Sean Williams is a #1 New York Times-bestselling novelist. He or she is also an ethnomusicologist, a social media manager for Hyundai, an electronic musician, a police officer who shot a 22-year old man for no good reason, a basketballer, a cricketer, a comic book writer who lives in the Spam capital of the US, and many other things.
Can you guess which one I am?
As a kid I decided that “Jonathan Silver” was what I would change my name to when I grew up, because that sounded like a good name for a cowboy. This was before I read Treasure Island.
When I made my first professional sale, it was under my best friend’s name. At the last minute I decided to use my own instead, and have continued doing so for the rest of my career.
My mother says that I was named after James Bond, and my father, whose surname I share, was fond of his roots (something I call “Welsh-fulfilment”). Neither is enough to make me comfortable with the name I was christened.
And yet . . .
In Dutch there’s a word for people who have the same name: “naamgenoot”, which works similarly to “housemate” or “classmate” in English. I enjoy finding my namemates and making contact with them and/or buying their books to confuse my friends. It feels obscurely like tracking down parts of myself who have become dispersed through time and space, like the fragments of a being too vast for a single ordinary life, a being that can only be partially glimpsed by its component parts, thanks to search engines.*
This idea appeals to me. My mind is full of such things. And twins, for some reason.
It seems to me that I’ve spent most of my professional life seeking a profound truth regarding identity or selfhood that we desperately need to grasp if we’re going to survive the curse of history (i.e. to repeat it). I suspect that this truth is in part an obvious one, that everyone searches for it, and that we’ve heard it many times here on the Listserve.
We need to be better. We need to be bigger. We need to be meaningfully connected to each other.
So why not, as an exercise, try connecting through names? Some find the idea diminishing that what we call ourselves is rarely unique. Me, the only thing diminished is my instinctive dislike of my name. If others share it, it can’t be that bad, right? Even the versions of me who made terrible mistakes or have grown up to be terrible people, they’re integral parts of the vast organism that is meta-Sean Williams. And he/she really appeals to me.
So if you’re another Sean Williams, drop me a line via the email below. It’ll be great to meet you, whoever you are. I’m also “adelaidesean” on Twitter. Together, let’s make the world a better place.
Or let’s take it over. One of the two.
Adelaide, South Australia
* I’m married to someone who possesses no known namemate. There needs to be a word for that. Any suggestions?