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What's in a Name?

On sale

3rd August 2023

Price: £18.99

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Selected: Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781529367591

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A NEW STATESMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR

‘A brilliantly enlightening book . . . at times moving, at others ironic, full of insights and detail’
Michael Rosen

‘A kaleidoscopic portrait of the UK . . . with insight and compassion’
Irish Times

Our names are so mundane that we barely notice them. Yet each contains countless stories of tradition and belonging – be that a legacy of colonialism or persecution, the desire to fit in, or the complex cultural inheritance from one’s parents.

In What’s in a Name?, Sheela Banerjee unravels the personal histories of friends and family through their names. And while tracing their heritage across centuries and continents – from west London to British India, and from 1960s Jamaica to pre-Revolutionary Russia – Sheela also tells the story of twentieth-century immigration to the UK.

Blending history, memoir and politics, What’s in a Name? is a celebration of Britain’s rich multiculturalism, an ode to friendship and a testament to all the stories held within our names.

‘Absolutely fascinating . . . the stories woven into this superb book will stay with me for a long time. I cannot recommend it highly enough’
Priscilla Morris, author of Black Butterflies

‘A compelling combination of personal stories and social histories, told with great heart, wit and detail’
Preeti Dhillon, author of The Shoulders We Stand On

What's Inside

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Reviews

Michael Rosen
This is a brilliantly enlightening book that uses the keyhole of people's names to let us see into the lives and histories of people in multicultural Britain. It ranges across continents and epochs, at times moving, at others ironic, full of insights and detail.
Ian Duhig, Irish Times
A kaleidoscopic portrait of the UK . . . Banerjee describes her friends' backgrounds and experiences with insight and compassion
Helen Brown, i
Explores the complex stories of colonialism, persecution, faith, assimilation and hope . . . It will resonate with anyone who feels their name marks them out . . . Banerjee paints a heartbreakingly tender portrait of her father's journey
Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, Times Radio
A brilliant book where she examines how her name can tell us so much about her family and their story. And she looks at some of her friends' names too . . . fascinating stories weaving in and around the subject of names
Priscilla Morris, author of <i>Black Butterflies</i>
An absolutely fascinating deep dive into Sheela's own Bengali name and the names of several of her close friends, uncovering migration stories from Tsarist Russia, India, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Jamaica and the shocking racism of growing up in '70s and '80s Britain. It's compelling reading, painting a picture of multicultural Britain today that is both familiar and eye-opening. It makes you think of your own name and its impact, and reflect on those of your friends. Excellent, highly readable and absorbing, the stories woven into this superb book will stay with me for a long time. I cannot recommend What's In a Name? highly enough.'
Michael Rosen, Books of the Year, New Statesman
Sheela Banerjee mixes indignation with curiosity. She goes through the "keyhole" of her friends' names to unpeel complex stories of identity. The book defies monochrome pictures of how we define ourselves, how we live, how we mix.
Preeti Dhillon, author of <i>The Shoulders We Stand On</i>
Banerjee deftly weaves intricate tapestries out of the seemingly simple threads of our names. What's In A Name? is a compelling combination of personal stories and social histories, told with great heart, wit and detail. It's simultaneously heartbreaking, life-affirming and delightfully surprising. And for anyone who has ever been bullied because of their name, had their name mispronounced, or asked where their name comes from, Banerjee shows that there is a world of belonging and love in our names, if we just know where to look.