A bog-standard name is no use to a writer

The Welsh name rhymes with 'howl'. The novelist pronounced his name 'Pole'

Share

Today I am starting a new series called 'Encounters with Great Writers'. It has been a difficult project, as I have never encountered any great writers. But there are ways round every problem...

Today I am starting a new series called 'Encounters with Great Writers'. It has been a difficult project, as I have never encountered any great writers. But there are ways round every problem...

There were three of us in the café. Me, Nelson Algren and Anthony Powell. I sat there for a while thinking how strange it was that I was with two famous novelists. After a while, I stopped thinking it and came out with it.

"How come I'm here with you two famous guys?" I said.

"I'm not really famous," mumbled Nelson Algren. "See, I'm not the Nelson Algren. In fact, my real name is Thomas Blackwood. But I always wanted more than anything in the world to have an affair with Simone de Beauvoir, and as this was now impossible, I decided to change my name to Nelson Algren instead."

We thought about this.

"He was an American writer who did have an affair with Simone de Beauvoir," said Nelson Algren.

"Yeah, yeah," said Anthony Powell. "We know who he is. We've all done our pub quizzes. That question comes up again and again. Which famous writer did Simone de Beauvoir have an affair with who wasn't Jean Paul Sartre? The answer? Nelson bloody Algren. Not that he was that famous."

"Oh, yeah?" said Nelson Algren, all fired up. " He's famous enough! People still talk about him in America, you know, and I don't recollect anyone talking about your novels over there, Mr Big Shot Anthony Powell!"

"I would be more upset by your remarks," said Anthony Powell, "if I were that Anthony Powell. But I am not. I am not the author of A Dance to the Music of Time. I just happen to share his name. It is an ordinary, bog-standard Welsh name. There are many people in Wales called Anthony Powell."

"Oh, yeah?" said Nelson Algren. "Name them!"

"Anthony Powell," said Anthony Powell.

Nelson Algren thought about this for a moment.

"You're wrong," he said. "The bog-standard Welsh name is Powell, rhyming with 'howl'. But the novelist pronounced his name as 'Pole'. He was very definite about this."

"Well, of course, he was," said Anthony Powell. "It was the only way he could rise above the mob, pretending his name was pronounced differently. He had been landed with a bog-standard name, so he spent the rest of his life pretending it was really different. But then he came from a generation of writers in the 1930s who all had slightly different names."

"Name them," said Nelson Algren.

"Graham Greene," said Anthony Powell. "That 'e' on the end of Green. No reason for it. Claud Cockburn. Pronounced 'Coburn'. No reason for it. And Claud's a girls' name. Same with Evelyn Waugh. Another girl's name. And C Day Lewis. Fancy expecting people to call you 'C Day'. It's ludicrous! ... They were all ludicrous in the 1930s."

"Nelson Algren was around in the 1930s," said Nelson Algren.

"Another stupid name," said Anthony Powell. "What's the point of an American writer calling himself after an English admiral?"

"There were lots of Americans called Nelson," said Algren defensively.

"Name one."

"Nelson Rockefeller."

"Name another."

"Nelson Rockefeller Jr."

"Name another."

"Byron Nelson."

"Who the hell was Byron Nelson?"

"Famous golfer."

At that point a woman came and sat down at our table.

"Mind if I join you?" she said. "Irish Murdoch's the name."

"Not the Iris Murdoch?"

"Not Iris Murdoch," she said. "Irish Murdoch."

I think this series needs more work on it yet. More colour, perhaps. So next time we meet Henry Green, Patrick White and Tina Brown.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: SEN Teaching Assistant (EBD)We ...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: SEN Teaching Assistant (EBD)We ...

EYFS Teacher - Long term

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Long term Early Years Teacher role from J...

KS1 Teacher Plymouth

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past