Pen Names: Man or Woman?



Mark Wainwright, via Flickr

Why would a woman writer use a man's name? Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma look at writers who have changed their names.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

In 1996, a British woman finished writing her first book. The story was about a young boy who discovers that he has special, magic powers. The writer wanted to publish her book. So, she took it to a publishing company. The publishers liked the book. They thought young boys and girls would enjoy it.  But they had a problem. They did not think that young boys would want to buy a book written by a woman. So, the publishers asked the writer to change her name.

Voice 2 

This is the story of how Joanne Rowling became J.K. Rowling. The book was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone - the first in the popular Harry Potter series. Since that time, people have bought nearly 400 million copies of the Harry Potter books. In fact, Rowling became the first person in history to make 1 billion dollars from writing books. But Rowling was not the first female writer to change her name to hide her sex. Today’s Spotlight is on reasons why female writers use male pen names.

Voice 1 

A “pen name” or “pseudonym” is not a writer’s real name. It is a name that a writer chooses. Writers use pen names for many different reasons. Some writers simply want to hide their real name. Other writers use pen names because they think readers will better accept their writings. For example, some kinds of books are written mostly by one sex or written by people from a particular culture. So, writers may change their names to be more like what readers expect. Other times, writers use pen names because they write about difficult and disputed ideas. By using a pen name, they protect themselves from trouble.

Voice 2 

For much of history, most books have been written by men. Often, women’s books were not well-liked or popular. In 19th century England, many publishers would not consider printing a book written by a woman. When they did publish stories written by women, they were usually love stories. But they rarely published women’s stories about culture, politics and social issues. So, women who wrote about these issues had a problem. Many female writers found a good solution: they changed their names.

Voice 1

This was true of Mary Anne Evans. Mary Anne Evans wrote one of the most famous books in the English language: Middlemarch. But Evans’ name does not appear on the book’s cover. Instead, the cover has her pen name on it - “George Eliot.”

Voice 2 

Evans wrote this long and complex book over many years. Middlemarch was not a love story. It was a story about culture in England and how people treated women. Evans wrote about injustice - such as the terrible living conditions of poor people. She also wrote about politics.

Voice 1 

Mary Anne Evans used a pen name for a very different reason than J.K. Rowling. Rowling changed her name to sell more books. But Evans used a male name because she did not think people 19th century England would read or listen to her ideas because she was a woman.

Voice 2 

Nadezhda Dmitryevna Khvoshchinskaya is another famous female writer who used a male pen name. She was a Russian poet and writer. Like Evans, she wrote during the 19th century. Khvoshchinskaya was from a wealthy family. She was interested in politics. And her stories contained many political ideas and issues. She wrote during a time when women could not speak about politics. So, she had to find another way to share her ideas. This is why she wrote stories and sold them using the pen name V Krestovsky.

Voice 1 

Khvoshchinskaya’s most famous book is The Boarding School Girl. This book is about a young woman named Lolenka. Lolenka attended a private school. In the story, she meets a man who is very involved in politics. The man encourages her to question what she has been taught at the school. The book discusses political issues. It supports doing extreme things to fight for a person’s rights.

Voice 2 

For Khvoshchinskaya, politics were very important. Using a male pen name helped her books get published. It also helped many people read her opinions. Khvoshchinskaya’s writings were very popular in Russia. Her writings influenced culture. People enjoyed her humor. They enjoyed her funny way of looking at everyday life. But without her pen name, many people may have never read her work.

Voice 1 

Like Khvoschchinskaya in Russia, Jiǎng Bīngzhī was a famous female writer. Bingzhi was from China. She was born in 1904. She began writing early in her life. She wrote many famous works of literature. And she also wrote a lot about politics. At this time, most Chinese writers were male. So, Jiang Bingzhi wrote using the male pen name Ding Ling. However, over time, most people recognized that Ding Ling was a woman.

Voice 2 

Bingzhi’s most famous book is called The Sun Shines Over the Sanggan River. This book was about politics in China and the rights of women. The book was very popular. But the book caused her much trouble. In 1957, political leaders forced her to leave her political party. And later, in 1970, the government sent her to prison.

Voice 1 

The government released Bingzhi from prison in 1975. At this time, she was still very popular. She continued writing. She wrote many more papers and short stories about women in China.  She also remained involved in politics until she died in 1986. Bingzhi’s work helped many women in China. Did her pen name have any effect on her influence? Her pen name did not hide who she was. And it did not keep her from going to prison. But, it may have helped her start writing, publishing and gaining influence.

Voice 2 

From George Eliot to Ding Ling, women from all over the world have used male pen names. And today, some female writers continue to use them for the very same reasons.

Voice 1 

Do you have a favorite female writer? Does she use a pen name? Do you think male pen names help or hurt women writers? Tell us what you think. You can email us at radio@radioenglish.net.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Dianna Anderson. The producer was Ryan Geertsma. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. You can also find Spotlight on Facebook and Twitter - just search for spotlightradio. This program is called, “Pen Names - Man or Woman?”

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Question:

Do you have a favorite female writer? Does she use a pen name?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
José Julián
said on April 17, 2012

I am not agree the writer have to change their name. When I want to read a book, I like to search some information about the writer of the book I want to read no matter if man or woman.

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tori
said on April 17, 2012

At the tim, I think selling more books or stories is independent on writer’s sex. If the content of book is interested, it will be welcome by readers. It is not important when writer is female. So I think the publishers should consider printing a book written by a woman!!! Thanks for spotlight gave me interested informations about pen name

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ptquan
said on May 20, 2013

Harry Potter is a famous series about a young magic boy ! I like it ! I have seen the movie until he is a boy until he grew to a adult. The author end of the series is not like the way I want. The main character must be still alive and struggle with more criminal around his world.

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Lan Can
said on July 09, 2019

I was so surprised when I knew the authors of the Gadfly and To kill a mocking bird are female. They are the political novels and have a lot of knowledge. The endings of those are sad and painful. I thought only male writers could write cold words like that. But… incredibly, women can do anything men can do. :)

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Honneur
said on July 09, 2019

Good program and good theme. It begins a reflection on the feminine condition in several societies and cultures around the world. Since ablation of the clitoris in Africa, sexual violence in Asia, sexual slavery in Europe, and murder in Latin America, women have had a very hard life and I question: why is this so? Are women so despicable? Do we men have no mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters? I do not have an answer…

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kenhieuloilam
said on July 11, 2019

Literature represents realities of life. Literature praises good, criticizes evil and protects truth. We come to literature and we come to truth, good and beauty. We live to be better and we fight evil and protect life. Life will be more difficult if evil goes up and good goes down in life. Life will be better and more beautiful if evil goes down and good goes up in life. We get true happiness when we die away with not-good things in life. We get true happiness when we live our lives for beautiful good things. Literature represents realities of life. Literature praises good, criticizes evil and protects truth. We are willing to die away with not-good things in life. We are willing to die away with not-good things and we live our lives for beautiful good things.