Herstory

What’s in a name? To be she or not to be…

Throughout history, writers have chosen to publish works under pen names for a variety of reasons. Historically, women have chosen male pen names for their work to be taken seriously and be published. The Women’s Prize for Fiction was established in 1996 to recognize and celebrate women’s literary achievements. For their 25th anniversary, they launched the Reclaim Her Name campaign, an initiative that sought to republish literary works under the women author’s real names for the first time. The Reclaim Her Name collection provides an array of free eBooks comprised of these newly republished works. To date, the campaign has announced 25 literary authors. Their mission is to celebrate the talented women, give them their moment in the limelight and the recognition they deserve. 

It is important to note that the Reclaim Her Name project quickly developed some critics. The critics stated that the project dismissed women who made a personal choice to publish under the male pen names.  Some authors choose to use pen names to remain anonymous, and others use a pen name as part of a strategic marketing plan.  The most recent author, announced by the Reclaim Her Name project, Mary Ann Evans, used the pen name, George Eliot.  At first, Mary Ann Evans decided to write under the pen name because of a very personal reason.  Mary was in a relationship with a married man and was concerned that her lifestyle choice would hinder her success.  Under the pseudonym George Eliot, Mary became a very successful author; her most famous book, Middlemarch, has been called one of the greatest British novels of all time.  Over time, the public knew that Mary Ann Evans was the real author of the books. Yet, she strategically continued to publish under the name George Eliot based on the notoriety of the name.

We celebrate women writers’ achievements and hope that they continue to be recognized and honored for their remarkable literary achievements, regardless of the published name they have chosen.  

Hot for more?

READ: The evolution of female pen names, from Currer Bell to J.K. Rowling

LISTEN: Women’s Prize for Fiction Podcast: Reclaim Her Name

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