What’s In a Name?

By: Shelby Hillers

It’s no surprise that authors with male names or gender neutral names sell more than authors with female names. What is a surprise is that this is still an on-going trend in the book world. But that’s another article all together. What many writers forget or don’t necessarily know is how much marketing goes behind a book. And one of the key factors of a book selling is the author’s name.

J.K. Rowling wasn’t the first and only female writer to make her pen name more gender neutral. In fact, famous authors like Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre), Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird), and Nora Roberts (when drifting over to detective fiction with book series In Death) all changed their names to more gender neutral/male sounding when publishing their works. The list goes on and shows the trend of female writers creating pen names in order to either sell more books or be accepted into the literary world.

Just how important is a name? As Shakespeare writes:


O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

(Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II)


I’m sure we’re all having flashbacks to high school when we read this, but Shakespeare makes a fair point (as he usually does). The name doesn’t necessarily represent the object. In this case, the author’s name doesn’t represent the writing. So in theory, it should be okay for a female writer to use her real name and sell just as well as a male writer using his real name. It sounds logical but in actuality, it just doesn’t work that way.

And what female writers understand is that their female names don’t appeal to the male readers but they’ve found a loophole. They’ve tricked the male reader into reading a woman’s work, and even better, they’ve gotten the male reader to like it. But if you like the book, does the author’s name really mean anything? The answer should be no, but many readers can’t break that mindset of assessing the writer’s quality by their gender. And it’s not just readers who think this; editors, publishers, and agents are just as guilty of publishing male writers over female writers. That’s a lot of mindsets to change. But I think we can do it.

However, what I’m still trying to decide is whether female writers are still changing their names to prove a point or if we’re just agreeing to popular demand. Are we proving our writer is still as good by changing Joanne Rowling to J.K.Rowling or are we surrendering to the male readership and saying fine, we’ll change for you? I like to think we’re proving a point and assisting these literary works to Best-Sellers lists, but sometimes I fear that if a female writer doesn’t change her name (and isn’t the stereotypical romance novelist), the general public wouldn’t give her the time of day.

So is it smart marketing? Or is it giving in and surrendering our pens?


Shelby Hillers is the Online Assistant Editor for BrickHouse Books where she helps manage Facebook, Twitter, and the blog. She is a senior at Towson University majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. Her works have been published by The TowerlightLimerence Magazine, and TU Career Center’s co-written blog The Thriving Tiger.


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