Geek Feminism Wiki

Women use gender neutral or male coded pseudonyms or nicknames fairly frequently in geekdom.

This is something of a double bind. Women who do not use explicitly female names (or whose names aren't coded as such to English speakers) are often assumed to be male unless the woman explicitly identifies herself as female, at least during trivial interactions and sometimes for an extended period. This contributes to the invisibility of women. Women who do use female coded names frequently encounter online harrassment.

See also Pseudonymity in general.

Reasons for using non-female coded names[]

In many cases women do so because they enter a space (such as IRC, or LiveJournal) where an alias is usually used, and they choose a word they like or a name of someone they admire or similar, and they only then discover that because their name isn't obviously female in some venues they are presumed male until they state otherwise. Some may then choose to be especially forthright about their gender, some to announce it when a mistake was made, some to hide it.

Other women are aware of this effect, and choose a non-female coded nickname precisely in order to be identified by others, or at least to people they interact with casually, as presumed-male.

Women without obviously female legal names (or at least, obviously female to English monolinguals) often find this effect even when using their legal names. They may then choose to publicise their gender, correct their gender, or hide their gender as above. There are anecdotal reports of some people giving their female children gender-neutral names in order to let them choose whether or not to be identified instantly as a woman.

Choosing to be identified as a woman[]

Some women deliberately make the opposite choice, choosing female coded names in order to be known as a woman. In some cases this is to combat invisibility of women in various spheres.

Women who have used non-female coded names[]

Note: This list consists only of people who are (a) known to identify/have identified as women (b) known to have deliberately chosen male or neutral nicknames in order to be presumed to be a man in some interactions. (In some cases, especially historical ones, this choice may have been their only way to be present in some circles or fields at all.)

In geekdom[]

  • Valerie Aurora, who used her more neutral "Val" nickname for her early career[1]
  • Mel Chua acknowledges some privilege from use of her nickname[2]


  • Publishing fiction under a male pen name is very common and has a long history. Several of the best known nineteenth century novelists used male pen names and many are still known better by a male-coded pen name:
    • Amantine Dupin used the pen name "George Sand" (starting with Indiana, 1832)
    • Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë published as "Currer Bell", "Ellis Bell" and "Acton Bell" and their real identities were not well known until Charlotte outed them following her sisters' deaths (1846 onwards)
    • Mary Anne Evans published as "George Eliot" (starting with Adam Bede, 1859)
    • Karen von Blixen-Finecke published as "Isak Dinesen" (starting with Seven Gothic Tales, 1937, best known for Out of Africa)
    • Alice Sheldon published as "James Tiptree Jr." ("Houston, Houston, Do You Read?", 1977 among many others)
  • Some modern writers have published using a unisex pen name or their initials in order to hide their gender:
    • Margaret Ogden uses the pen name "Robin Hobb" for her medieval fantasy works
    • Susan Hinton uses her initials: "S. E. Hinton"
    • Joanne Murray (née Rowling) uses initials, "J. K. Rowling" (K. for her grandmother Kathleen), at the explicit request of her first publisher
    • Blogger "James Chartrand" is a woman using a man's name after finding it brought her more writing work. [1] [2]