Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What's in a Name? Part 2

Do names affect literary careers? No, we are not talking about the names of characters but the names of the writer's themselves. Do writer's names affect the way they are perceived by the reading public?

Roger Scruton writes in The Guardian:
For those addicted to words, the surnames of writers take on the sense of their writings. Wittgenstein, for me, has the sound of a frozen mountaineer, poised on the apex of an argument and remaining there, aloof, uncomforted and alone. Dickens - whose name is proverbial in English - has the sound of an old-fashioned haberdashery: an accumulation of oddments, some still useful, others left behind by fashion or piled in, a heap of unvisited history, like the objects in Mrs Jellaby's cupboard. Lawrence roars like a lion, and yawns like one too; while Melville is not the noise of Captain Ahab stomping his wooden peg on the deck above, but the melancholy sound of a quiet harbour, where the sheets smack in the breeze and a clerk sucks his pen at a counting desk above the quay.
The full piece is available here.
Link via India Uncut.


Murphy Jacobs said...

Those particular names are all hindsight, not foresight. When Dickens set his pen to paper, his name didn't conjure much of anything, except, perhaps, to his creditors.

However, an author often spends time considering what name he or she will append to the writing. There are considerations, for example, depending on what one is writing. A romance writer, for example will usually have a name different from someing penning hardboiled detective thrillers. Women writing in male dominated fields may chose to use just their initials and last name. What if you have a common name or a name easily confused with a well known author? Some use their middle names to avoid this or change their names to avoid confusion.

I'd say there is a different, a subtle difference, affecting a reader when picking a book. The author has to somehow "sound" like they WOULD have written the book. It's marketing as much as anything else.

mandar talvekar said...

I agree. The writers that Roger Scruton has mentioned in his article are all of the past -- and the our view of them and their names will always be colored by hindsight.
And it is true that writers today do give much consideration to the name that they'll append to their writing - and at times it depends on the kind of writing. Iain Banks for one: he writes regular fiction under "Iain Banks." He writes science fiction under the name "Iain M. Banks."