Sceptre has acquires What’s in a Name? by Sheela Banerjee, the story of 20th-century immigration to the UK told through names and what they say about belonging and heritage.
Associate publisher Juliet Brooke pre-empted UK and Commonwealth rights from agent Kate Barker, for publication in June 2022.
In What’s in a Name?, Banerjee will blend history, memoir and politics. Her own parents arrived in London from West Bengal in the 1960s and called their new-born daughter Sheila because it felt "suitably English", but changed the spelling so it worked in Bengali too. However, the name was "emblematic of the cultural no man’s land" that Sheela, as the child of Indians, will always exist in, the publisher said.
Her surname also "bears the legacy of British colonial rule in India", as the administrators of British Raj changed her family’s name from Bandyopadhyay to Banerjee, because they had struggled to pronounce it.
Alongside her own story, the author will also tell stories of friends and family through their names and take readers from the fight against racism in Britain to an escape from Nigeria, and from Jamaica in the 1960s to pre-Revolutionary Russia. Each name will contain centuries of history, and act as a portal to other worlds.
Brooke said: "What’s in a Name? tells a sharp, timely, political story through the portal of something intimate and everyday—everyone’s name tells a story, no matter how ordinary. Sheela cleverly brings together memoir, history and politics and paints a rich and complex portrait of modern Britain. It’s exactly the sort of book so urgently needed right now."
Banerjee commented: "Names are power, and not all names are equal. They contain the ghosts of racism, of class conflict and political struggle. They reveal the texture of our childhoods, our experiences of race in Britain, the stories of our parents’ migration and the global histories we carry with us, as the children of immigrants, from centuries past. What’s in a Name? is the excavation of layers of memory, beliefs and myth through the stories of my friends and family and their names. Our names embody everything from the smallest detail of our everyday lives, as well as the tectonic shifts in world history."