What’s in a name?

Bought Middlemarch today at Readings for my 16-year-old daughter for Christmas. She’s quite the precocious reader. In addition to ALL the vampiric books she’s read:

The Russians – she’s reading Anna Karenina now and has read Lolita.

The English – Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. She’s read Great Expectations too. She refuses to try Wuthering because she hates the two main characters (saw a couple of films, I think the Timothy Dalton one put her off for life and I am grievous about this. Maybe if I don’t push it, she’ll recover?) Not even the most beautifully done recent version could salvage anything for her.

The Americans – She’s read Gatsby but no one else apart from Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. She hasn’t read the French either. I may have forgotten a few but come on, she’s only 16.

I am working my way through the First Tuesday Book Club on iView, catching up on all those glorious episodes and taking notes and on one of them, they looked at Middlemarch and it was billed as:

widely considered one of the best books ever written in English

David Vann, one of the guests, said

it’s worth every moment spent… [it’s a] book to make you re-evaluate your whole life.

Marieke Hardy said:

it was too long, repetitive and it simpered.

‘Days of Our Lives’ in bonnets, she said

David Vann said:

All the 300 creative writing courses in the US for the last 4 years have been teaching students not to write Middlemarch, because it’s too abstract and cerebral, we’re told everything and shown nothing… What’s interesting to me is I loved it. It’s everything I teach my students not to do, it’s not what I usually read. It’s not what I do in my own writing but it has its place.

Jennifer Byrne:

What are the stakes here, are they high enough?

David Vann:

The human heart. Are there any higher stakes?


But to my point, about names. There is a link and it’s that Mary Ann Evans used the pen name of George Eliot. Back then, female writers had to use masculine names, to be taken seriously it seems. There’s a trend, these days, by women writers (or is it publishers?) to use initials, as if the reader might be tricked into thinking it’s by a man. This is my take on it. Or is it because it sounds catchier and more marketable? Maybe it’s just the whole JK Rowling thing.

I have to say Jenny Ackland sounds pretty ordinaire; JM Ackland is much better or even J May Ackland. Maybe I’ll start a new trend and be the first person who could have also been a character on Beverley Hillbillies – Jenny May Ackland.

There’s already a Jenny Ackland who is a writer. She writes literacy books for primary students and she is all over google. I had a writer friend email me saying ‘You didn’t tell me you were already published, with more than 40 books!!’ (or something like that). What can I say apart from: IT’S NOT ME. But it’s funny, my picture comes up next to her book covers.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Must admit I’ve compared the numerology aspect of using Phil versus Philip with my surname. The shorter one definitely seems more auspicious, or something. Perhaps your author name should be more like a signature than what firends call you – it’s an idea I’ve been wondering about recently. JM Coetzee’s mates don’t call him JM, but it works for him on the covers of his books. It certainly sounds serious.

    Not sure I have a settled opinion on this. It’s a bugger about your author namesake.

  2. For me it wouldn’t be about numerology, it would be about syllables and how it sounds. So Johan is not your name, I kinda wondered about the surname. Going to your wordpress now to check if I can find your name.

    1. Oh yeah, I totally get the syllables thing. How does it read or feel when you read it? That’s a very important question.

      Nah, Johan’s just me mucking around. It’s a name I made up. It amused me years ago, but seems less and less amusing now.

      Didn’t realise there was no bio. I should do one of them. I’d be tempted to make that up too, though.

      My name is Phil Keenan.

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