I haven’t really thought a lot about my name until recently. Having used it professionally in my career as a journalist for over 15 years, I didn’t see any reason to take on my husband’s surname when we married over ten years ago. Obviously I didn’t choose it, but it’s a name that fits me and one that I feel comfortable with. Also, it’s one hell of a conversation starter. (Common questions include ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What does it mean?’ and less common feature the winning, ‘Oh I can’t pronounce that – is it okay if I just call you Dolphin?). Top Google search for me? ‘Dilvin Yasa Nationality’.
Still, although I haven’t put much thought into my name – other than I like it – it’s become a source of discussion around me as I being to work on my third book. “Have you ever considered changing your name to something more ‘white’?” asked a literary agent the other day. “It’s been my experience that authors with strong, Anglo names tend to do better at the cash registers than those who have ethnic or even Aboriginal names.” Initially I laughed, assuming she was joking, but then I thought about the world’s best-selling authors – James Patterson, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel – each one whiter than white. Although I protested that I had done well enough with a name like Dilvin Yasa and that there were surely some positives about having such a unique name to stand out in among all the Jane Smiths out there, I left wondering whether she was, indeed, correct.
It’s been my experience that authors with strong, Anglo names tend to do better at the cash registers than those who have ethnic or even Aboriginal names.
You might be familiar with the much-publicised US studies which show job applicants with white-sounding names like Jane and John are 50 per cent more likely to get call-backs for job interviews than those with black-sounding names such as Jamal or Tanisha, but perhaps like me, you’ve considered we here in Australia are above that sort of thing. Apparently not, according to both said literary agent and the researchers at Australian National University, which also found local job applicants with ethnic names had a far lower chance of being called in for an interview than those with Anglo-Saxon names – despite each CV stating the applicant had studied in Australia. Are these recruiters the book-buying public the agent was speaking of? I don’t know, but it certainly is a depressing thought.
After much discussion with friends and family (“Why don’t you just take on my surname?” my husband asked frequently, no doubt happy to have stumbled on a convincing argument to get me to do so. “Not only will it make you sound more white, but the M also means your books will be placed more at eye-level, rather than right on the bottom shelf”), I took the question to my publisher, Ingrid Ohlsson at Pan Macmillan, who, it’s safe to say, was aghast at the idea.
“Good writing overrides casual racism every time,” she told me, before referring me to Jane Palfreyman, publisher at Allen & Unwin, for a second opinion. Palfreyman looks after a wide range of ‘foreign-sounding’ authors and was quick to tell me my email was the most depressing missive she’d received in a long time. “Leave your name as it is!” she wrote. “I can tell you that their names have affected the popularity of Ahn Do, Christos Tsiolkas, Kevin Kwan or Munjed Al Muderis – and indeed may well have contributed to their success.”
That evening I finally turned to page one of my manuscript and typed: DILVIN YASA. It looked good, and more importantly, it felt right.
Dilvin Yasa (not Dylan Yass) is the author of 'Things My Daughter Needs to Know', and 'Good Enough Confessions of a Less-Than-Perfect Mum' (Pan Macmillan).