Home > Life, Writing and Poetry > It’s All In A Name–A Writer’s Dilemma?

It’s All In A Name–A Writer’s Dilemma?

I’m being urged to write something again about writing. My brain had taken a bit of a vacation on that subject, at least here, because I figured everyone would have tired of me pontificating about the subject, but obviously not.

Therefore, I’ll tackle something  that has caused a quandary for me in recent months.

Way back last year I read an article about the oddity concerning the names of serial killers. It seems that when a serial killer is referenced within the press or justice system, the powers that be use all three of the individual’s  names, with only a few exceptions. Assassins also get this distinction.

Regular murderers have to make do with being called by only first and last name usually. And some bombers, of course. Now, I don’t know exactly what the distinction is that draws the line in the sand regarding how many of a person’s names are used when referencing the perpetrator. I don’t know that anyone does.

Does the use of one’s full name denote the seriousness of their crime? Does it lend weight to the later sentencing due to the media coverage of said crime? Why is their dubious reputation made with three+ names and another heinous criminal’s is not?

I know you’re wondering what this has to do with writing. I’ll tell you. Have you looked at writers’ names lately on book jackets? Have you noticed how many of them use three names–first, middle (or initial), and last–whereas forty years ago writers predominately only used two?

Now think back to those who used only first and last. Tony Hillerman, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins, Robert Heinlein. Of course, there was Erle Stanley Gardner as well, but he was off-set by Ian Flemming.

My point here is that a few hundred years ago many writers were known only by one name–Shakespeare, Tennyson, Burns, Byron, Poe, Melville. People may have known their other names as well, but only the last name was and is necessary for complete recognition.

A bit over a century ago, one or two names were used. Jules Verne (known equally as Verne), Victor Hugo or just plain Hugo, Dickinson (we all knew it was Emily), all took their places among the renowned writers and poets. Occasionally, someone like Edgar Rice Burroughs emerged and broke the name chain.

Mid-20th century writers were still primarily two-name wonders. Even film directors went by only two names. Then the century moved toward its end and a whole new generation of writers came into their own. And the three named author was born.

I’m not knocking this practice. I just find it curious. I go by first and last, plus middle initial. That’s just how I my name goes on checks. I don’t know why others use their whole name. I’ve never asked.

I suppose it could make for an interesting study, though. Is the form of one’s name given to sounding more important than a shorter, plainer name? Perhaps that’s what it’s all about. The rest of the world has become a relaxed and casual place regarding most things and responsibilities.

Does the use of a longer, more important sounding name create an immediate  persona for the writer that wouldn’t otherwise have surfaced? I can’t answer my question. Perhaps someone dropping in can come up with a reasonable cause for this phenomenon.

I posted and then had another thought. BTW, I’m not equating writers with serial killers, but in the weird way of puns I suppose the logic could be used in that context but with reference to serial books instead.

What I was wondering goes back to importance of name. Does having a writer’s full name on the cover make that cover seem more important, more desirable?

Along the same vein, do big name authors enjoy being recognized by the use of only the last name now as they must have centuries ago? Is that the ultimate fame for writers? And the most important question of all–Will I ever find out the answer to that question as a personal experience? Hmmm

Think about it. Please feel free to use your logic. I’d be thrilled to know the answer. I’ll be patient, too.

Until then, a bientot,


Categories: Life, Writing and Poetry
  1. August 17, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    A very curious question, indeed. Lemme’ know if you learn the answer. Thanks for makin’ me think.

    ~ Yaya

    • claudsy
      August 17, 2010 at 10:28 pm

      As soon as I know, Yaya, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

    • claudsy
      August 25, 2010 at 3:14 pm

      You’re welcome, Yaya. I’m good for a jab in the ribs every once in a while.


  2. August 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Hmm…interesting concept. My favorite authors only go by first and last names: Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman, James Patterson, Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, and others. I don’t know how they would react to being called by only their last name. “Kellerman”…would that be Faye or Jonathan? Jackson…umm, Michael? Randy?

    I don’t believe that the authors of today have ever reached the kind of prominance that Shakespeare,Tennyson, Burns, Melville or even Hugo have. None of these were in the 20th century, so at least 100 years ( and more) have passed since their deaths. Also, to me, these men can not be compared to anyone living today…I don’t believe the poets and authors of today will ever surpass them to the point where one can say, “Patterson wrote that” and you immediately know who was being referred to. Maybe in the 22nd Century today’s authors and poets might be recognized by their last names, but I still doubt it.

    As to seriel killers…I think the media, as usual, is only trying to make a point, a dramatic one, when they give a killer the benefit of publishing all of his names. Its a method of shock value on their part…to the police, it means nothing, nor does whatever “nickname” the media comes up with, e.g. The Green River Killer. It’s always the media who does this, never law enforcement…to those in the law, the Green River Killer is merely Case Number 123456.

    Claudsy, when did you change your blog?

    • claudsy
      August 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

      I shifted formats a couple of weeks or so ago. I felt in dire need of a change. You know how the time comes when your iving room simply must be rearranged in order for you feel more at home?

      That’s what this was. I had new goals, new feelings, and I needed a look that reflected that new reality. Call if an experiment. Let me know how you like it. I’m still getting used to it.


  3. August 22, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Interesting, indeed! Leave it to our Claudette to get our brains in high gear. 😉

    • claudsy
      August 25, 2010 at 3:13 pm

      I don’t know about that, Marie. I was going through my friends list on FB and it hit me how many writers use three names. I use a middle initial. Yet, I really don’t know why. Does it just look more professional, or what? You got me.


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