms

19th Century Female Authors

During the 19th century, women's writing wasn't taken seriously. A few women published cookbooks or manuals of child rearing or home economics advice. But female novelists found it difficult to get published, and just as hard to find readers who would give their works a fair shake. Many women writers resorted to taking on male or androgynous-sounding pen names as a result of this prejudice.

Author George Eliot was actually Mary Ann Evans. She wrote a number of novels you may have read, including Silas Marner, Middlemarch, and The Mill on the Floss. The Brontë sisters similarly published their writing under the male pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. It is only in more recent times that their works have been published under their own names.

Louisa May Alcott published wholesome children's stories under her own name, but she also wrote a number of works for young adults under the androgynous pseudonym, A.M. Barnard. One of these novels, A Long Fatal Love Chase (which was written two years before Little Women, ) was repeatedly refused for publication because it was too long and too racy. The manuscript was uncovered in the late 20th century, and was finally published in 1995. It now proudly bears Alcott's name.

20th Century Women Writing as Men

Although attitudes had changed considerably by the 20th century, some female authors continued to disguise their gender. In many cases the chosen pen name was simply a more androgynous or masculine variant of the writer's own name.

Susan Eloise Hinton published under a pseudonym that used her first and middle initials, in order to conceal that she was a young woman whose protagonist was a teenage boy. S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders has sold more than 14 million copies to date, and continues to sell decades after its original publication.

Joanne Rowling took on the pseudonym JK Rowling to pen her wildly successful Harry Potter series. When she later turned her hand to writing detective fiction, she used the masculine pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Magnus Flyte, author of City of Dark Magic, is actually a fictitious character with a fictitious history. He was created by writers Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey, who collaborated on the novel and its sequel, City of Lost Dreams.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Harper Lee a Woman

Nelle Harper Lee published her Pulitzer prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, under the abbreviated and androgynous pen name Harper Lee. Her only published novel to date deals with mature themes including rape and incest, substance abuse, classism, gender stereotyping and racial violence.

More than fifty years after the publication of this American classic, Lee's second novel is due to be published on July 14, 2015. Go Set a Watchman was originally written before Mockingbird, but was put aside when a publisher suggested writing a story from the perspective of Atticus Finch's daughter, young Scout.

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Edited to correct display errors

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CoralLevang wrote on June 20, 2015, 6:20 PM

It is always educational to read your work, ruby3881 !

inertia4 wrote on June 20, 2015, 6:37 PM

Ruby3881 This is real interesting. These are some things I never knew. I personally don't care of a writer is female or male. As long as the book is good.

paigea wrote on June 20, 2015, 6:54 PM

This is very interesting. I didn't know about Nelle Harper Lee even though I had heard about another book being published.

cmoneyspinner wrote on June 20, 2015, 7:08 PM

Well aware that female writers way back when used a "nom de plume". Very pleased that these days authors - male or female - get to choose to write under a pseudonym because they want to! Great post!

CalmGemini wrote on June 21, 2015, 3:31 AM

A very good post ruby3881 .George sand and Isak Dinesen are women writers writing under male names .Famous writer Nora Roberts wrote her detective novels under the name J.D Robb.Looking forward to more posts like this from you.

cmoneyspinner wrote on June 22, 2015, 11:19 AM

Tweeted this post and it got picked up by somebody's publication. FYI. More exposure and circulation! emoticon :smile:
Sunday Edition, Jun. 21, 2015 - Domain Names Daily

GemOfAGirl wrote on June 22, 2015, 9:12 PM

Of course, my favorite author of trashy books when I was in my teens used the non-gender-specific initials method: V.C. Andrews. It wasn't until long after she had died that I knew for sure that those wildly popular books were written by a woman (although I had long suspected it - after all, the protagonists were almost always young women.)