Back in 2011, after many years of reading works by (as I thought) the 20th-century classicist Richard Lattimore, I finally noticed that his name had actually been Richmond Lattimore all along. I posted about this at one of my old blogs, and I reproduce that post below.
Just yesterday I was looking at the cover of one of my books and noticed something funny. It was a volume of English translations of Euripides, edited by David Grene and Richard Lattimore -- only they had written his name as Richmond Lattimore, right there on the front cover! Then I looked at the back cover, and the title page, and a Sophocles book by the same editors -- and I found that, by golly, the guy's name actually was Richmond.
I read a lot of Greek literature in translation, and I must have seen Mr. Lattimore's name hundreds or even thousands of times before without ever once noticing that it wasn't Richard. They say the brain recognizes words mainly by how they begin and end (wcihh is why Esilgnh is slitl pltcefrey lbilege wehn you wtrie it lkie tihs), and I suppose the first time I encountered this particular name, my brain said something like, "R-I-C-something, ends with D -- okay, I know this one." After that, the more times I saw the name, and the more familiar it became, the more likely my brain would be to recognize it as a unit rather than actually reading it letter-by-letter and recognizing its mistake.
This isn't the first time this has happened to me. It was only last year that I discovered, much to my surprise, that Euripides himself was not called Euripedes -- this after reading about a dozen of his plays and writing extensively about him in a notebook.
When I was a child, I was once discussing the characters in a Tintin book with my sister, and she mentioned the name Spalding. I said, "Don't you mean Spadling?" She said she was pretty sure the character's name was Spalding, but I insisted: "No, it's Spadling -- you know, like the basketball brand!" -- at which point she went and got our Spalding basketball and showed it to me. You don't forget an embarrassing experience like that. (Years later I tried to correct the same sister, then a grad student in philosophy, for saying Leibniz instead of Liebniz. I should have learned my lesson the first time.)
I'm sure I'm not the only person who does this. Another childhood memory is of my father reading to us from The Lord of the Rings -- and always pronouncing Rohirrim as "Rohimmir" (though I can't be sure he thought it was spelled that way, I suppose). And I can't count how many times I've seen people list "Jane Austin" as a favorite author -- that is, an author whose name they must have seen written innumerable times and should be able to spell.
Some of these mistakes are pretty easy to understand. There are 200 Austins for every Austen in the most recent U.S. Census, and Richmond is so unusual as a Christian name that I can't even calculate how much less frequent it is than Richard, the seventh-most popular name for men in my country.
"Spadling," of course, is not a normal name at all, but the -ling ending is fairly common in English, and I suppose that's what my brain thought it recognized. It made the same mistake when I read Tolkien, reading Eorlingas as Eorlings. (I was really quite shocked to discover much later that the a had been there all along.) My father's own Rohan-related misreading is harder to understand, though, since -im as a suffix for the name of a people should seem quite natural to a Bible-reader, much more so than -ir.
"Euripedes" and "Liebniz" are also hard to understand. I guess a lot of Greek names end in -edes, like Archimedes and -- well, that's the only one that comes to mind. I think I have a reasonable guess for "Liebniz," though. My pre-teen philosophical education consisted of (1) reading everything Plato ever wrote, (2) reading everything Nietzsche ever wrote, and (3) nothing else. When I first encountered another German philosopher with a prominent ni-z in his name, my brain must have decided that ie was a more appropriate vowel than ei.
The strange thing about errors of this kind is how confident we are in them. I wasn't unsure about the names Spalding and Leibniz; I was confidently correcting people who pronounced them correctly! It's not that I was unsure of Mr. Lattimore's Christian name. If you had asked me two days ago, I would have said without hesitation, "Richard." And if you'd said, "Are you sure it isn't Richmond?" -- well, as they say, I could have sworn his name was Richard. Why? Because I'd seen his name so very many times, and every single time I saw it as Richard.
(Rereading this now, it occurs to me that "Richard" Lattimore probably counts as an instance of the so-called Mandela Effect -- that the same sort of mechanism must be behind some people's subjective certainty that the Berenstain Bears used to be the Berenstein Bears, or that the Fruit of the Loom logo used to feature a cornucopia.)
The Lattimore error was brought back to my attention recently when a commenter at the Junior Ganymede mentioned that Lawrence Auster had recommended "Richard" Lattimore's translation of the Iliad. (The error was the commenter's, not Auster's.) This made me wonder just how common a mistake this is.
Extremely common, it turns out.
Using Google Ngram Viewer, I searched for the two strings "David Grene and Richmond Lattimore" and "David Grene and Richard Lattimore." (Grene and Lattimore were the coeditors of a popular collection of Greek tragedies in translation. My reason for including Grene's name in the search string was to ensure that all the Richards I picked up were in fact errors for Richmond. There have surely been real people named Richard Lattimore, but I'm fairly confident none of them ever collaborated with David Grene.) You can see the Ngram results here. The chart below shows, for selected years from 1959 (when The Complete Greek Tragedies was published) to 2019, what percentage of the hits were for Richard rather than Richmond.
As you can see, in recent decades, an astonishing 20% of published references to Grene and Lattimore -- one in five!
-- have mistakenly called the latter author "Richard." Keep in mind that we're using data from Google Books -- professionally published books
, not the Internet.
For comparison, hits for "Jane Austen's Emma" outnumber "Jane Austin's Emma" 95 to 1. The other errors mentioned in my post above -- Euripedes, Liebniz, etc. -- also show an incidence rate of about 1%. (Although Lattimore's collaborator, David Grene, also had the sort of name that might often be misspelled, only about 10% of references mistakenly call him "Greene.")
"Richard" Lattimore is, by a remarkably wide margin, the most frequently misprinted name I have been able to find.