When Women Wrote (Write) Under Male Names

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We, women, admire, applaud, and appreciate the fight of other women, so we can now benefit from greater freedom and equality.

We are thankful for those who dared for us, were bold and courageous, smart and resilient.

In honor of Women’s History Month my blogger friend Mona posted about Five Latina artists, and I love the artwork she chose to display on her blog. Stop by if you have a minute. Gorgeous.

As for me I choose to list a few female authors who didn’t write under their real names or full names.

Many authors choose a nom de plume, including men.

In the case of women it has always been to gain access to publication, credibility, and a wider readership.

In the past, the publishing world used to be exclusively male and most men wouldn’t have considered women as real writers. In addition, some female writers wrote stories, novels, essays, and poems that were considered of bad taste for women, either because they were too graphic or critical of their era. Not ladylike.

Because they were women and yet wanted to be published, the following women often picked a male penname.

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Because I was born and brought up in France, I start with a French writer.

1- George Sand was born Amandine Lucile Aurore Dupin. She happens to be one of the most prolific French authors from the 19th century. Both her writing that blends love stories to social class issues and her unique lifestyle stirred controversy. She dressed like a man, smoked in public, and had many lovers. Was it that unique or just the way men lived?

2- Vernon Lee was born in France in 1856 from British parents. Versatile writer whose work spans from travel writing to supernatural fiction and critiques of art, Lee was also a feminist and a liberal, two factors that would have made this author’s career much more difficult under the name of Violet Paget.

3- George Eliot was in fact Mary Ann Evans. Born in 1819, the English-born writer thought that a male penname would discourage female stereotyping.

4- Although Little Women was published under Louisa May Alcott’s real name, she wrote gothic thrillers using A.M. Barnard as a penname. In the late 19th century if women wrote at least they had to write proper literature.

5- Hard to believe that the great Brontë sisters first published under the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, and yet they did, knowing that the type of stories they wrote would not go well if anyone knew that they were the product of women’s imagination.

6- Last but not least the beloved mega star JK Rowling: it is a well-known fact that using the initials JK instead of her female first name was a publisher’s decision. Boys wouldn’t have picked and read Harry Potter if they had known a woman wrote it.

 

Really? Come on!  I thought when I discovered this fact after the Series had reached international recognition. The men in my life don’t care if it’s a woman or a man behind a book, as long as the story is good.

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And yet…

When I was a little girl I thought that my beloved Enid Blyton was a man. Worse, I never even thought the author could be a woman.

Why is that? Sadly because as a seven-year-old girl growing up in the late 60s in rural France I had already assimilated and accepted the fact that adventure books could only be written by men.

By the way the author full name was in fact Enid Mary Blyton.

The good news is that I loved The Famous Five so much that I started to write, mimicking the writer’s style.

The style of a Woman Writer.

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Do you know of other female writers who opted for a male nom de plume?

If you are a woman and write, have you changed your real name, shorten it or slightly altered it so it wouldn’t hint at your gender?

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P.S. What if I dropped the E at the end of Evelyne? Spelled “Evelyn” my first name can be male and female.

 

Comments

  1. Great idea to celebrate women’s history month Evelyne! It’s good to know that we’ve progressed, but sad that we haven’t progressed too far.

  2. This is a very good and appropriate post Evelyne, and not just for this month. Women still struggle to be accepted in the professions which men dominate. I watch my daughter, and I see her have to “prove” things that would be accepted at face value if she were male. Women are making progress, but there is much still to be made. Keep the ‘e’ – stand as an example.

    • Thank you, Dan, for another kind visit. I’m shocked to read about your daughter. I still want to believe it’s easier than it was. We came a long way but the road is still bumpy. And I was joking about the E in Evelyne. I’ll always keep it. See you on your blog.

  3. I had the opportunity to visit the Museum Romantique in Paris where one floor was dedicated to Ms. Dupin aka George Sand. I didn’t know that fact until that time. Only recently I read the three Bronte sisters wrote under male names, all with the surname of Bell. I’m glad this ‘stigma’ against women writers has significantly improved; but it has taken a very long time.
    Thank you for mentioning my pos of Latina artists; I appreciate it!

    • Reading your post convinced me to finish mine, Mona. I love art and what you chose to share is really good. George Sand was a fascinating woman, wasn’t she? We came a long way but it’s not the time to loose our momentum.

  4. It wasn’t all that long ago. Anne Golan had to “co author” her own books with her husband because the publisher said so. Fortunately, she has lived long enough to see the wrong righted, though it took the better part of a lifetime.

    • Thank you, Marilyn. I should have known of Anne Golon of course. I know La Marquise des Anges. She wrote under the name of Sergeanne (Serge being her husband’s first name) but I only knew about her royalties issues with her publisher. I didn’t know she altered her name for gender issues. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  5. Anne Golon, sorry, typo!

  6. I remember as a boy growing up in the 50s I was reluctant to read books by women. Then I came across Helen Macinnes. I fell in love with her adventure stories. –Curt

    • Interesting, Curt. I appreciate your honesty. I have the feeling that it happens more to boys than girls. Still now it seems that most men favor male authors. Most argue that it’s because of the story and that they would read any story that interests them, regardless of the writer’s gender. Not too sure. I haven’t read Helen Macinnes by the way. It seems that she installed a taste for adventures inside you! That’s proof of good writing. Take care and thank you so much for stopping by.

  7. I remember reading L.M. Montgomery as a kid, and I had no idea she was female! It really opened my mind when I saw more women writers’ names appearing on bookshelves. Confession: I do use my initials when doing my cozy mystery series, but that’s more to differentiate from my other genres.

    • I forgot that one! There are countless women who wrote under different names, almost always male names. I agree with your choice, BTW. Writing different genres can be a challenge. JK Rowling did it when she wrote her detective story, too. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Jennifer.

  8. Hi Evelyne, what an interesting post. I didn’t know George Eliot was a woman! I too adored reading Enid Blyton at the same age and same 60s era (except in a village in England, naturally…) although it didn’t occur to me that she might be a man. We’ve certainly come a long way, but still need to go a lot further. I was shocked the first time I heard that about JK Rowling…good for the men in your family 🙂 And I much prefer your name with an ‘e’ on the end…I don’t plan on changing mine anytime soon…at least, I hope not! I hope your writing is going well. I’m plodding along. Take care and see you soon!

    • Thank you, Sherri. Probably because you were a British girl you knew the first name Enid. I didn’t and because of the adventure that filled the series I imagine a man. Thank you for telling me to keep the E at the end of Evelyne. I had no real intention to get rid of it, although it would be easier in terms of pronounciation. See you soon on your blog.

      • Yes, probably, yet I’ve always thought Enid was an unusual and strange name. Isn’t it interesting how we form our opinions so young and then they stick? I love your name just as it is…it is a beautiful name, I’m so glad you’re are keeping it as it is :-)!! See you soon Evelyne, take care.

  9. This is an interesting topic. There are even men who have written using female names trying to attract women readers. I’m going to survey a group of middle grade students to see if they choose books based on the sex of the author.

    • Funny about men trying to gain a female redership. I think women are less influenced (in general) by the fact that the author is a man or a woman. It would be interesting if you asked to middle grade students. I’d love the feedback. Younger people are (I think) way less inclined to judge upon a name. However, it is known that Harry Potter published under a distinct female name would have iniatially discouraged boys. Based on the success of the series they would have catched up. But who knows.
      Thank you, Claire, for stopping by.

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