I recently stumbled across this article from Mashable regarding the pen names of women authors who’ve had to change their names in order to get published. Seeing as how it is Women’s History Month, I thought it would be interesting to see the history of the use of male pen names by women and how they are still being used today. From Jane Austen who published simply under the name, “A Lady, ” to the present, Nora Roberts as J.D. Robb; women have simply had to modify their name in order to get their works published and to establish credibility with literary critics. Bloomsbury asked Joanne Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, to initialize her name so it would be more appealing to young boys. Since she had no middle name, she borrowed her grandmother’s name, Kathleen. After her enormous success with the series, she wrote, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and added another nom de plume, Robert Galbraith, mystery writer, to separate herself as much as possible from her famous persona.
“In 1980, science fiction writer and editor Ben Bova told a group of women writers, “Neither as writers nor as readers have you raised the level of science fiction a notch. “ I’m sure that Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin would have disagreed with his outrageous comment. However there were science fiction authors who did take male or unisexual names in order to get their works taken seriously. Author Alice Sheldon wrote her speculative fiction under the name James Tiptree. When her name was revealed it caused quite a stir. Carolyn Janice Terry as CJ Terryh and Catherine Lucille Moore as CL Moore also adopted more androgynous names to gain acceptance.
Conversely, there have been a few male authors who’ve adopted women pen names for various reasons. Mohammed Moulessehoul, a high ranking Algerian military officer, wrote The Swallows of Kabul under the female pen name, Yasmina Khadra, to avoid military censorship. There are also male romance writers who have adopted female pen names to gain women readers.
In the 21st century, is it possible to get past these sexist preconceived notions in order to accept that good writers can write from any angle, male or female? I certainly hope so.