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    Dead Man's Name Tag

    I've been away at an academic conference for nearly a week, leaving blog posts unfinished, e-mail unanswered, and campus office untenanted. I had a wonderful time with a bunch of scholars and actors at the American Shakespeare Center's reproduction of Shakespeare's Blackfriars playhouse. (If you'd like to see some excellent theater, a trip to see the ASC's company in Staunton, Virginia, is a great idea.) But I also bumped up against a small problem that's began to follow me wherever I go professionally: the problem of my (real) name.

    I am not the only Shakespeare scholar with my name. That's not surprising. My real name is quite common, not "John Smith" but a dirt-common first name with a vanilla-ethnic surname, so I bump into nominal doppelgangers all the time. I've gotten other people's phone calls and in one memorable case another person's subpoena. For years I went to a father-son barber shop, right across the street from my workplace, where both barbers shared my name and the younger barber, the one who cut my hair, even shared my middle name. So I wasn't surprised to discover that there was an older Shakespearean with my name, someone who began university teaching while I was still in grade school. And I knew what to do about it.

    I have always been careful to use my middle initial in my academic byline, especially in my publications but also when registering for conferences, so that conference programs and name tags identify me as "Cosimo P. Cleveland." This is the simplest (and likely the only) way to differentiate myself from the earlier scholar who published as plain "Cosimo Cleveland" or, occasionally, "Cosimo T. Cleveland." Using the middle initial feels a little fussy and overly-formal, and it wouldn't be my preference in an ideal world. I certainly don't introduce myself with my middle initial when I'm shaking hands; in fact, I use a less formal nickname, equivalent to "Cozmo" or "Coz." But leaving the initial out of my byline would be sloppy and disrespectful. It would also verge on filial disrespect for my own father, a published spy novelist whom we can call "Cosimo C. Cleveland," but there's not much chance my work will be confused with Dad's; books by that Cosimo Cleveland tend to be about fearless Mossad agents and books by this one tend to be about Elizabethan actors marking up their scripts. In any case, the middle initial is on my book and on all my published articles so far, so there's no changing it. My byline is now my byline.

    But when I go out in the professional world, that fussy little middle initial has been increasingly dropping away. The problem isn't that people confuse me with the other Cosimo Cleveland. The problem is that he's getting erased from history.

    Cosimo T., who got his first job teaching college a quarter-century before I got mine, published much less than I have. This isn't a reflection on him, and certainly isn't a reflection on me, but an indication of how much our profession changed between his generation and mine. Professors hired in the seventies did not publish nearly as much as professors must today, because professors then were not expected to publish the way we are today. I published more articles before I got tenure than Cosimo T. published in his entire career, not because I am smarter or more industrious than Cosimo T. was, but because one of the requirements for me to get tenure in the 21st century was to publish more than Cosimo T., who taught at a somewhat better school than I, published over his three-decade career. If I hadn't out-published him by the end of year five, I would have been fired. This is true everywhere. All academics of my generation have to produce much more research than the older generation did. Those are just the facts of our business.

    And, unlike Cosimo T., I have published a book.  That's partly about generational expectations as well. But it means, inevitably, that more people have heard of the younger Cosimo than of the elder. So they don't necessarily see the point of my fussy little middle initial, except as something pointlessly fussy. They don't see it as differentiating me from the other Cosimo Cleveland, because they don't know there ever was another Cosimo Cleveland.

    So I unfailingly send in my conference registration paperwork as "Cosimo P.," but sometimes I show up and open my program to find "Cosimo Cleveland" on the schedule. Not always, of course, but twice in the last month.  And I get a name tag identifying me as simply "Cosimo," so that I have walked around a conference hotel for a long weekend wearing a retired man's name, and now, I have come to fear, a dead man's name. I googled the other Cosimo Cleveland this morning and saw an ambiguous reference to his death. But when I search "Cosimo Cleveland Shakespeare obituary" google just gives me a bunch of links that refer to myself. "You've totally eclipsed that guy," one of my conference friends told me six months ago when I explained this problem. "Everyone who talks about 'Cosimo Cleveland' means you." But being part of someone else's eclipse, even unintentionally, is not a good feeling.

    And while I can usually insist on the middle initial in print, I can't make people remember it when they cite my work. It's very common to leave out middle initials by accident, or to misremember the initial, when writing footnotes. I've made both mistakes myself, meaning no disrespect to the scholars I was quoting; before I had any work of my own to footnote, I had not thought about why people might prefer a specific form of their names. (I apologize to those scholars here, and will happily do so again in person.) There's no great conspiracy at work, but the error is clearly related to the earlier Cosimo falling out of academic memory. If my name were Stephen X. Greenblatt, I would not be having this problem.

    There's no way to insist on the middle initial or to make any kind of fuss when it gets dropped. That wouldn't revive Cosimo T.'s reputation, but would surely give Cosimo P. one. All I can do is to scrupulously use that initial myself, because the fact of that earlier career deserves to be acknowledged. History is part of my work. If I spend much of my time trying to retrieve lost details four centuries gone, I should not consent to forgetting the recent history of my own guild. And as someone who will die someday, I find it sad to see another person's life being forgotten. Devouring time may blunt the lion's jaws, but it is also devouring the memory of one Cosimo Cleveland, a dedicated teacher and scholar, and in due course it will come for me. There isn't even malice involved. People simply stop knowing. The name tag hanging around my neck in this or that hotel ballroom gives no testimony to that earlier Cosimo's work or life, but I have to read it as a reminder: memento mori.



    There are a few other Michael Maiello's out there who do what I like to do.

    One produced Kiss of the Spider Woman.

    One is an actor who had a small part in Radio Flyer, among other movies.

    Then there's me, the writer, with credit for helping to write one TV series that was made into a pilot but never went beyond it.

    We all share one IMDB entry.

    Not sure if somebody is getting credit for my writing gig or if I am getting credit for producing Kiss of the Spider Woman or what.

    What a weird experience. Crowd-sourced references make this more of a problem.

    A friend of mine used to have a Wikipedia entry that identified him, not as himself but as an obscure British rock musician. The weird part is that this particular friend is part of a family where no one is a household name but almost everyone, including my friend, is wikipedia-famous. They all have writing credits of various kinds. So wikipedia used to identify the random British rock musician as a member of my friend's family.

    Now there are separate entries. My friend has a full one and the bass player has a stub.

    Well, at least your credit is for "The Flux Report" and not "Meat Cleaver Love".  Something to be said for that.




    Welcome to my world.  There is a wiki-pedia entry for famous people named Michael Smith, none of whom are me.  I'm not even considered important enough to make the list, let alone be confused with any of these other Michael / Mike Smiths.   There are even famous people out there using only my middle and last name, and one of them is a woman on TV!

    Try doing genealogy research with not one, but two, totally unrelated Smith lines in your family tree.  It ain't easy.

    I think, in regards to legacy, all we can do is to keep putting our own markers out there, and continue to point out the differences between our work and that of our predecessors and / or our similarly named colleagues.   People will make up their own minds whether or not we deserve a spot in their memory, and we'll have no say as to where they put us. 


    Jeezz dude, why so morose? Try and look on the bright side. wink

    Why yes, I'm the Michael Smith that won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1915. I do look a bit young but that's because of the anti-aging creme I invented as an MD at John Hopkins. Of course I haven't had much time recently to work there what with the time I've been spending singing opera at the Met. Oh yes, that's my work on quantum physics that Hawkings used to formulate his theories. These hor doeuvres? I just whipped them up for this party. Not to brag but I am the famous french chef Michael Smith. Why thank you, most of these paintings are mine. But my best work in in the Michael Smith wing of the MOMA. I feel an artist has an obligation to the public to see that a certain amount of his work is on public display. My daily routine? Well each morning I do a few hours of laps. With the olympics coming up I can't afford to slack off. If you google my name you'll see I've competed before but I think this is the year that Michael Smith takes home the gold or at least silver in the 500 meter free style.

    Actually, that's pretty much what I do.  I'm still laughing that you nailed me so perfectly, ocean-kat.   P.S.  I don't know that anyone has ever called me morose before. Thanks! (Still chuckling ... and may continue to do so all the way into tomorrow.)

    Who knew it was such a blessing to have a weird last name? I believe that I'm the only Michael Wolraich in the world, though there's at least one who spells his name Wolreich.

    Why are publishing requirements so much higher now? Is it a good thing?

    PS The best nominal doppelganger story: The Secret Life of a Society Maven.

    What a wonderful article!  Thanks for sharing it, M.W.

    Isn't it? I couldn't help thinking of it when I read Dr. C's post.

    My favorite story about the nominal doppelganger is Nabokov's "Conversation Piece, 1945." The narrator is always getting messages intended for another Russian refugee with the same name (first, last, middle, and nickname) but a very different personality. Like a message asking to return an overdue copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

    Then one day a friend of a friend invites a narrator to a party, but when he gets there he realizes that they had meant to invite the other man. I won't spoil anything else.

    As for Mike's serious question: there are many reasons for the increase in research expectations, but the most important one is supply and demand. As the number of viable middle-class jobs shrink, the competitive bar for getting and keeping one of them gets higher and higher.

    Where a large school may once have had four Shakespeare professors, each of whom published moderately, the same school may now have one who publishes about as much as all of those four combined did, with any other teaching of Shakespeare farmed out to adjuncts who (even if they *do* publish research, because they want a tenure-track job) have "teaching only" jobs, and get paid a few thousand dollars per class.

    People's increased productivity is not at all a bad thing, but the reason for it is a very, very bad thing.

    It's a fascinating story but I had a real problem with New Alan deciding Old Alan's real life should be exposed.  Why?  For a finish to the story?  Maybe it's my mood tonight but it felt like trampling on a grave.  I'm glad his brother wouldn't tell New Alan Old Alan's secrets. 

    I wonder how the brother's refusal might have played into New Alan's decision to quote him verbatim, rough grammar and all?   

    I agree with you about the brother but not about New Alan.

    Old Alan was happy to publicize his assumed identity, and he welcomed an earlier NYT article by New Alan about his life as a socialite. In doing so, he defrauded the public. The fraud was harmless, but it was still a fraud, and I think it well within New Alan's prerogative to expose the fraud that he unwittingly helped propagate.

    I used to get the Steely Dan reaction a few times a year, but it has slacked off lately.

    Haha, that was the first question I ever asked you! LOL Donal.

    Actually the most recent one was a cold fusion true believer who tried to make fun of my name by quoting, "I got the feelin' that somethin' ain't right." Problem was that was by Stealers Wheel, not Steely Dan.

    I suppose he believed that Gerry Rafferty transmuted into Donald Fagen.

    Wow, mistaking Donald Fagen for Gerry Rafferty is well to a Steely Dan fan, SACRIFUCKINGLIGIOUS!

    I find it helps if you add a "nonymous' to the end of your name. 

    Only if you have an unusual first initial. Nice to see you Q.

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