How I solved my iden­tity cri­sis

What do you do when an­other jour­nal­ist writes un­der the same name as you?


IT’S MIRIAM SHA­VIV here; JC com­ment ed­i­tor, and the same Miriam Sha­viv that usu­ally ap­pears in this slot. It may sound as if I’m stat­ing the ob­vi­ous, but those of you who read the Jerusalem Post may be con­fused. For al­though the odds seem in­cred­i­bly low, there is an­other jour­nal­ist called Miriam Sha­viv. She ed­its the Arts sec­tion of the Post, the pa­per which em­ployed me be­fore I worked here. And she writes reg­u­larly un­der the same by­line as me.

Le­gions of read­ers over the past few years have had trou­ble sort­ing out ex­actly which Miriam Sha­viv is which and who is writ­ing from where. I’ve re­ceived, lit­er­ally, hun­dreds of pro­fes­sional emails meant for the “other” Miriam; fielded dozens of en­quiries, in­clud­ing from my own col­leagues, about pieces “Miriam Sha­viv” has writ­ten for the Post; and on oc­ca­sion, been bluntly asked which news­pa­per I write for.

And with all news­pa­pers avail­able on­line, the con­fu­sion gets even worse. Google our names and you can’t tell who wrote what.

Of course, this kind of name con­fu­sion is not un­usual in law, medicine and many other pro­fes­sions. But for jour­nal­ists who make their liv­ing through writ­ing, our names are our brand in a very real sense.

In busi­ness, there are laws that pre­vent a new com­pany open­ing a high-street store called Marks & Spencer or John Lewis in or­der to pre­vent brand con­fu­sion. If you are an artist who wishes to join Eq­uity, the ac­tors’ union, you are not al­lowed to use a pro­fes­sional name al­ready reg­is­tered to an­other. Writ­ers have no such laws. So, in need of some sym­pa­thy, I spoke to Dun­can Camp­bell, a se­nior correspondent at The Guardian and one who shares a by­line with Dun­can Camp­bell, the in­ves­tiga­tive TV jour­nal­ist and for­mer as­sis­tant ed­i­tor of the New States­man.

He was philo­soph­i­cal. “It’s been 30 years of con­fu­sion,” he said cheer­fully. “At one stage we both worked for Time Out at the same time. I was on staff and he was a free­lancer. On one oc­ca­sion we did a job to­gether, and the per­son we in­ter­viewed never got over it.”

The by­line on that story was “Dun­can Camp­bell and Dun­can Camp­bell”.

Camp­bell says he reg­u­larly re­ceives emails and in­vi­ta­tions meant for his name-dop­pel­ganger, “but I hope I’ve never taken work away from him. I once did ar­rive to give a talk at a univer­sity and re­alised as I stood up that they were clearly ex­pect­ing the other guy. I could see the looks of dis­ap­point­ment, and came clean”.

The men have dis­cussed in­sert­ing ini­tials into their by­lines, “but I am Ian Dun­can Camp­bell and ‘I Dun­can Camp­bell’ sounds like the first line in a last will and tes­ta­ment.”

Per­haps an even more com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion con­cerned the two Pa­trick Healys work­ing to­gether at the New York Times. The one who had been there first was a ju­nior re­porter. But in 2003, the pa­per re­cruited a hot­shot writer of the same name from the Bos­ton Globe.

Nor­mally, the new­comer would have been asked to change his by­line, but in this case, his name — his brand — was part of his at­trac­tion for the Times.

Nev­er­the­less, he opted to add his mid­dle ini­tial, D, to his by­line, while the ju­nior re­porter added his grand­mother’s maiden name, O’Gil­foil, to his.

“De­spite the name change,” the New York Ob­server re­ported in 2005, “the au­to­mated switch­board at The Times last week was dump­ing phone calls for both Mr Healys into Pa­trick D Healy’s voice­mail...

“And when Pa­trick D Healy’s Bos­ton Globe work made the Pulitzer fi­nals, Mr O’Gil­foil Healy re­calls, ‘I got a few emails from peo­ple I know in high school.’ He had to de­flate his would-be con­grat­u­la­tors. ‘It wasn’t me,’ he said. ‘It was the good Pa­trick Healy’.” Ouch. In our case as well, the Jerusalem Post’s Miriam Sha­viv did, at one stage, add a mid­dle ini­tial — A — to her by­line, but it did lit­tle to end the con­fu­sion.

Alas, there is no end to this saga in sight, but there may be at least some tem­po­rary respite for us both.

In the next cou­ple of weeks, the other Miriam Sha­viv will be go­ing on ma­ter­nity leave, leav­ing only one Miriam Sha­viv writ­ing, at least tem­po­rar­ily.

I am due to give birth about five months later, so when she comes back from leave, she will have her turn as well.

Hap­pily, both of us will not only gain by­lines, but also nieces or neph­ews. For we are sis­ters-in-law — she is mar­ried to my brother.

Per­haps, then, we have found a novel so­lu­tion to this is­sue: one of us should have a child ev­ery half year or so. It would cer­tainly make the grand­par­ents happy. Miriam Sha­viv, at least this one, is com­ment ed­i­tor of the Jewish Chron­i­cle

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