The Name Lived By

When writing my recent blog post about Stephen Payne’s recent collection I found myself unsure how I should refer to Stephen Payne.  When I started writing the most natural name to use was Stephen.  I do know him, and I am not setting myself up to write formal criticism.  Though this did not seem to do the poet justice.  After all there are a lot of Stephens in the world.  And it seems too pally, a potential reader might not trust my opinion.   

The convention is to use the writer under review by their surname, so I should refer to the author of Pattern Beyond Chance as Payne.  This would be more natural if I did not know the writer, and it is possible to mitigate my discomfort by mixing terms of reference: the author, the poet, the writer, etc..  But I am not sure the time for this form address has passed.  It dates for a time when a man gave his name as Ross, no one would think his name was Ross Jones, he would be Mr Ross, Dr Ross, Professor Ross or possibly the Earl of Ross.

This form off address also dates back to a time when the vast majority of people out in the world were men.  When women gave their names they would be giving their father or husbands name accompanied by the appropriate title.  As women entered the world more fully they were given the courtesy of being addressed and referred to in the same way.  I remember hearing a woman writer saying how strange she found it when she read her female friends’ obituaries, where they would be referred to by their surnames.  She had known them well, but not by that name, this was not the name by which they had lived their lives.

I find myself in a similar position.  I chose to use the writer’s whole name abbreviated as initials after the first use, for the sake of brevity.  Though I am not happy with this.  It has become something of a modern convention,  I receive a lot of correspondence addressed to David Foster-Morgan.  It gets the writer out of any difficulties in choosing a title, in particular the Miss, Mrs, Ms question, but seems awkward and unsatisfactory.

There are other traditions, the welsh tradition of linking a father’s name with the son as in Dafydd ap Gwilym, Dafydd the son of Gwilym.  Where father and son are recognised by the names they lived by.  On reflection I feel it is the given name that should be used, in our modern less formal, less dynastic age, this is the name lived by.


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