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The Debunker: What Is J. K. Rowling's Middle Name?

by Matthew Klan

I still remember, in elementary school, the day I tried to find more books by M. V. Carey, who wrote many of the Three Investigators detective novels I loved.  The only other "Carey" novel on the shelf was a picture book adaptation of The Secret of NIMH by one Mary Carey.  The Library of Congress information on the first page gave Carey's full name as Mary Virginia Carey.  M. V. Carey?!?  I dropped the book in shock.  The author of my favorite rough-and-tumble boys' adventure series…was a woman?

It turns out I was part of the problem—a well-known problem in children's book publishing.  Girls will happily read books with a boy protagonist, but boys are reluctant to read books with a female protagonist.  Afraid that this might even extend to the name of the author, publishers sometimes ask female authors to adopt a gender-neutral pseudonym.  The data backs up their suspicions about baked-in misogyny.  In a 2005 survey where respondents were asked to name the last book they read, women were evenly split between male and female authors, while 80 percent of men had just read a book by a man.  Goodreads has found that women are twice as likely as men to review a book by an author of the opposite sex.

Which brings us to J. K. Rowling, who suddenly rose to worldwide celebrity in the late 1990s as the Harry Potter books began selling millions of copies.  The first question of young Potterheads was often "What does the 'J. K.' stand for?" and the answer was always given as "Joanne Kathleen."  It wasn't until 2000 that newspapers obtained Rowling's birth certificate, and were surprised to find that Joanne Rowling wasn't born with a middle name at all.  Rowling and her publisher came clean: she had never gone by the initials "J. K." at all, and in fact was never given a middle name at birth.  Her editors at Bloomsbury didn't want to put a woman's name on a book with a boy protagonist, and asked Rowling if she'd mind using her initials instead.  (That's the same trick S. E. Hinton used when she published The Outsiders in 1967.)  Rowling remembered her beloved grandmother Kathleen, and supplied the now-famous initials J.K.  Friends call her "Jo," but fan communities still refer to her as "JKR" lo these two decades later.  So be careful when you make up a fake middle name, readers!  You never know how long you'll be stuck with it.

Quick Quiz: What E. L. James novel began life as Twilight fan fiction published under the name "Snowqueen's Icedragon"?