The Name FAQ
Q: What do people call you?
Q: Is this your real name?
A: My full legal name is Paul Frederic Brown Magnus. However, no one calls me that. I even publish professionally as P.D.
Q: Paul Frederic Magnus! How does that come out P.D.?
A: There's not much to say, really. I was rather young when I decided I didn't want to be called Paul. There were too many Pauls. Frederic would be shortened to Fred, and that was simply unthinkable. PF risked conflation with the athletic shoe, PF Flyers.
Q: But didn't P.D. invite Police Department jokes?
A: Yes. In the 1980's there were also occasional puns about Magnus, P.D. in parody of the television detective.
Q: But why P.D.?
Q: Have you ever given people some specious answer, just to satisfy them?
A: Of course. I would say, for instance, that the D was an advance scout of an alien invasion force. Nobody ever laughed, so I stopped saying that. For a while, I told people that my middle name was Frederic but that the F-R-E was silent. They would usually puzzle about this for a while before realizing that I was pulling their leg.
When I got married, my wife and I both took her maiden as a second middle name. This makes me Paul Frederic Brown Magnus. I can now say that the D is a single letter interpolated between my two middle initials, F and B.
Q: I have encountered research in organic chemistry and public health by P.D. Magnus. Is that you?
A: Scientific journals often identify authors only by last name and initials. Even when the journal gives a full name, indices will often only include initials. Philip Magnus, the chemist at the University of Texas, does not go by 'P.D.' in his daily life. Neither does Peter Magnus, the physician in Oregon.
I only know about either of them because of the internet. When I first got a webpage, however, I was annoyed to find that Philip Magnus came up first in searches for me. Although I have since driven him off the first page of search hits, he still beats me on Google Scholar.
Q: No, really. Why P.D.?
A: For years I had no good answer to this question. In 1999, my parents proffered the theory that I derived it from Paul Piedmont, a nick-name my mother used when I was very small. This theory leaves me unimpressed. Why wouldn't I have just picked up the name Piedmont? Why letters?
The original Star Wars was released the year I turned three. Having a brother four years older and adults obliging enough to take us, I saw the movie something like eleven times in the theater. The cosmic adventure loomed large in my young consciousness. By third grade I was taken with Han Solo (my brother was a Luke partisan) but my early fascination was with the droids.
My grandmother used to recount how astonished I was to discover that she didn't know about R2-D2. Yes, R2-D2. Droids had letters for names, so I suspect that I wanted letters for a name too.
Q: So why weren't you P2-D2?
A: It may have been a matter of negotiation. Noone would seriously have called me P2-D2, even if at three or four I would have wanted it. Although my father and grandfather at first resisted, everyone ultimately came around to calling me P.D.
Q: You've just said that you named yourself after a robot in a movie. How can you take yourself seriously?
A: I said I might have given myself a droid-inspired name. This is only an explanation which occurred to me a few years ago, as I ruminated on my life and the movies. Moreover, I couldn't take myself seriously before.