What’s Not in a Name?

     Let the pundits wonder if the days of print media are numbered with their leading question “Who reads newspapers and magazines anymore?” My query to the staffs of magazines is “Who is checking the spelling of names?” Have publishers fired all their copy editors and proofreaders, believing that in a cyber world of abbreviations and corrupted spellings, no one cares how names are spelled?

The most egregious instance of sloppiness in name-checking in recent years occurred in Benjamin Schwarz’s essay “When Men Lost Their Charm” which appeared in the June 2013 issue of The Atlantic. The venerable literary editor of that magazine for a number of years should have known that the actor featured in a number of films with Orson Welles was Joseph Cotten, not Joseph Cotton. Yet the actor’s last name was misspelled eight times in Schwarz’s assessment of The Third Man.

The December 2013/January 2014 Art & Antiques reviewed an exhibition at the Morgan Library of work by and inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. The article, entitled “Under the Raven’s Wing,” was apparently not under a proofreader’s wing because the caption under a portrait on page 45 read “Daguerreotype of Edgar Allen Poe.”

The same inconsistency seems to plague the staff at The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. The “Name This Famous Person” feature on page 62 of the January 2014 issue offered two spelling options: the caption below the 1848 portrait claimed the famous person is Emily Dickinson while the name attached to the poem “Not in Vain” at the top of the page is Emily Dickenson.

In a profile entitled “The Take-Down Artist” Andrew Goldman described filmmaker Alex Gibney for readers of the December 2013 Men’s Journal as looking a bit like Vladimir Lenin, “but then he’ll laugh, revealing a gap-toothed smile, and he suddenly seems about as menacing as Alfred E. Newman.” Andrew, take this down: the correct spelling of the Mad mascot is Alfred E. Neuman.

Having the same last name as the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, I am about to tee off on writers who still misspell his name: get the t off. Look at the last frame of any of the daily strips and below the title of any of the Sunday spreads: there in bold, printed letters is the correct spelling: SCHULZ.

Is this laziness or carelessness? Nicholas Carr in “The Great Forgetting” indicates how the dependency upon computers to fly planes and cars leads to a reliance on automation, trusting machines to be more precise than humans are. “Most of us have experienced complacency when using a computer. In using e-mail or word-processing software, we become less proficient proofreaders when we know that a spell-checker is at work.” Carr concludes that automation turns us from actors into observers.

The Yankee Doodle Dandy may soon have reason to regret declaring “I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.” It will be the day an article appears with the title “Over There: A Salute to George M. Wright.”







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