One thing’s certain about having a surname that’s easy to misspell and easy to misparse: It does push you in the direction of humility, by constantly reminding you that you’re not actually particularly well-known or that big a deal. In small ways, like the fact that I’m alphabetized under H in the list of program participants at the World Fantasy Con I’m currently attending in Brighton, England. And in moments of greater exposure and personal glory as well. For instance, this is what appeared on the big-screen monitors in the hall, and on the live UStream internet feed, while I was accepting the Hugo Award in the long-form editor category at this year’s Worldcon in San Antonio:
Here’s another example. A couple of days ago, Publishers Weekly announced its 2013 “Best Books” list, and I was delighted to discover that my and David Hartwell’s anthology Twenty-First Century Science Fiction was one of the six SF&F titles so honored. This delight was almost entirely unaffected by clicking through to the spot on PW’s site announcing this fact:
As I wailed to a friendly contact at PW—someone not at all responsible for this—“Would PW refer to ‘Gordon V. Gelder’? I think not.” So, okay, it’s being fixed. As Jim Macdonald would say, nobody died, nobody even lost a limb. And yet.
Here’s the best, and it’s been going on for weeks. Twenty-First Century Science Fiction was licensed for British publication by the excellent Constable & Robinson. Their edition will release on November 21, so it’s been available for pre-order on Amazon UK for a while. Here are the two different ways Amazon UK has been giving my name:
Needless to say, while I have some older anthologies for sale on Amazon UK, you’ll never be able to find them by clicking on Patrick Nielsen Hayward or his distant cousin Patrick Nielsen Hartwell. (And the less said about David G. Hayden, the better.) From what I gather, trying to figure out what’s causing this has given our Robinson editor—a lovely man with the fabulous name of Duncan Proudfoot, who I met just today here at World Fantasy Con—several new grey hairs over the last few weeks. And I sympathize. The rickety systems by which modern publishers propagate data to the big retailers are a source of endless problems, and it can be amazingly difficult to diagnose and correct even the simplest errors. Similar stuff has happened to my Tor projects on occasion. So no great blame to the folks at C&R, or at Amazon UK for that matter.
But it does sting one’s vanity a little. When I got the news about our book being selected as one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2013, I wanted to post a link to that page. But I didn’t, because on some level I think I didn’t want to broadcast the message that the trade journal of my industry obviously doesn’t have any idea who I am or what my name is. It’s kind of…lowering, an old word that I think could be usefully revived.
To circle back to the top of this post, this is why I’m such a prod about the way we conduct our ceremonies in the SF and fantasy field. Slides and programs should be proofread by multiple sets of eyes and the spellings of names confirmed against authoritative sources whenever possible. And, critically, the award presenters should be required to make sure in advance that they know how to pronounce the names of all the finalists and winners.
I’m actually not nobody—I have some standing in this field, I’ve been around some decades and done some stuff, so really, I can view stuff like the mangled chyron at this year’s Hugo ceremony with only slightly exasperated equanimity. (Besides, my name’s spelled right on the actual Hugo.) But I imagine a new writer, someone with a hard-to-spell or hard-to-pronounce name. To her astonishment, one of her stories is a finalist for (let’s say) the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. The award is being presented by J. Arthur Famouspro. She’s in the audience with (let’s say) three of her closest friends and her father. Famouspro reads off the other nominees fluidly, but then stumbles on her name, taking three tries to get it all out. In that moment the message of the event changes from “Our daughter/friend is doing so well, one of her stories was a finalist for a major award!” to “Our daughter/friend is such small fry that J. Arthur Famouspro obviously never heard of her until this moment and couldn’t be bothered to learn in advance how to say her name.” And that’s not how to honor people. Really it’s not.