It is a just and proper convention we use in naming authors and thinkers that the immortals have only last names. After all, to name an author is to enter into a game where we are to rank them in an implicit list by excellence, profundity and significance. Hence, to Gustave a Flaubert is to commit a faux pas, while depriving a Roth of his Philip sounds odd. I have been using this elegant and delightsome signaling scheme for years now, though in my college years when I hadn't yet mastered its intricacies I did commit some few gaffes. Still, the skill has now been acquired, so I rejoice in seeing its proper use in others, and police violations diligently.
And yet, and yet. This venerated scheme is obviously too simple to be perfect. We perforce Emilify and Charlottize our venerated Brontë's, and this when we yearn so earnestly to deprive them of those cumbersome affixes. Then too, rare names seem to unfairly boost reputations. Hence DeLillo or Dawkins, and this while poor Adam shall never be a Smith. And then there are those annoying writers of whom we know no other name other than the one in common use. Both Aristotle and Adonis are known by a mere single name. What a pity to be unable to mark just and proper distinctions in these cases! And, to get to the very core of the issue, does not the mind of delicacy rebel at the coarseness of a mere binary distinction where so many finer gradations may be fruitfully deployed?Allow me these simple suggestions:
- Since the great thinker is firstname-to-the-zeroth-power lastname, and the rest are firstname-to-the-first-power lastname, mayn't we make this explicit? Then we may speak properly of Adam to the zeroth Smith and Nico to the first Malebranche.
- Immediately as we recognize this, we are able to shake ourselves free of the binary hypnosis, and perceive the number line in all its elemental glory. For if firstnames are an embarrassment, how much worse it should be to have them repeated, and what an honor it should be to have the first name divided away from the last! Properly, we may speak of inverse-leo-to-the-sixth Tolstoy, Kant by Immanuel-to-the-fifth or Jacques-cubed Lacan. He who is as yet unconvinced needs merely repeat 'Yann-to-the-fourth Martel' a few times to recognize the wisdom of our proposal.
- The problem of missing firstnames is adequately dealt with by means of introducing the null first name (denote phi). Then, Voltaire by phi, but also phi Cher, inverse-phi-squared Pele and so on.
Bugs doubtless remain to be fixed, chief of which seems to me the inability of many rendering schemes to properly do mathematical exponents as in 2. Still, at least the explicit accounting of 1. may be achieved by writing firstnames, then striking them through when appropriate. This scheme, if followed, should make discussions of the more intellectual sort rather more exact, and by virtue of its more fine-grained telegraphical nature, superior at concise assessment. Alternately, we might name people pragmatically as we please, but this is less excellent.