On names (and what they smell like)

On names (and what they smell like)

I’ve actually been thinking of that last one a lot myself lately (you know, when I’m supposed to be working on my novel).  My name is very local.  My first, middle and last names are indubitably Afrikaans (and/or Dutch – a Google search of my name (as if you don’t do it) returns many more hits from the Netherlands than from South Africa).  Now, in principle I have no problem with that – I love the names I inherited from my grandfather and even more so since I learned what they mean – but I am writing in English and hope to get published in the international market.  There I run into two problems.

He doesn’t mind the English pronunciation of our name

First, I cannot stand the English pronunciation of my name.  I visibly cringe if someone addresses me like that, which probably won’t go off well with agents, editors, fans or the press.  And I’m not so cruel as to insist that everyone pronounce my name correctly – if you’re not fluent in one of the Germanic languages you’re liable to cause yourself some serious injury.  (During my short stint in the UK a girl from New Zeeland with whom I worked insisted on trying one day.  I couldn’t recreate the sounds that came out there even if I tried.)

Second, my surname, especially if spoken with an English inflection, has a very unfortunate homophone in the English language (no, I’m not going to spell it out – if your mind’s dirty enough you’ll figure it out) and I’d prefer not to paint a target on my own behind for the jokers out there.  I could always go by the nickname I claimed from my grandfather, but I can almost guarantee you someone will go and change Kokkie into Cocky and once again I sit with an arrow in my butt.

Andrew Mann – Musician
Not the other one

Consequently I have come up with some aliases I could use.  My original choice was to take the English form of my first name, Andrew, and using Mann, derived from my middle name, as a surname.  I liked the sound of “Andrew Mann, writer”.  Then I Googled it.  (By the way, when using “Google” as a verb, do you capitalise or not?  Strunk and White doesn’t cover that for some reason.)  Turns out there’s a literary agency in the UK called Andrew Mann Ltd.  Guess I can’t submit to them if I pick this name.  There’s also an architect, a fairly popular Irish singer, a convicted double-murderer and a photographer who seems to specialise in nude women, who go by that name.  Let’s move on.

If you translate my surname into English you get Cook.  Herrie, derived from my given name and pronounced with an English accent becomes Harry.  Harry Cook.  Close enough to my real name that my friends and relatives will still believe it’s me (and I do share my birthday with Prince Harry, so I increase my bragging credentials (uhm, no)).  Google revealed an actor, an Episcopal priest/author/journalist/activist, and a British karate instructor who is also a convicted child sex offender.  Next!

The next obvious choice is Andrew Cook.  LinkedIn has seventeen Andrew Cooks in South Africa.  In the US and Commonwealth there are over nine hundred!  Also a convicted murderer who was executed in Georgia earlier this year.

I’ll take it! But can you throw in a fire-breathing dragon? I’ll provide my own princess.

Lastly I’m considering Harry Andrews.  The first Harry Andrews I found was a very famous English actor in the 1950s through 1970s who, among other roles, played a Kryptonian elder in the original Superman film.  He was also a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).  I further found what looks to be very pleasant elderly gentleman from Manitoba who has a facebook profile, a vice president in the automotive industry on Bermuda, a guy with a Twitter account who seems to have something to do with the IT industry (his profile doesn’t include a bio) and a guy who built a medieval castle in Loveland, Ohio. (I’m SO going there once I sell my first novel!  Or I’ll just build my own in Kroonstad, South Africa.)  The castle is even haunted – apparently Mr Andrews set himself ablaze in a cooking mishap (COOK-ing – now is that a sign or what?) and his memory is today kept alive by a youth organisation called The Knights of the Golden Trail (how cool is that?).  No murderers as far as I can tell.  Just a handful of profiles on LinkedIn.  The surname will place me somewhere between Chinua Achebe and Jeffrey Archer on the shelf (except I’m writing SF/Fantasy, so make that between Douglas Adams and Isaac Asimov – sweet!)  If someone shouts for Harry I’d probably remember to react.  Yes, I think this is the one.

But I’d be a terrible author if I didn’t give you, my readers, a say in this.  You have to be able to recognise me on the shelves, after all.  So, here’s your chance:

17 thoughts on “On names (and what they smell like)

  1. Great post and thanks for the mention! I think you’ve summed up the topic really well.
    Your comments on male writers especially interested me, I hadn’t considered the J.K. Rowling pseudonym from that angle yet. In certain genre’s I think this is much more prevalent: Fantasy, science fiction and crime/thriller/mystery – I tend to bunch those together. For some reason these seem to be genre’s where more male pseudonyms are used because it is an area where we expect writers to be male. It is quite odd! I can’t remember ever seeing a female writer in the crime/thriller section.

    1. You’re forgetting about the greatest lady in crime fiction (and my birthday-pal), Agatha Christie. Then there’s Sue Grafton (haven’t read anything by her yet, though). But not really anyone current, no. In SF/Fantasy it’s changing, mostly due to a concerted effort by the SF and Fantasy Writers of America.

      1. Ooohhhh no of course! Sorry Agatha, I didn’t mean to forget you! :s I’ve never heard of Sue Grafton but then I know very few authors of that genre by name. It’s an odd trend, one I hope we will progress past soon.

      2. I only know of Sue Grafton because her titles are so characteristic. All her books are on a letter of the alphabet, like “M is for Murder”, and “K is for Killer” and so on. I think I started reading one once, but I put it down again very quickly. As mentioned before, crime’s not really my thing.

      1. Ahh good I’m glad you found me! I was so annoyed when I saw the comment evaporate into the ether because I wasn’t sure if you would get it.

        It’s so frustrating, I hope the company replies to my email soon. Apparently a huge number of people are having this problem but they’re dealing with it on a case by case basis. -_-. Very frustrating as it means I can’t really comment on any new blog because they may not find me.

  2. I’m not sure why it was such a huge deal either. I would like to think she just wanted a little anonymity…after getting that big it would be nice to get back to that quiet triumph. Because she has already published a book outside of the Harry Potter universe and it did just fine. Perhaps she chose a male name because she wanted to become a completely different person for this story….like you said, I guess we’ll never know.

  3. Hi – thanks for the shout-out! Apropos Rowling, I find it intriguing in a literary-historical sense that she chose a male name – as you say, likely for commercial reasons – because the same has applied before. Amandine Dupin (George Sand), Emily Bronte (Ellis Bell) and so on. I have a vague recollection of an episode of ‘Blackadder The Third’ sending the whole thing up, rather hilariously.

    1. It’s sad, really, especially if one considers that according to some studies women read more than men which leads one to the conclusion that women consider men to be better writers. Of course the reality is much more complicated than that, but it makes one think.

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