Monday 18 December 2006

On not being an Italian dj

Someone writes to say they typed 'david crystal blog' into Google and found themselves on the coolest electro- techno- progressive dj site ever, and they never guessed in a million years I looked like that or did that sort of thing in my spare time. Yeah, right!

There is no copyright on names, as thousands of John Smiths know very well. You might think an unusual name would be different, but in fact David Crystal isn't that unusual. The surname has two possible etymologies. One links it to other names such as Christopher, and has Celtic connections - there are McCrystals around, for instance. The other is a derivation from a Central European name, related to words which mean 'jeweller'. It's the latter that's relevant in my case, as my great-grandfather left Lithuania for Britain in the late 19th century.

It can get confusing when you go searching. There's another David Crystal who writes poetry, for instance. A couple of years ago I visited a British Council library in India where the librarian had done an amazingly thorough job of putting a collection of my books on display. It included a couple of (the other) David Crystal's. I pointed out that they weren't by me, and she seemed quite disappointed, as she'd enjoyed reading them, as they gave her an insight into the seedier side of London life, and she was very impressed that I knew about such things.

She had checked on Amazon, she said, and had got the clear impression that they were by me. How? The problem lies in the way Amazon handles its titles. If you look up a book on Amazon it often says, towards the bottom of a record, 'People who bought books by X also bought books by Y'? When they are my books, the cross-references are always to other linguists, as you'd expect. Unfortunately, the software used by Amazon doesn't distinguish between people with the same name, so the alternative DC also has cross-references to linguists. No wonder the librarian was misled.

I've never understood why Amazon doesn't provide a more sophisticated semantic contextualization of authors, to distinguish those with the same name. The point would apply just as much to books with the same title - or of course to artists, musicians, and so on. It wouldn't be difficult - though it would take a bit of time - using an encyclopedic taxonomy and appropriate software. John Ford (dramatist) would then be clearly different from John Ford (film director), and so on. I did write and suggest it once, but never got a reply.

There's also a psychologist in the US called David Crystal. That isn't me either. Nor do I offer eye care or design pendants. I just do linguistics.

Anyway, back to Italy. It turns out that Rimini-based Davide Taranto has adopted 'David Crystal' as his dj name. Why, he doesn't say. I wonder what reaction I'll get when I next go to Italy?

1 comment:

The Ridger, FCD said...

Amazon sent me a notice that Chris Mooney's new book - The Missing - was now out. Unfortunately, it's not the same Chris Mooney whose other books I had bought from them: that one is a science writer, this one writes thrillers. I wondered if the other one's fans would get a bulletin for Storm World - it sort of sounds like a thriller, doesn't it?

Also inexplicably (to me) I got a recommendation as someone who has purchased Anthony Trollope books, of a work on container ships and oil tankers... by John Sunderland. I still haven't figured that one out.