For a while, now, a clutch of hardworking journalists have been playing a really neat trick. Instead of getting wet by going out to a library and getting some statistics to support their piece, they’ve discovered that if you type vaguely relevant words into Google and record the number of hits that come back you can look authoritative while claiming, variously, that Britney Spears is more important than God, that the majority of people now believe global warming to be less likely than Elvis living in Morocco, and that Chinese opera singers have less visibility in the English-speaking world than their western counterparts. Google hits, then, are a reliable barometer of everything.
665 out of every million people in the UK have the surname “Rees”. Lots of them are in Wales. And lots of them are called “David”. Are you impressed? I’ve already gotten electronically wetter than your average broadsheet journalist writing an article about Chinese opera singers.
I’ll wow you some more: the name “David” is in decline among new births in this country. In 2008, little Davids sulked in 64th place, behind names like Ben (yes, that’s “Ben”, not “Benjamin”) and Logan (too much X-Men?). In case you’re interested, Amelie’s doing well on the girls’ side.
What this means is that there are a fair few David Reeses around at the moment and I’ll probably have keeled over from a (teen-B-movie-inspired) seizure by the time the Ashton Reeses conquer the world.
Enter the barometer. Typing “David Rees” into Google returns 144,000 results, categorically proving that there are fewer David Reeses out there than there are “Chinese opera singers” (222,000), and that we are also outnumbered by Britneys (did you know that 51 million versions of Britney Spears stalk the globe? There are more of her than there are Australians). But also categorically proving that there are a lot of other David Reeses that people would have to hunt through to find me.
My brethren are legion and diverse. We include a “satirical” cartoonist (“satirical” if you go by American standards), five photographers, (at least) two authors, a motley collection of musicians and painters, a disproportionate number of lawyers in the vicinity of Wales and a fish taxonomist.
Their company would be all very well were I still a lawyer, lurking anonymously behind many veils of shadows, quietly pulling at the strings of evil.* But I’m no lawyer no more. If the last year or so is anything to go by, I’m an Artist: a photographer and an as-yet-undiscovered-but-still-optimistic scribe. And, as an Artist, I need a better name.
There are a variety of traditional methods to find yourself a new name or modify your old one.
If I were from North America, I could scatter in some middle initials and Roman numerals, but in Europe we only tend to do that if we want people to think we’re pompous or our name is preceded by the word “Highness”.
There’s also the generic category approach, favoured by Jane Austen. Her nom de plume when publishing Sense and Sensibility was the unimaginative but (I assume) accurate “A Lady”. So I could call myself “A Man” or, perhaps, “The Man”. The trouble is that, these days, that would smell faintly of bling.
Legend has it that in the adult entertainment industry, one formulates one’s name using the name of your pet and the maiden name of your mother. That would make my new name, courtesy of the catfish that just kept sucking (how apt), Bonita Bart.
Or I could look to the example of noted figures in history, such as, erm, Joseph Stalin, who adopted his surname because it meant “steel”. So I could be David Steel, of whom Machiavelli Nick Clegg assures us no one has ever heard. Or I could be David Stalin, which would be a good icebreaker at parties.
And, if I were really adventurous, I could become mononymous. I would follow in the illustrious footsteps of Madonna, Canaletto and Pelé. The problem with that being that, if you’re not as well-known as Madonna, Canaletto and Pelé, going mononymous is a good indicator that you’re a bit of a ponce.
In the end, I did it by syllables. One for the first name, so people can remember what you’ve said even when they’re drowning in drink. Three for the surname, to give it weight (consider “Basildon Bond”, where the triple-syllable effect would carry considerable gravitas if it didn’t refer to Essex’s homage to Croydon).
From there, it was easy. The first name would be “Scott”, because drunks got it, because I don’t know anyone else called Scott who could confuse me in moments of dementia, and because no one could shorten Scott in the way people automatically assume that you are “Dave”. With the Fosters and the barbecue.
And the second? 12 years ago, I started a novel which I’ll still be writing 12 years from now. And, somewhere near page 6,000, I had a character who was half-Swedish, half-American and lived in Idaho. I gave him the surname “Rylander”. Sorry, Caleb, but I’m stealing it back.
Scott Rylander, photographer, has a website. He’d very much like you to head down to http://www.scottrylander.com/ and take a look. He’d like it even more if you’d commission some of his work.
And he’d like it best if people realised that his aim isn’t to sound like a fluffer from the 70s. If he’d wanted that, he’d have called himself Bonita Bart.
* This isn’t actually what lawyers outside John Grisham novels do, but it sounds better than “if you’re working in a law firm people know where to look up your name”.