What’s in a Name?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not entirely convinced that the leaking of the author Robert Galbraith’s true identity had been an unfortunate error.

After all, the timing of that ‘accidental’ little sentence on Twitter, supposedly by a friend of the wife of someone who worked for the publishing company, was all too perfect.

I’m pretty sure J.K. Rowling was part and parcel of one of the most brilliant marketing strategies ever seen in the literary world.

After all, in spite of her public dismay at the ‘little mistake’, who were the losers here? Nobody. Rowling had already achieved her aim, which was the psychological freedom to write a story, and release it to the unsuspecting world, without any larger-than-life expectations.

As it happened, Galbraith’s book received good reviews simply on the merits of itself. It did not suffer the cruel fate of Rowling’s previous attempt, when The Casual Vacancy was damned by a mixed response simply because it was continually and unfairly compared to her (totally unrelated) Harry Potter oeuvre.

Now, everything everyone might have wished for had been achieved. The new book, which, presumably, is to form the first of a series featuring the new character Cormoran Strike has been established in the market without prejudice, on its own terms. Moreover, the excellent timing of that Twitter leak has ensured this new series instant best-seller status in the slipstream of Rowling star status. A new author has been born, a new hero has been written into existence, and everyone will be smiling all the way to the bank.

It is a great bonus for Little and Brown – even after supposedly paying out “substantial damages” to Rowling - and a truly happy ending for Rowling herself, who now has maintained both artistic integrity, without prejudice, as well as financial security through royalties (not to mention the “substantial damages” windfall) for all time and eternity. Although she probably had financial security already, who cares? Even better, this camera-shy author will be spared unnecessary interviews and book signings; one can hardly expect her to act the role in public of someone called Robert Galbraith?

So, what’s in a pseudonym? Well, nothing, and yet everything. I can think of many examples of celebrities whose careers would have taken a different route had they not chosen the right names for themselves. Would Robert Zimmerman have been quite as successful as Bob Dylan? Would a guy called Richard Starkey have been asked to play drums for the Beatles? How long would it have taken the band Fokofpolisiekar to achieve notoriety and, eventually, respect, had they been called ‘Die Kwaai Kwartet’? Well, they would have made it, eventually, simply because they were good enough – after all Die Heuwels Fantasties is good enough, too, and they are doing okay - but it would have been without that extra little something, that initial element of sheer unadulterated in-your-face audacity thrown into the mix.

To prove my point, here is another example. Last week, I read an article by Jaco M. Greeff in the By magazine in which revealed that, according to the latest research based on historical records and DNA sampling, most of the people called ‘Botha’ in modern-day South Africa should not have been called ‘Botha’, but ‘Appel’.

Now they tell us! I’m convinced that the National Party would have fallen much sooner had they been led, during the fearful years of the State of Emergency, by someone called ‘P.W. Appel’. It would have been impossible to fear someone with a name like that! Even if he had a stern frown! And even if he pointed his forefinger to all and sundry!

Of course, there would also have been a downside to this: Springbok-rugby might have died an early death if the best fly-half of all time had been a man going by the name of ‘Naas Appel’ instead of Naas Botha. I simply can’t imagine a bloke called ‘Naas Appel’ kicking all those balls accurately through the posts…

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Probably not. Just ask Robert Galbraith…
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