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What's in a Name?


Featured Thread #1
A few week ago, there was a thread discussing the possible preference by some Agents for younger authors, over those of a more mature disposition, shall we say. I was talking to friend yesterday about job-hunting, he has just been made redundant, and he believes that some employers might be put off his CV by his first name, Cyril, as it is not really in fashion and is, in his view, an older person's name. Not sure if I agree with him, but it did raise the question as to whether this might be the same with some Agents, unless the author is established. I hope not as 'Geoff' is hardly leading edge or fashion-cool! Any thoughts on this?
I can't contribute anything from an agent's perspective, obviously. But I will say this as a reader (talking specifically about fiction here). There are three things available to me that will determine whether or not I pick a book up and read the blurb: the title, the cover and the name of the author. The first two are going to be far more important factors, unless the name of the author is one I recognise and whose works I have enjoyed before. Assuming this isn't the case, an unusual author name is perhaps more likely to tip the scales in favour of the blurb being read than something that sounds ordinary. Lemony Snickett vs John Smith.


I totally get where you're coming from. Names are weird in that they conjure up an image of a person. Having said that, when I buy a book, the author's name makes no difference to me whether or not I pick one over another. How agents/publishers see it all, I have no clue.

I agree with Amber. He could always use his initials.

Still, I'll be changing mine should I ever publish, because, well, I've always hated it.
I'm sure that ageism exists in publishing, but it's one of those undeclared aspects of unfairness, hidden by agents and publishers falling over themselves to be politically correct about other areas of bigotry—ethnicity, sexual preference, gender, religion or status in society—is the author a refugee or homeless, for instance.

If you think, for one moment, that publishers and literary agents are unbiased, then try looking at the staff profiles on their websites to see how old the people they employ are. There'll be a few wrinklies, usually the bosses, but the majority of the smiling faces will belong to youngsters. As much as anything, how an author looks is part of marketing: readers are more likely to pick up a novel by an unknown author if they're attractive. No one will ever admit that this is true.

Employment laws theoretically prevent discrimination based on age, as do regulations that stop literary agencies and publishers asking the age of the writer submitting a manuscript, but, as your friend Cyril suspects, they may find ways to stymie applications. I once queried a publisher who got back to me, asking for my writing history, including the dates of any previously published material, which would have indicated that I was at least 60 years-old (or a time traveller).

I once shot myself in the foot with a job application. I went for a position with a housing association, work I'd done before for several years, so I fitted the job profile. A colleague at the community centre, which I'd be helping to manage as a volunteer, suggested that I trim my beard that had grown to winter plumage proportions. I made it look neat, to go with a suit and tie that I barely remembered how to put on, and duly presented myself for interview. I was expecting to be grilled by a young female HR officer, whose name appeared on the correspondence— instead two hippies my age did the interviewing—both had beards that covered their chests and they were dressed casually without ties.

I didn't get the job, but I imagined them chatting about me after the interview, saying, "Paul was quite well-qualified, but we could never employ such a conventionally dressed man who barely has a beard!"
I once knew a man called Duncan Driver. Think about getting stopped by the cops....

Recruitment is something other than the writing world, It's a narrow space where you have to tick boxes that fit some preconceived paradigm written by a small minded self important twit. Who wants to work for someone like that, anyway?

If a publisher loves your work work, I don't think they'd be put off by a name. They'd simply use another on the cover if they thought they could sell the book.

And I'm incapable of growing a beard... though, age is lessening the incapacity .Out with the tweezers.
It wouldn't surprise me at all if names tap into people's prejudices, consciously or not. There's a long history of that in publishing.
Female authors used to routinely change their names to be taken seriously as writers (George Eliot, George Sands etc.) and even more recently, I believe Joanne Rowling was advised to use her initials for her pen name so it wasn't immediately obvious that she was female.
I read somewhere that J K Rowling's publishers said to her that the story would appeal to boys and girls, but that boys might not want to read it if they knew it was written by a woman. As for unfortunate names, my wife went to school with a Wellington Boot and has a cousin called Robin Banks. My heart goes out to Wayne King, Wayne Kerr, Rose Budd and Teresa Green. How could their parents have been so cruel?


Staff member
I noticed a while ago that the combination of an Old Testament name with one suggesting emphasis seems to work. ‘Ezra Pound’, ‘Saul Bellow’. But ‘Ephraim Thump’ just doesn’t seem to have the magic.
Interesting indeed. I'd like to put forward 'Ruth Rush'.

Sarah Slap definitely doesn’t work...
Oh, I don't know. She'd certainly be a complex person -- would probably have issues with her parents. I reckon Sarah Slap's definitely got a story.
This conversation reminds me of those held every morning on Radio 2 involving listeners writing in to Terry Wogan with some very ingenious names. Intended as a foreword to my book, The Power of Names, I picked up the attached letter written to fellow TOGS by their new chairman.


Funnily enough, there was a famous actor from my country that has had quite a few problems regarding his name...
Coming from a former Communist country, the monarchy was really frowned upon.. the whole people movement and death to the bourgeoisie and all that jazz.
As it was obligatory for all able men over age of 18 to serve in military, this actor guy went, not very happily, mind you, to fulfill his civic duty. First row call, and they were supposed to yell out their name, surname first, of course.
It was very unfortunate that the actor's last name was King. It was downright cruel that his first name was the same as the name of the king that was exiled. Apparently, he broke all records of how fast can you get thrown in a brig for disrespect - no one believed it was his real name. :D

Back to the author name.. I, for one, pay attention to the author's name only when I'm finished with the book - unless, of course, I went in search for one particular author's work. If I were to choose solely on the name though... There are so many Toms, Janes, Debbies, Micheals, etc. that Cyril would immediately have my attention.