You may have learned in your college English survey class that in order to avoid being dismissed completely, many female writers back in the day would adopt a male pseudonym—and sometimes gain enough recognition to reveal their true identity. But for a number of reasons, most notably continued sexism throughout the centuries, this tradition is still in play today. Below are some of the most famous examples of women who published under male names.
The Georges: Perhaps the most famous of these would be Mary Anne Evans, better known as George Eliot, author of Middlemarch, that staple of the English lit canon. But this list also includes George Sand, who was really the Parisian Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, and fin de siècle writer George Egerton, who was really Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright. (Fortunately they also chose shorter names.)
The Brontës: Before Jane Eyre was known widely as Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, it was published under the male name Currer Bell. Charlotte’s sister Emily soon followed suit, publishing her own masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, under the name Ellis Bell later that year. Their sister Anne has not gained nearly as much recognition, but she too published her works as a man, under the name Acton Bell.
Louisa May Alcott: By the time she published the beloved Little Women, Alcott was writing under her real name, but in a previous literary life she gained fame—and notoriety—as A.M. Barnard, the presumably male author of a number of splashy and sometimes scandalous stories.
Karen Blixen: The Danish author of Out of Africa published her work under a number of pseudonyms, most notably the male name Isak Dineson.
Alice B. Sheldon: Until nearly the end of her life, Sheldon led her prominent sci-fi career as a man by the name of James Tiptree, Jr. “His” work became canonical, winning awards and spawning its own eponymous prize, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. The revelation of her true identity caused a significant stir among her readership, as well as opened useful dialogues about gender and sexism.
J.K. Rowling: Due to her publisher’s concerns that the Harry Potter series would not sell well under her true name, Joanne Rowling, this now-superstar author was compelled to submit Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone under those androgynous initials (the K is invented). In 2013, Rowling saw some feminist backlash when she published her crime mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith, though she claimed her choice of a male pseudonym was born not of the fear that she wouldn’t succeed as a female writer but of the desire to distance herself as much as possible from her fantasy success.