Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Are you THE Ken Wilson?

It’s not fair.

If you google names like Tessa Woodward, Catherine Walter, Judy Garton-Sprenger, Scott Thornbury, Jeremy Harmer, Lindsay Clandfield, Jason Renshaw or Gavin Dudeney, the first million or so hits are for the ELT Hall of Famers that we know and love.

If you google Ken Wilson, it’s a completely different story. Until I started my blog last year, the first 100 google links to Ken Wilson were not about me. Since then, I’ve crept up the list and (unless things have gone pear-shaped again) nowadays, I creep in at number 4.

Ken Wilson (on the left) and friends. It isn't me...

I know it’s very sad that I google my own name, but none of us in blog-world get out enough.

Wilson is the eighth most common family name in the UK AND in the US. In the UK, it was the sixth most common 150 years ago (we’ve gone down two notches – clearly we Wilsons have a fertility problem). And an awful lot of Wilsons name their sons Kenneth (why? why? it’s not a great name!!).

Sometimes having a name which you share with other people can lead to misunderstandings. More of that later.

First of all, who ARE these other Ken Wilsons? Wikipedia offers the following US-focussed list:

Ken Wilson (sportscaster) (born 1947), American sports broadcaster

Ken Wilson (ice hockey) (born 1923), Canadian minor hockey league general manager and owner

Kenneth G. Wilson (born 1936), American theoretical physicist

Kenneth G. Wilson (author) (1923–2003), American author and editor

Kenneth Wilson (athlete) (1896–1979), American track athlete

Kenneth Wilson (canoer), American Olympic canoer

Kenneth Robert Wilson, American drummer for band Marilyn Manson, often called “Kenny”, better known as Ginger Fish

Kenny Wilson (footballer), former Scottish footballer

Ken Wilson (Australian footballer), Scottish-born Australian footballer

In addition, there is a Ken Wilson who won first place at the Rogue SUP division in Newport Oregon. Ken is one of the top KIALOA riders in the Northwest. Not only is that not me, I have no idea what any of it means.

Ken Wilson the KIALOA rider

Then there’s Doctor Ken Wilson, a research scientist who uses epidemiological principles and life-history theory to explore the evolutionary interactions between parasites and their hosts, focussing particular attention on Lepidopteran larvae and their viral and fungal pathogens, especially in Africa. See the last sentence of the previous paragraph for my understanding of this important work.

Dr Ken Wilson

Actually, looking closely at those last two photographs, I’m now wondering if they are one and the same person…

Moving swiftly on. I would also love to meet the Ken Wilson from San Antonio Texas, who is in the Yamaha V-Star Hall of Fame because of the 1100cc bike that he rides.

Ken Wilson's V-Star Yamaha motorbike

I’m not even the only Ken Wilson who blogs. There’s another blogging KW,  who lives in Ann Arbor Michigan and describes himself as ‘an unrecovered Jesus freak’.  Ken wrote a book called Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer

Love the title, but I didn't write this book ...

In his blog of May 27th 2010, entitled ‘Mystically wired: Love the Lord with your whole brain’, Ken explains the thesis of his book as follows:

Most of us only use a small portion of our brains when praying and there’s more to pray with than that.  Mainly we use the parts of our brain used for study, for conversation, perhaps for problems solving, analysis, and argument.  We use the rational parts of our brain.  Sometimes we add the parts of our brain that sing, perhaps even the parts of the brain engaged in tongues speaking.

No, definitely not me! I’m with Ken about using the whole brain. Not so sure about the tongues stuff.

There’s an even more famous Ken Wilson here in the UK who I haven’t mentioned yet…

When I joined the Society of Authors a few years ago, I was invited to a new members’ evening. I thought long and hard before going, because believe it or not, I actually find it really difficult going to a party by myself where I’m pretty sure there will be no one I know. But I went.

When I arrived, I was handed an A4 sheet of paper, printed on both sides, containing the names of the other new members who were also attending the meeting, many of whom I could see through the door in the next room, already partaking of the free wine and crisps (potato chips).

There were about fifty names on the list, and they had all written a couple of sentences about their specific area of expertise. They were an impressive bunch, if only because some of them seemed to have found some pretty unusual niche writing areas.

I ghost-write military autobiographies, said one; My special area of interest is catalogue descriptions of medieval wall-hangings, said another. My favourite was: I am the author and illustrator of the Eric the Sheep cartoon strip. There weren’t any other ELT writers on the list.

I looked at what I had written about myself. I was alarmed to see that it was three times longer than anyone else’s and looked frankly a bit over the top.

I’m an author of English language teaching materials with more than 30 titles to my name. Ten of them are course books, some of which I have written with co-authors, including a series of books for Chinese schools which has sold more than a hundred million copies. I also write songs, sketches, short plays and radio programmes for the BBC English language teaching service.

Why couldn’t I have been as economical with words as the author/illustrator of Eric the Sheep???

I walked through into the delightfully old-fashioned room where the party was taking place and was immediately offered a glass of wine by one of the nice SoA employees, who are really good at mixing people together. I soon found myself talking to a pleasant woman who wrote children’s stories. She had published two books, and had two more being considered by different publishers.

“And you are… hold on, let me have a look,” she said. She glanced at my name badge, turned over the A4 sheet of paper, and her eyes widened when she read my frankly unnecessarily grand résumé.

“Excuse me a moment,” she said. “I just have to …” Her voice tailed off and she headed to the ladies’ room.

So now I was by myself, and wishing that I could somehow cut the last 56 words of my biographical details on the sheet of paper I was clutching.

A rather serious man walked up to me. In the way that everyone in the room was doing, I glanced at his name badge, and glanced down at the list.

I am the author and illustrator of the Eric the Sheep cartoon strip.

Before I could say: “Ah! Eric the Sheep!”, the man said:

“Are you THE Ken Wilson?”

Now, if someone asked me that at an ELT function, I would probably answer “Yes” and smile bashfully. But I doubted that this chap would know anything about ELT, so I said:

“Um, possibly.”

“The author of Classic Rock?”

“No, that isn’t me.”

“Oh.”

We talked for a few minutes about this and that, mainly about Eric the sheep, who sounded like a dysfunctional animal with very few friends. I began to wonder what the Ken Wilson who had written Classic Rock might be like – a rock journalist whose speciality was the 60s and 70s, maybe? For a second, I thought it might be fun to pretend to be him at some future literary function. Just for a second, you understand…

Eric, or rather Eric’s creator, broke my musings by saying:

“I thought you might be the Classic Rock bloke because you look like the outdoor type.”

Outdoor type? Me?? The person who gets nose-bleeds if he drives outside the M25 London orbital motorway? The man whose idea of a walk in the country is to park 100 yards from a village pub and head inside for some lunch??

And why would an outdoor type be writing about 70s rock bands?

It was then I had the flash of enlightenment. He was talking about Ken Wilson, the famous mountaineer and author of several books about rock-climbing.

Classic Rock, by Ken Wilson

This wasn’t the first time I’d been mistaken for this more famous (and undoubtedly much fitter) Ken Wilson.

About twenty years ago, I was trying to think of a topic for a listening text about health and fitness and I noticed that a new sports centre – the Sobell – had opened in North London. I decided to contact them and ask if I could come over and interview someone who worked there.

This being the days before email, the internet etc, I actually wrote a letter to them, and included my phone number.

The next day, a woman called and was incredibly helpful and enthusiastic. “Of COURSE you can come over and interview someone!” she gushed. “It would be LOVELY to see you again!”

It was the ‘again’ that stopped me in my tracks.

“Again?” I repeated.

“Yes!” she said. “It was so GOOD to meet you when you were here last week!”

Um…

“I haven’t actually been there yet,” I said.

“What?” she said, her enthusiasm dipping somewhat. “Aren’t you Ken Wilson?”

“Well, yes —“

“The mountaineer?”

“Er … no.”

Ken Wilson the mountaineer had officially opened the sports centre the week before. He had apparently given a very amusing speech and a lovely day was had by all. The woman thought that she was talking to this charismatic outdoor type.

To give her credit, once we’d established I wasn’t the Ken Wilson she was looking forward to meeting again, she was incredibly helpful. A couple of days later, I went up to the Sobell with a bulky Marantz ‘portable’ tape recorder and interviewed one of the fitness trainers.

I still haven’t met Ken ‘Classic Rock’ Wilson, but if anyone out there knows him, do tell him to read this and maybe we can meet for a pint somewhere.

I wonder if he’s also responsible for the Ken Wilson Award, which I also found out about on google. It’s awarded annually to a young person who lives or works in the Yorkshire Dales and has contributed in an outstanding way to some aspect of the Dales environmental heritage.

This may not be THE Ken Wilson either, but he’s clearly someone who has spent more time out of doors than I have.

I really should get out more.

PS – if you google Ken Wilson ELT (without quote-marks), it’s all about me, me, me!!!😛

A Wilson family I found on google. There's a Ken in there somewhere...

Comments on: "Are you THE Ken Wilson?" (27)

  1. That first picture really got me, Ken – you made me spit coffee out all over my monitor again. What is it with you???

    I am a little luckier when it comes to Google searches, though very occasionally some people wonder if I am not William Hurt running around in a Stephen King movie, playing an assassin who kills a toy factory owner and then has to fight a platoon of toy soldiers around his own high-rise apartment…

    Thanks for another very hearty laugh!

    – Jason

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Is that a real Stephen King story? I’m not that familiar with the great man’s oeuvres…

  2. Really nice post, Ken! I have to say that I have a very uncommon surname, at least in Britain and that if you google me, what comes up are my comments on various blogs and ELT sites. Boring! However the Facebook one is NOT me!

    Wouldn’t it be fun if everyone changed their Twitter photo to someone they share their name with? (breaching all legal copyright laws!)

    • Ken Wilson said:

      I think that’s a great idea! And hang the copyright laws. Might be a bit difficult for someone like ELT writer D’Arcy Adrian-Vallance and his wife Evadne to find someone with the same names. I’m not making those names up, as I’m sure you’re aware…

  3. I started googling family names back when my daughter was in junior high school and just beginning to post things about herself online🙂

    I wasn’t too surprised to discover other Barbara Hoskins. Luckily, the most famous one is way more academic than I am (in case someone mixes us up). I was a bit more surprised to find more Barbara Sakamotos–several pages on Facebook!

    For fun, try searching your name on Personas: http://personas.media.mit.edu/

    It’s a program that shows how data mining works, and doesn’t make any distinction between people with the same name. I discovered that at least one of my namesakes is interested in something illegal–I suspect she has a way more interesting life than I do.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Interesting how all these new search possibilities can lead us down blind alleys. I remember googling a university friend with a very unusual name and getting links to newspaper reports about a court appearance in the US of a leading scientologist. It sounded so unlike her, and yet at the same time so plausible!

      I eventually found her and it wasn’t her.

  4. Hi, Ken!

    You have made my Sunday morning fun!

    My surname is not that common but there is a Vicky Saumell who lives in Mar Del Plata, a popular seaside resort in Argentina, and her email is quite similar to mine so some students have accidentally e-mailed her instead of me. She has been so nice as to track me down and resend those emails to me!

    Hugs,
    Vicky

    • Ken Wilson said:

      My daughter Anya had a male colleague with her same name as her sister Rowan, which sometimes proved a problem. Rowan Wilson the colleague occasionally returned emails to her, with a note saying: I think you meant to send this to your sister!

  5. marisapavan said:

    Interesting post, Ken! When googling my first and last name, I found out there was an actress who used both as her fictional name and so I’m mixed with this actress, who was famous:
    http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=Marisa+Pavan&btnG=Google+Search

    Regards,
    Marisa Pavan (the teacher of English, translator and interpreter; not the actress)

    • Ken Wilson said:

      I’ve just discovered that the other Marisa Pavan is the twin sister of Pier Angeli, the stunning Italian actress who had a relationship with James Dean.

  6. Peter Whiley said:

    At least, Ken, you have a name which nobody can make fun of, I would have thought! My surname was always being mispronounced when I lived in the UK, and when I came to Poland, lo and behold, everyone mispronounces my surname the exact same way! (Clue: England had a famous cricketer, with the silly pronunciation version, and he’s now a Test umpire).

    It’s an ideal subject for a blog, though, and names can be very meaningful, too. Students in an ELT classroom can look into the origins of ‘Wilson’ and other such surnames, to find out their true significance, whilst first names usually are meaningful and based on biblical characters, or ancient, classical figures, or nowadays, on modern-day icons.

    Your article is both personal and general, a unique combination, apart from being funny. Why did your parents call you ‘Ken’? Do you know? Lots of people don’t know the answers to such questions, and perhaps, they should.

    A thought-provoking and lovely article, Ken. Thank-you.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      You know something? I never thought to ask my mum why she and dad had given me and my two brothers very Scottish sounding names – Geoffrey Gordon Wilson, John Graham Wilson and Kenneth James Wilson – until she was quite old. Then I asked her if dad’s family had had some Scottish connection, and she said she had no idea. Some avenues of inquiry just lead nowhere!😛

  7. You’re right, Peter, names and especially surnames can be very interesting. I once had a university tutor who had a hobby of finding out about surnames, and on the first day he proceeded to try to guess where we were from just by looking at the register! It can be interesting for students from different countries to discuss the similarities and differences e.g. the suffix “son” in English as in Johnson being “ez” in Spanish as in Gonzalez, and even useful in learning vocabulary from surnames like Tailor.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      … and I discovered that -oğlu is the suffix which means ‘-son’ in Turkish! So I have something in common with the lovely Özge Karaoğlu – the ends of our family names mean the same thing.🙂

  8. I loved the classic rock bloke confusion🙂 (Un)Lucky me, first two pages of google are all about me. My surename is not that popular in Poland. Typical Polish family names end with “ski” and come from objects like Kowalski – hammersmith, Malinowski – raspberries etc… I got curious about the meaning of my surname and after googling it I got surprised. The one and only meaning I could find was “dog’s collar” in Romanian. Are my ancestors from Romania???

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Are you serious??? Kowalski means Hammersmith??? Or was that a slip of the computer key because you used to live here?

      I remember writing a sketch based on Little Red Riding Hood and set in a NY police department, where the police officer who was questioning Little Red was called Kowalski. I must have found the name because of where I live.🙂

  9. Stop…. goooglling… your….. self… it’s deep…navel… searching….

    Right, on that note I will add that this particular narcissism does make a fantastic post-task activity with students after the first day of class!

    I call it:

    Who’s your googlegänger?

    Like your own results, the students love finding out who other people with their name are/have been doing!

    (btw… I’m a rather talented painter residing in Trinidad in “my alternative life” but…. navel searching grin, nowadays you can’t really find out much about her as I seem to have taken-over all of Google

    – must say I do feel a bit sorry for the poor teenies searching their ancestors (the Kalinago!)…

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Brilliant idea! My wife Dede has an American googlegänger who writes cookbooks. With (my) Dede being such a good cook, people often ask if she’s the person who wrote ‘Bake it to the Limit’. She didn’t – but what a great title!

      And you know what? I hadn’t googled myself for ages before I decided to write this post. Finding myself at number 4 was a bit of a shock, and meant I had to re-write the opening few lines😛

  10. Hi Ken,
    Even though there are so many of you, look on the bright side: at least people can spell your name correctly! And pronounce it more or less correctly. I’ve been introduced as Naiky Hokkers (recently in Denmark), and most memorably as Niggly Hogly. The rest of the time I am confused with Andy Hockley — and no, we are *not* related!

    Nicky Hockly (N-I-C-K-Y H-O-C-K-L-Y)

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Blimey – Naiky Hokkers & Niggly Hogly both sound like things you might need antibiotics for!😛
      Also, the biggest disappointment for me is that I’m not related to JJ Wilson, officially the coolest guy in ELT.

  11. Thanks for the laugh. My favourite part is the last picture! BTW-If I took my husband’s name I’d be Tara Peacock. No thanks! From now on I’ll just tell people I prefer to be Googleable.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      And google you I did – what a terrific website, Tara! V classy.

      Where in Canada are you? My wife Dede and I spend part of the summer every year at her mom’s house on Prince Edward Island (in a house once owned by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s cousin)
      feebleclaimtofame (just remembered Macs don’t have a hashtag)!

  12. Thanks Ken! I live in Ontario right now -about an hour outside of T.O. on Lake Ontario- though we are sadly missing our old life in British Columbia and will eventually get back to the right side of the country. PEI is beautiful too! I haven’t been there since I was in my teens. Lucy’s cousin! That is a claim to fame. Keep up the great blog. I just love your writing style.
    Tara

  13. Haha so great there are so many of us kenneth wilson’s out their it is a bit crazy sometimes its why i make the distinction on my id for example my twitter is @kennethwilsonuk specifically to try and make myself distinctive in the throngs of kenneth wilson’s out there.

    On a side note WHY DO alot of us Wilson’s Get named KENNETH!!!!

  14. Fully agree!! Still it’s nice not to feel alone!!

  15. Well , I got my true Ken Wilson here ! And I really feel good about it ! Yes , I’ve searched a lot … you can’t imagine how! I’m 48 , I’m a mom , I’m a doctor , I’m Brazilian and I’m insane about your Mr. Monday’s and Goodbye Rainbow songs . It was part of my childhood 40 years back in time , my dad taught us (me and my brother) english as a 2nd language by that time, when no one did . And you were a cheerful part of it . The long play is gone with time and technology! Now all I can do is to rely on my childhood memories ! I’d love to teach those songs to my kids ! But , what a hard task ! I can’t remember all the songs , some I remember only pieces ! I would be deeply pleased if you could share them again with us ! Please make a CD of them ! Sell it on line ! Please ! Thank you very much , my childhood teacher-friend !
    Cristina Fontana

    • Hi Cristina!

      sorry not to have seen your message earlier. I don’t really use this blog any more, and I’m only here today because I’m installing stuff on a new Macbook. If you send your email address to kenwrite@btinternet.com, I will try to send you an mp3 file of one of the Mister Monday songs as an email attachment. Let me know if it gets there.

      Best, Ken

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