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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Power Grid

10 Women Who Took Titles Normally Reserved For Men



The story of how Hatshepsut, the favorite daughter of an ailing pharaoh, took it upon herself to name herself pharaoh rather than wait for the next male heir (her nephew) to become old enough, is probably the most recognizable and popular story of a woman taking a man’s title. And while many women were established rulers in ancient Egypt, it was a little crazy when Hatshepsut did it and became the first female ruler of the 18th Dynasty. In the First Dynasty, Merneith was buried with the full honors of a pharaoh — but she had to die first. Several other women also ruled as regents to their sons and queen dowagers, but Hatshepsut was the first to officially rule as a full-fledged pharaoh.

Born in 1508 B.C.E., Hatshepsut was one of three children born to Thutmose I and Aahmes, and she was just the apple of their respective eyes. When Thutmose I died, Hatshepsut’s brother Thutmose II ascended the throne but passed away after ruling for just four years. Their other brother had also died. That left the only male heir to the throne, Thutmose III, who was considered too young to rule at the time. Hatshepsut could have been named as queen dowager, but she figured, “Hey — I’ve basically been ruling as pharaoh while the real pharaoh was sick, so why don’t I just become the pharaoh?” And so, she was the pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.

As pharaoh, she ruled for 15 years, which was the longest any woman had served up until that point. In order to let people know she meant business, she wore the customary garb that male pharaohs did, including a false beard. During her reign, she ordered dozens of exploratory expeditions to seek out precious materials and was responsible for the construction and creation of tons and tons of monuments and art. So much that there is something for nearly every museum that wanted a piece of Hatshepshut. She was also lucky enough to rule during peacetime, so there was a lot of time (and money, and people, and resources) for her to get things accomplished.

Of course, there was still Thutmose III. Once he grew up and figured out that he could have been the pharaoh, he made it his mission to destroy Hatshepshut’s legacy and had any depictions of her ruined, defaced, or erased completely.

Thutmose III would probably be really annoyed to find out that none of it worked. We’re still pretty damn aware of Hatshepsut’s successful reign as pharaoh.


  • Magdalena Kuzawinska

     when i started reading i was curious if you include Jadwiga (I’m from Poland) and was pleasantly surprised. great list, pretty comprehensive.

  • Anonymous

    Attack is the best form of defence

  • Brian Ritchie

    Actually Captain Janeway was referred to as “sir” due to naval (and Starfleet) Tradition.  She preferred to be called Captain, or Ma’am in a pinch.  

  • Francesca M

    Fascinating List. Some I knew of.. others.. well darn cool.

  • Anna B

    So glad you included Tomoe Gozen.  I remember first finding out about her some five years ago and I went into some kind of obsessive frenzy trying to find out more. There’s precious little about her, but what little could be found is amazing.

  • Adam Whitley

    I love these little history lessons.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Unless it was edited in later, I’m pretty sure that’s in our description.

  • Marie

    Thank you. I feel as though I have learned something today.

  • David McKay

    Actually Queen Elizabeth II isn’t “undoubtedly the Queen of England” as the monarchies of England and Scotland were united 400 years ago.

  • celeec4

    Just gonna leave this here. :D

  • Andrew R. Parkhill

    Eh… only thing is, it’s not a military custom to call a woman “Sir”. At least, not in the U.S. Air Force. Men are “Sir”, and women are “Ma’am.” I’m sure there are some military units or branches in the world that do, but it’s misleading to lump them all in to one category. 

  • Kath

    It’s also the “British Monarchy”, I believe.

  • Geminianeyes

    I was kinda surprised that Wu Zetian didn’t make it to the list, considering she was the only female to have taken the Emperor title in China.

  • Darrell Dow

    Yes, the United States Armed Forces do still use sir and ma’am as gender-specific forms of address. I have no idea how they do it in the military of other countries.

  • Catherine Prickett

    Jessica Amanda Salmonson wrote a couple of novels inspired by her:  Tomoe Gozen and The Golden Naginata.  Probably long out of print, but worth tracking down.

  • Anna B

    I checked. It’s still in print! Thank you!

  • Sarah Roth

    I really have trouble understanding this:
    “Christina may have indeed been intersexed and has since become a symbol for those who rail against gender identity.”
    I never heard of that Christina in intersex activism and I don’t know who rails against gender identity with her as an example, as that would not make sense. Even if you mean gender role and conflate the two I don’t see where her being intersex makes a difference.