Sean Williams

So I Won The Listserve And This Is What I Wrote

posted on 11 Mar 2015 at 10:00 am

What do you say to tens of thousands of people in 600 words? After considerable thought, here’s what I settled on. Some of the many responses I received are at the end of this post.

(Don’t know what The Listserve is? This is what The Listserve is.)

Hi there

Sean Williams is a #1 New York Times-bestselling novelist. He or she is also an ethnomusicologist, a social media manager for Hyundai, an electronic musician, a police officer who shot a 22-year old man for no good reason, a basketballer, a cricketer, a comic book writer who lives in the Spam capital of the US, and many other things.

Can you guess which one I am?

FACES 2As a kid I decided that “Jonathan Silver” was what I would change my name to when I grew up, because that sounded like a good name for a cowboy. This was before I read Treasure Island.

When I made my first professional sale, it was under my best friend’s name. At the last minute I decided to use my own instead, and have continued doing so for the rest of my career.

My mother says that I was named after James Bond, and my father, whose surname I share, was fond of his roots (something I call “Welsh-fulfilment”). Neither is enough to make me comfortable with the name I was christened.

And yet . . .

In Dutch there’s a word for people who have the same name: “naamgenoot”, which works similarly to “housemate” or “classmate” in English. I enjoy finding my namemates and making contact with them and/or buying their books to confuse my friends. It feels obscurely like tracking down parts of myself who have become dispersed through time and space, like the fragments of a being too vast for a single ordinary life, a being that can only be partially glimpsed by its component parts, thanks to search engines.*

This idea appeals to me. My mind is full of such things. And twins, for some reason.

It seems to me that I’ve spent most of my professional life seeking a profound truth regarding identity or selfhood that we desperately need to grasp if we’re going to survive the curse of history (i.e. to repeat it). I suspect that this truth is in part an obvious one, that everyone searches for it, and that we’ve heard it many times here on the Listserve.

We need to be better. We need to be bigger. We need to be meaningfully connected to each other.

So why not, as an exercise, try connecting through names? Some find the idea diminishing that what we call ourselves is rarely unique. Me, the only thing diminished is my instinctive dislike of my name. If others share it, it can’t be that bad, right? Even the versions of me who made terrible mistakes or have grown up to be terrible people, they’re integral parts of the vast organism that is meta-Sean Williams. And he/she really appeals to me.

So if you’re another Sean Williams, drop me a line via the email below. It’ll be great to meet you, whoever you are. I’m also “adelaidesean” on Twitter. Together, let’s make the world a better place.

Or let’s take it over. One of the two.




* I’m married to someone who possesses no known namemate. There needs to be a word for that. Any suggestions?

Suggestions I’ve received for an anti-naamgenoot:

naamling – from Gerard Ritsema van Eck, who is himself a naamling, and is Dutch, and has very good reasons for this to be the word!

naamgenootloos – also from the Dutch, but this time from Dennis Kaarsemaker who translates this word as “namemateless … or (slightly Orwellian): uninamed”.





namewhack, nooglewhack or naamgewhack – after googlewhack

Hapax lenomenon – after Hapax legomenon, a word that is used once in a body of works

afwezignaamgenoot – meaning “absent namemate”

(Uncredited for the most part because I wasn’t sure of the protocols. If you’d like me to put your name next to your excellent suggestions, comment and I will edit, promise.)

Someone suggested that people with unique names belong to new members of the meta-human race. If you’re one of them, welcome!

Leanne Woodall has this awesome suggestion:

You said you are married to someone who possesses no known namemate. This person would be “The Original” (insert name here). Then when someone else comes along with their name, your spouse will be forever known as The Original! Awesome, right?!

I’ve also been directed towards these awesome projects:

The Other Kate Perry

Searching for Angela Shelton

Robert Russell’s portraits of people called Robert Russell

A Town, a Tornado, and Twenty People Named Phil Cambell

And been reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick, which I hadn’t read for a very long time.

I love you, Listserve.


Meanwhile, on the subject of naamgenoots, here’s a novel I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. Needs a better title, and an ending, but I think it would be fun:

My Pitch for the Perfect Horror Movie

Caroline is receiving emails from someone with her name, another Caroline who’s convinced she died in her sleep and slipped into a world that’s not quite right, where her parents are acting weird, there’s a basement below her basement that’s full of diaries, and she’s receiving old text messages from her brother who died in Afghanistan a year ago, just like the “real” Caroline’s brother did. It’s as if Caroline is haunting herself. And like all ghosts, the other Caroline won’t go away until she gets closure. Written as a series of emails and accounts addressed to yet another Caroline, this is a never-predictable exploration of grief and the knots we tie ourselves into in order to avoid letting go of the past.

(Image via morguefile.)

  1. Jeff says:

    Bah! Humbug! Old grumblebum comes to town! The word you were looking for is “namesake”.Noun for a person or thing having the same name as another person or thing. Not namemate, OK? Now about naamgenoot. It doesn’t translate into housemate or classmate. The English Dutch Dictionary I tried doesn’t give a Dutch translation for housemate, and gives “medeleering” as the translation for classmate. Naamgenoot translates into English as “namesake” May I suggest that someone has muddied the waters by giving inaccurate translations of a Dutch word. As for a suitable antonym for namesake, because that’s the correct word we should be conjuring with, there doesn’t need to be one. “My partner doesn’t have a namesake on the internet’ would suffice. She remains a person, but a person without a namesake on the internet. She may have a namesake(s) in your actual real world, somewhere, but they have escaped the clutches of the internet. But if you really do want one or something like one, here we go. Since namesake is the root word here, may I suggest “unnamesaken”, yes it’s not a noun, but it does describe the condition. Derived from the words “unnamed” and “forsaken” but build around the root word of “namesake” and combined judiciously in the manner of the English language. Not exactly elegant. We don’t always need a specific word for something, understanding of what is involved can be more than sufficient. I always felt you got off lightly with your namesakes, mine are an infinite legion filling vast volumes of internet. I have to contend with an opera singer, an artist (not to be confused with a New Zealand artist of the same name), an ABC journalist, and a fellow who borrows from the same library as myself.. That’s in this State. Sorry, but your pitch for the perfect horror movie is more like a pitch for a perfectly good psychological thriller. However, it is a good idea full of unsettling potential. I suspect it needs a second idea to ignite the fireworks.Yes, and a good ending which I’m sure you can supply. Also, why the faint font for writing comments? It makes proof reading nigh impossible. Best, Jeff

  2. Jeff says:

    What a drongo I am! It was staring me in the face.The phrase “My Pitch for a Perfect Horror Movie” was the title for the story. Not a description of what it was going to be. Really so obvious too! In which case, it follows logically that Caroline (well, at least, one of the Carolines) must be a horror writer (either print or for movies, or, possibly, both). That’s excellent! Things start to fall into place. There’s only the business of deciding whether the live brother is a blessing or a menace or something entirely different.

  3. Jeff says:

    About “naamgenootloos – also from the Dutch, but this time from Dennis Kaarsemaker who translates this word as “namemateless … or (slightly Orwellian): uninamed”.” I demur with Dennis. Naamgenootloos better translates into English as namesakeless. Also, if by “uniname” he means “one-name”, so coined by adding the Latin prefix for one then it’s not exactly Orwellian. Orwell’s Newspeak remained resolutely Anglo-Saxon in its use of plain words. May I suggest the classier, Classics based, and derived from the old style Greek: mononym. For names appended to one person or thing. The literal meaning is naturally one-name. Actually the good old fashioned “singular” could do the job adequately for persons without any namesake. Your partner is a singular person, but I’m sure you know that already. This has been a fascinating exercise in linguistic gymnastics. Congratulations on conquering Listserve.