When Female Authors Adopt Male Monikers: What Difference Does It Make In The Literary World?

Posted on August 22, 2013 in Culture-Vulture

By Vinati Bhola:

Ever wondered why J.K Rowling, the famous novelist who gave us a wonderful childhood with her record-breaking and exceptional series of Harry Potter, preferred to use the initials for her first and middle name? The reason behind is that when she was struggling to get an approval by a publishing house for the first Harry Potter book, the publishers suggested that using ‘Joanne’ as a pen name wouldn’t attract young boys to read her novel and thus might narrow down her audience to a great extent. Therefore, she went ahead with the pen name J.K Rowling, instead.

jk rowling

George Elliot, another famous novelist about whom I’m sure, most literature lovers must have heard of, wrote many novels like Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Middlemarch etc. In reality, the author was a female named Mary Ann Evans. What is more interesting is the fact that she stepped into the literary world by presenting an essay which criticized the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction by women. In order to drop the image of being labeled as a romance novelist and to separate herself from her female peers, she adopted this fictitious name. Another romance novelist, Nora Roberts adopted the name of J.D Robb to step out of her comfort zone and write science fiction.

It is lucid and comprehensible that the perspective of the society during the days of Evans or even Bronte sisters (who published a collection of poems by the name of Bell Brothers) was ruled strictly by male domination and anything written by a male author was given more importance or was taken more seriously. However, in this modern age, why do we still cater this biased belief? Why is that female authors present their work under a male moniker to be taken seriously by the audience?

The world has come a long way from dark ages to renaissance and from the period of industrial revolution to modern age. Even then, incidents like these make us rethink about the status of women as authors around the world. Surely, writing under a pseudonym enlarges the sweep of one’s own caliber and skill. It gives a raw insight as to how a story is received by readers. The debut novel by Robert Galbraith The Cuckoo’s Calling was doing well in the market. But the moment it was disclosed that the real identity of the author is J.K. Rowling; the book soared right on top of the U.S best-sellers list.

However, it is saddening to see that even after treading at an excellent pace; there are some women in the world of literature who are still affected by this outdated belief. Imagine young boys who would have walked past a book written by Joanne Rowling believing it to be some fairy tale suitable only for girls. The story might have gone down the drains and the world would have been without Harry Potter. This mere thought is enough to give me shudders.

As an ardent reader, it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m reading a male or a female author, provided it suits my taste. Though reading famous authors tend to build conjectures in mind before picking up a novel, what should matter the most is its storyline. Because in the end, the famous Shakespeare’s quote always stands true: ‘What’s in a name?


Vinati Bhola

A law student, an internationally published poet and an avid blogger.

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I don’t think JK Rowling’s case has much to do with what was going on in the 1800s . These are young kids we are talking about.Would young girls have read the book if the cover showed some violent imagery from the book instead of the Hogwarts Express?
Another example would be Nancy Drew, which was written by ghost-writers (male and female, in fact the same ones who wrote “The Hardy Boys”) but published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.
Are we to conclude that young girls are also sexist?

But beyond that we have Agatha Christie’s novels featuring Hercule Poirot and Enid Blyton’s novels, both of which have been a favorite among boys for many decades now. So young boys aren’t so sexist after all that they would ignore a book just because a member of the opposite sex wrote it.

    Baldeep Grewal

    If there was a ‘like’ button under your comment I would so click it.

Baldeep Grewal

Well written! The artist needs to skew themselves and their art so much in order make it palatable to the public. Sometimes it has to be done even at the risk of losing the essence of the art. For the ‘greater good’ as they say. Gender is a shackle for the individual. From being a social construct it has been internalized to an extent where it has become a part of our daily politics. Boys like blue and girls like pink. Boys play with G.I. Joe and girls play with Barbie. Its not just about girls getting to play with G.I. Joe and boys doing Barbie’s hair. Why can’t the individual choose their preferences? Why must society hand everything to them on a platter of convoluted lies?


I don’t really think we should put in too much thought into which sex is writing the book, nor is the status quo suggesting that we are. Harry Potter could have very easily gone down the drain irrespective of what the author’s name might have been. Or if that’s her rationale behind shortening her first name, is that why she assumed a male pseudonym (Robert Galbraith) for her latest novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling?

Ridhi Murari

Agree with Raj’s point here. Not most people I’ve known as well are sexist. The content matters more than the author or so I believe.

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