July 26, 2018

A Strange Pen Name

Have you ever heard of F.D.C Willard? He was an internationally published author in physics. He is also a Siamese cat.

I know, this sounds like one of those amazing stories you read on your Facebook feed. And well, it’s one of those amazing stories I read on my Facebook feed but I checked it out, and it’s true!

You see, in 1975, the American physicist and mathematician Jack H. Hetherington, prepared to publish his research results in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. A colleague pointed out that Hetherington had used the first person plural, “we” in his text, and that the journal would reject this in a submission from a sole author. Rather than take the time to retype the article — remember, in those days, the paper was actually typed on a typewriter — Hetherington decided to invent a collaborator: his cat.

She’s lovely, but she’s no physicist

Hetherington had a Siamese cat named Chester, who had been sired by a Siamese named Willard. Concerned that Chester’s name might be recognized, he thought it better to use the pet’s initial: the species name for a house cat, Felis domesticus, with his given name, Chester; thus F.D.C. Willard.

The article was published and F.D.C Willard has been thanked by other authors in subsequent papers for, “useful contributions to the discussion.”

Now, you may know that I live with a Siamese cat: Gracie, the cat who must be obeyed. She is beautiful, but not always smart. I don’t think I will tell Gracie about her illustrious relative. It might make her feel bad.

Bruce Roney
President and CEO