The Influence Of Names by Israel Zangwill

Story type: Essay

Far-fetched as the idea seems that names and characters have any interconnection, yet no great writer but has felt that one name, and one alone, would suit each particular creation. The tortures and travels that Balzac went through till he found “Z. Marcas” are well known. So is the agony of Flaubert on hearing that Zola was anticipating him in the name of Bouvard, which it had cost Flaubert six years’ search to find. Zola’s magnanimity in parting with it deserves a fauteuil. Somebody in the provinces told me that his minister had preached upon the subject of names, laying it down that in every name lurked a subtle virtue,–or vice; the former the bearer of the name was in duty bound to cultivate, the latter to root out. Fantastic as this speculation be, even for a minister, no one doubts that people’s names may have an influence upon their lives; and, in the case of the Christian name at least, children ought to be protected by the State against the bad taste and the cruelty of their parents. More certainly than the stars our names control our destinies, for they are no meaningless collocation of syllables, but have deep-rooted relations with the history and manner of life of our ancestors. The Smiths were once smiths, the Browns dark in complexion; and so, if we could only trace it, every name would reveal some inner significance, from Adam (red earth) downwards. Why do publishers tend to “n” in their names’? Some of the chief London publishers run to a final “n”–Macmillan, Longman, Chapman; Hodder & Stoughton; Hutchinson & Co.; Sampson Low, Marston & Co.; Lawrence & Bullen; Fisher Unwin; Heinemann. The last, indeed, is nothing but “n” sounds; such a name could not escape taking to publishing. I find also in the publishers’ lists T. Nelson & Co.; Eden, Remington & Co.; Henry Sotheran; John Lane; Effingham Wilson; Innes & Co. (as fatal as Heinemann); George Allen & Co.; Osgood, McIlvaine & Co.; Gardner, Darton & Co. Sometimes the “n” is prominent at the beginning or in the middle, as in Henry & Co.; Ward & Downey; Constable & Co.; Digby, Long & Co.; Arnold; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co. (wherein each partner boasts his separate “n”); Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier (wherein there are at least three “n”s); John C. Nimmo; Edward Stanford; Gibbings & Co.; Chatto & Windus; Nisbet & Co. When the “n” is not in the surname, at least the Christian contains the indispensable letter, as John Murray, Elkin Matthew.

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Even when it can find refuge nowhere else the “n” creeps into the “and” of the firm or into the “Sons.” The very Clarendon Press has the trademark. Who is the stock publisher of the eighteenth century? Tonson! Who were the first publishers of Shakespeare? Condell & Heminge.

And while publishers run mysteriously to “n,” authors run with equal persistency to “r”–in their surnames for the most part, but at least somehow or somewhere.

Who are our professors of fiction to-day? Hardy, Meredith, Blackmore, Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, Walter Besant (and James Rice), George Moore, Frankfort Moore, Olive Schreiner, George Fleming, Henry James, Hamlin Garland, Henry B. Fuller, Harold Frederic, Frank Harris, Marion Crawford, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, Miss Braddon, Sarah Grand, Mrs. Parr, George Egerton, Rhoda Broughton, H. D. Traill, Jerome K. Jerome, Barry Pain, W. E. Norris, Crockett, Ian Maclaren, Robert Barr, Ashby Sterry, Morley Roberts, Mabel Robinson, F. W. Robinson, John Strange Winter, Du Maurier (late but not least to follow his lucky “r”), Helen Mathers, Henry Seton Merriman, etc., etc.

Who were the giants of the last generation? Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Charles Reade, George Eliot, Bulwer Lytton, Charlotte Bronte, Trollope, Disraeli.

Who are our prophets and thinkers? Carlyle, Ruskin, Emerson, Darwin, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Froude, Freeman.

Who are the poets of the Victorian era? Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Algernon Charles Swinburne (“r”-ed throughout), D. Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, William Morris, Robert Buchanan, Andrew Lang, Robert Bridges, Lewis Morris, Edwin Arnold, Alfred Austin, Norman Gale, Richard Le Gallienne, Philip Bourke Marston, Mary F. Robinson, Theodore Watts, etc., etc.

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Who are the dramatists of to-day? Grundy, Pinero, Henry Arthur Jones, W. S. Gilbert, Haddon Chambers, Comyns Carr, Carton, Raleigh, George E. Sims (mark the virtue of that long-mysterious “r”).

And who in the past have done anything for our prose dramatic literature? Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith, and, earlier still, Congreve, Wycherley, Farquhar, and Vanbrugh. Nay, which are the mighty names in our literature? Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Herrick, Dryden, Alexander Pope, Butler, Sterne, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Walter Scott, Robert Burns.

You may even look at the greatest names in the world’s literature. Homer, Virgil (Maro), Horace, Firdusi, Omar Khayyam, Cervantes, Calderon, Petrarch, Rabelais, Dante Alighieri, Schiller, Voltaire, Rousseau, Moliere, Corneille, Racine, Honore de Balzac, Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Verlaine, Heinrich Heine.

Of course there are not a few minus the “r,” as Milton, Keats, Goethe, Swift, etc., etc.

There seems indeed to be a sub-species of “sons”–Ben Jonson, Dr. Johnson, William Watson, John Davidson, Austin Dobson. Nevertheless there is an overwhelming preponderance of “r” sounds in the names of the world’s authors. What is the underlying reason? Is there a certain rugged virility in the letter, which made it somehow expressive of the nature of the original owners? “N” is certainly suave and plausible in comparison, and might well produce a posterity of publishers. What adds some colour to the suspicion is that, when writers have chosen noms de guerre, they have frequently–though all unconsciously–taken names in “r.” This explains why all the lady novelists run to “George.” Publisher versus author may now be expressed symbolically as N/R, N over R, the N of money over the R of art.

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With our artists I find a less strong tendency to “l’s” as well as to “r’s,” and it is therefore only appropriate that a Leighton should long preside over the Royal Academy, a Millais be its chief ornament, and finally its head, and a Whistler its chief omission; that constable and Walker should be the glory of English art, that Reynolds should be our national portrait-painter, and Landseer our animal-painter, and Wilkie our domestic painter. Turner made up for his surname by the superfluity of “l’s” in his William Mallord, Raphael starts as an R. A., while Michael Angelo, with his predominance in “l’s,” is rightly king of art. The absence of “l” in Hogarth’s name and the strong presence of “r” of course denotes that the satirist was more of a literary man than an artist. The “r” in Whistler, on the other hand, clearly indicates the literary faculty of the author of “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.” And if Du Maurier’s real future was hinted in his orthography, Leech and Tenniel and Phil May and Linley Sambourne have vindicated their “l’s.” So have Luke Fildes, Alma Tadema, H. T. Wells, G. D. Leslie, John Collier, Val Prinsep, Solomon J. Solomon, Frank Bramley, Phil Morris, Calderon, Leader, Nettleship, Seymour Lucas, Waterlow, William Strutt, Albert Moore, W. W. Ouless, C. W. Wyllie, Sir John Gilbert, Louise Jopling, Onslow Ford, and even W. C. Horsley. There are only three foreign Academicians at the time of writing, but they all boast the “l.”

With musicians there is a tendency to “m’s” and “n’s,” which sounds harmonious enough, Mendelssohn, Massenet, Mascagni, Mackenzie, Schumann, have both letters; Mozart but one. Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, Saint-Saens, Sullivan, Charles Salaman, Edward Solomon, Frederic Cowen, run “n”-wards with the unanimity of publishers, while Gounod, Stanford, Audran, Sebastian Bach, Donizetti, work in the “n” otherwise, and Wagner has the librettist’s “r” in addition. Would you play the piano? You must have the “n” of the piano, like Pachmann, Rubinstein, Rosenthal, Hofmann, Frederick Dawson, Madame Schumann, Fanny Davies, Agnes Zimmermann, Leonard Borwick, Nathalie Janotha, Sapellnikoff, Sophie Menter. Even for other instruments, including the human voice divine, the “n” is advisable. Paganini, Jenny Lind, Norman Neruda, Christine Nilsson–all patronized it largely. Adelina Patti, Johannes Wolf, and many others make a “Christian” use of it. If, on the other hand, you wish to manufacture pianos your chance of founding a first-class firm will be largely enhanced if your name begins with “b.”

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Actors, like authors, roll their “r’s”; and if their names are pseudonyms, so much the greater proof that some occult instinct makes them elect for that virile letter. Who are our leading actors and actor-managers? The double-r’s: Henry Irving, Herbert Beerbohm Tree (two pairs), Forbes-Robertson, George Alexander, Arthur Roberts, Edward S. Willard, Edward Terry, Charles Brookfield, Wilson Barrett, Fred Terry, Fred Kerr, Charles Warner, W. Terriss, George Grossmith, Charles Hawtrey, Arthur Bourchier (two pairs). Scarcely any leading actor lacks one “r,” as Charles Wyndham, Cyril Maude, Louis Waller, etc., etc. Those without any “r’s” may console themselves with the memory of Edmund Kean, though Garrick–a name almost wholly compact of “r”–is the patron saint of the stage.

The ladies follow the gentlemen. From Ellen Terry and Winifred Emery to Ada Rehan and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, from Rose Leclercq and Marie Bancroft to Marion Terry and Irene Vanbrugh, few dare dispense with the “r.”

But I have said enough. I have opened up new perspectives for the curious and the philosophic, which they may follow up for themselves. Here is a fresh field for faddists and mystagogues. Already I have proved as much as many systems of mediaeval philosophy which strove to extract the essence of things from the study of words and letters. Already I have collected more evidence than the sectarians of the Shakespeare-Bacon. Bacon write Shakespeare, indeed! A man without an “r” to his name, pointed out by his “n” for a publisher, and, indeed, not without some of the characteristics of the class. Seriously, the truth is that l, m, n, and r are the leading letters in name-making; but still there does seem to be more in the coincidence to which I have drawn attention than mere accident explains.

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