Is He a She? Using Pseudonyms To Hide Gender

image taken from wikipedia

Yesterday I discovered that famed and prolific science fiction author Andre Norton was, in fact, a woman.  I was shocked to the say the least, not because it’s not possible but because I didn’t know this already, so I dashed over to Wikipedia (have I mentioned lately how much I love that site?), where I learned that Andre Norton was born Alice Mary Norton (1912-2005).  After using the Andre Norton pseudonym for some time she had her name legally changed to Andre Alice Norton.  She also wrote under the names Andrew North and Allen Weston.  I already loved Andre Norton who is one of the most prolific scifi writers out there with over 300 published titles including the awesome Astra series but discovering that she was not only a woman but, in fact, the first woman to ever receive the Gandalf Grand Master Award from the World Science Fiction Society in 1977 makes me love her even more.

I just don’t know why I didn’t already know all this!  It’s not like I hadn’t already heard of plenty of other scifi/fantasy authors who were woman writing under male pseudonyms.  And, of course, there are many many more non-scifi/fantasy examples, perhaps the most obvious of which is George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans.

There are a number of examples in the scif/fantasy genres, including Paul Ash: a short story writer who was often published in Analog and Astounding Science Fiction, was nominated once for the Hugo and twice for the Nebula, and whose real name was Pauline Ashwell.

image taken from wikipedia

The most famous example of a female scifi writer who published under a male name is, of course, James Tiptree, Jr, born Alice Bradley Sheldon (1915-1987).  Sheldon has one of the most fascinating careers of any scifi writer I know of.  She began as a graphic artist/painter, who worked as an art critic for the Chicago Sun from 1941-1942.  In 1942 she joined the U.S. Army Air Forces as part of the photointelligence group.  And in 1952 she and her husband were invited to join the CIA, which she did until she resigned in 1955 to return to college.  She earned a doctorate in Experimental Pyschology from George Washington University in 1967.  To make her even more interesting, she also had a complex relationship with her sexual orientation, once stating: “I like some men a lot, but from the start, before I knew anything, it was always girls and woman who lit me up” (from Nisi Shawl’s “James Tiptree, Jr: The Amazing Lives of Writer Alice B. Sheldon”, published in Seattle Times, qtd in the Wikipedia article).

Sheldon adopted the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr in 1967 (Tiptree came from a marmalade jar and the “Jr” was her husband’s idea), thinking it would be easier to enter the scifi world as a man.  She successfully hid her identity until 1976, at which point several other scifi writers becames embarrassed: Robert Silverberg had written an introduction to Tiptree’s collection Warm Worlds and Otherwise, insisting that Tiptree could not possibly be a woman; and Harlan Ellison stated in an introduction to one of his own anthologies that “[Kate] Wilhelm is the woman to beat this year, but Tiptree is the man” (qtd in Wikipedia article).  Sheldon later said she regretted the male pseudonym as taking the easy way into the male-dominated world of publication.

This male domination is, however, precisely the reason so many woman writers have adopted male pseudonyms.  It is a simple fact that when novels first came on the scene (somewhere between 1600-1750 depending on who you talk to), it was the purview of men and men alone.  It was many years before woman writers could gain any true foothold.  And even as women finally gained acceptance in mainstream fiction, men still clearly dominated the scifi/fantasy genres until the 50’s or 60’s.  The only genre in which this male domination does not hold true is the romance genre 98% of all works in the romance genre are written by women.  Of course, there are men writing in the genre but most (not all) take on female personas, just as women took on male personas in scifi.  A couple good examples include Jessica Stirling, who is really Hugh C. Rae, and Tom E. Huff who writes under the names Edwina Marlow, Jennifer Wilde, Katherine St. Claire, and Beatrice Parker.

And then there are those whose names are ambiguous enough to leave it to the reader to decide if the writer is male or female.  Leigh Greenwood’s name is ambiguous enough to be either, and as a romance writer most assume female – but Greenwood is male.  Also, when I first heard of Terry Brooks when I was a kid looking at my mother’s bookcases, I thought he was a woman (but perhaps that was just me).  For women, this ambiguity is usually achieved by using first initials.  C.J. Cherryh (Carolyn Janice Cherry) used her initials to hide her gender and added an ‘h’ to the end of her last name so it would not look so much like a romance author’s name.  And while everyone now knows that J.K. Rowling is a woman, her editor first insisted on her using initials to make that fact a little less obvious.  They never outright lied about her gender, but they knew that most people generally first assume a writer is male unless the name is explicitly female.

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to use a pseudonym besides hiding your gender.  Some use pseudonyms when they write in a variety of different genres and don’t want readers getting mixed up.  Other use them to keep their writing life separate from other professions, or to simply maintain their privacy.

So, have you ever used or considered using a pseudonym?  How about a pseudonym of the opposite gender?  Or one that is ambiguous enough to be either male or female?  Why or why not?

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10 thoughts on “Is He a She? Using Pseudonyms To Hide Gender

  1. Interesting Sci-Fi history. It’s amusing, actually, that the publishing industry now thinks ‘men don’t read’ and used to believe ‘women don’t write.’ I think the industry needs a serious kick in the butt.

  2. I love a good tale about women undercover! Have you read Pope Joan? It’s historical fiction, but you might like it…tells the story of Rome’s Female Pope. There’s quite the legend and mystery about her.

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  4. Some people chose names that
    just sound better then their own.
    like actors often do – I thought of
    changing my name. Is the Sci –
    Fi – feild still sex dominated you
    think?

  5. As a female writer, I was wondering whether I should use a pseudonym when making my first attempt at submitting a science fiction short story for publication. I considered J.C. Howard but, in the end, stuck with my own name. You’ve only got one life, and I would really prefer to see my own name in print, if I am published at all. The industry seems to be getting itself in gear in regards to this issue, but sometimes I wonder…

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  7. I publish under S.M. Stirling, because that’s the way I sign checks and when they asked me I said “S.M. Stirling, go for it”. This was back in the 1980’s and a lot of people seemed to assume I was female. I think that was because of the female protagonists as well as the initials, though.

    • WOW! S.M. Stirling just commented on my blog. Wow, I just… wow. Let me admit right now that I have not read a TON of work (the list of books I’d like to read is now reaching astronomical proportions) but I LOVED your work with Anne McCaffery in the Ship Who Sang series.

      Thank for the comment, especially on such an old post!

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