Miles Kington: When it comes to names, initial impressions matter

Could there have been some other Arthur Rank with whom J Arthur hated to be mixed up?
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The Independent Online

Authors' names, to carry on where we left off yesterday, are a bit of a problem if you have got the same name as someone else. DJ Taylor called himself that to stop being confused with all the other David Taylors, one of whom I actually knew, the late David Taylor who was editor of Punch. The latter was equally aware of how many David Taylors there were, but instead of trying to distinguish himself from them, he went with the flow and actually collected them. "Got another one," he would say to me, happily. "Apparently there's a David Taylor who sells cars in Plaistow," or somewhere, and this one too would go into the bulging David Taylor collection.

One way of distinguishing yourself from someone else with the same name, short of converting entirely to initials in the manner of AA Gill or PJ O'Rourke, is to add an extra initial between first and last name. Russell T Davies, the screenwriter, cannot be confused with Russell Davies the broadcaster, because of that extra T. Did he insert it for that very reason? To stop being confused with Russell Davies? I would guess so.

By the same reasoning, I would guess that somewhere there is an actor called Richard Grant with whom Richard E Grant did not want to be confused. It may also well be that the wonderful early jazz pianist James P Johnson, who taught Fats Waller how to play, did not want to be confused with all the other Jimmy Johnsons around and highlighted his middle initial. And could there have been some other Arthur Rank with whom J Arthur Rank hated to be mixed up?

That is all guesswork. What is certain is that Winston Churchill also did the initial insertion trick. It seems incredible now, but when Winston Churchill started writing books, as far back as the Boer War, he was not the only Winston Churchill on the scene. By a far-fetched chance there was an American novelist of the same name who was much more famous than he was. Indeed, at the start of the last century the American Winston Churchill was probably the best-selling author in America, with novels like The Crisis, The Celebrity, The Crossing and Coniston. (All his novels had a word beginning with C in the title, save for his last one, The Dwelling-Place of Light, which he wrote in 1917. He lived another 30 years and never wrote another novel. He is all but forgotten now.)

Well, because our Churchill was not as well-known as their Churchill, he decided to change his name slightly, and that is why so many of our Winston Churchill's books went out under the name of Winston S Churchill or even Winston Spencer Churchill. I do not think the two Churchills ever met, but apparently they corresponded amicably, and our Churchill even suggested to their Churchill (who had gone into politics by then) that he should run for the American presidency, as his name might bring the voters flocking.

Authors cannot choose their real names, but they can choose the names of their books, and yet very often they choose a name already used. Out of curiosity, I entered the Graham Greene title The Heart of the Matter into a second-hand book search, and discovered that the fame of that book has not prevented many others from using it subsequently. There is a Harlequin Romance by Lindsay Armstrong called The Heart of the Matter. There is also a book of the name by one Peter Salgo, on how to prevent heart attacks. There is another Heart of the Matter by Paul Loeb and Suzanne Hlavacek, intriguingly subtitled "Breaking codes and making connections between you and your dog or cat". Linda Austin published a book in 2003 called The Heart of the Matter: How to find love, how to make it work... There is even a book by Joan Bakewell featuring excerpts from a TV programme called The Heart of the Matter, so the book is called The Heart of 'The Heart of the Matter'...

Ah, the ways of writers are strange indeed.

The author of this work asserts his moral right to be known as Miles B Kington