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

    Last updated: 1:59pm, May 28 2008