The Right Coast

October 28, 2005
It's Nominal
By Maimon Schwarzschild

An offhand reference to J. L. Austin, the Oxford philosopher, set me to wondering how many authors have written books or articles that make a play on their own names. Austin, the very model of a "linguistic analysis" philosopher at Oxford in the mid-twentieth century -- he died in 1960, still in his 40s -- is famously the author of a philosophical work called "Sense and Sensibilia". It's a book of essays on the philosophy of knowledge.

Austin was just wry -- and quirky -- enough that it's imaginable he chose philosophy as a career, then specialised in epistemology, purely so that he would be able to take advantage of his name's similarity to Jane's, and title his book accordingly.

Then there is the famous physics essay, "The Origin of Chemical Elements", which started out as a doctoral thesis by Ralph Alpher, and was going to be published as an article co-authored with Alpher's teacher, George Gamow. (The article is a classic in the development of the "Big Bang" theory.) The puckish Gamow asked his friend Hans Bethe to join as co-author. So now it was by Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow. Bethe's name had the odd parenthetical "(in absentia)" after it: the only acknowledgment that Bethe hadn't written, and might not have read, the work. The article appeared in the Physical Review, coincidentally (perhaps) dated April 1, 1948.

Other examples?