Author Harper Lee died at 89 on Friday, and she has been remembered most for her classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird. But another fact about Harper Lee that's less often acknowledged is that she's one of several women who wrote under male-sounding pen names in order to be taken more seriously as writers. In fact, since her name isn't identifiably female, readers may not have even known they were reading a woman's words. And that very well could have benefitted her.
Harper Lee's full name is in fact Nelle Harper Lee, but by dropping her first name, she gave the impression that she could be a man. (She also escaped being called "Nellie," which was a frequent pet peeve of hers.) And given that most well-known authors have been men, especially when Lee published her book in 1960, her book's sales could have suffered if she were obviously a woman.
In the male-dominated literature world, many women of today and yesterday have felt the need to writer under names that sound either ambiguous or like men's names. So, here are just a few women who have made literature history under names they didn't normally go by:
1. Emily Brontë
Brontë's gorgeously written and renowned novel Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. After she died, Brontë's sister Charlotte published a posthumous edition three years later under Emily's real name.
2. Charlotte Brontë
The oldest Brontë sister and the author of Jane Eyre also used the fake last name Bell, taking Currer as her first name. She explained the decision:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.
3. J.K. Rowling
Not many people know that J.K. Rowling's first name is actually Joanne. She was initially advised to use her initials so that her gender wouldn't impact theHarry Potter books' sales among boys. She then adopted a new name, Robert Galbraith, to sell her recent crime nove The Cuckoo's Calling. She wrote on her website that she did it to avoid the hype associated with being J.K. Rowling, but the choice of a male pseudonym in particular also probably made the novel more successful in the male-dominated crime genre than it would have been under a fake female name.
4. Nora Roberts
The author famous for writing romance novels for women has actually also written detective novels and science fiction under the name J. D. Robb. Since she was writing too much for her publishing company to publish per year, they suggested she take on the new name so they could publish more of her work. It is based on the names of her sons Jason and Dan. Again, gender may not have been her primary reason to use a pseudonym in the first place, but the fact that she didn't choose a female pseudonym still says a lot.
5. Catherine Nichols
The bias against women authors is clearly not just an issue of the past. Just last year, writer Catherine Nichols conducted an experiment to see if her novel would be as well-received under a male name. She re-sent a query under a male name that she had already sent under her own, and suddenly, agents started responding. A third of them requested a manuscript from her male alter ego, while only one in 25 accepted the query from Catherine Nichols. By assuming a different name, Nichols not only promoted her book but also made a point: that even in an industry that's supposed to be about words on a page, gender still unfortunately very much matters.