Fame’s the name of the game

Mike Ware co-author of What's Who?
Mike Ware co-author of What's Who?

HAVE you ever wondered who made the Allen key? How was Battenberg cake created? What do you know about Morse Code?

These questions, and hundreds more, can be answered with the help of a new dictionary with a difference co-written by a Buxton author.

Roger Jones has teamed up with his friend and retired academic chemist Mike Ware, of Bath Road, to create the second and enlarged version of What’s Who - a dictionary of things named after people, and the people they are named after.

The 468-page paperback of eponymy offers a thousand entries on virtually every field of human activity – biology to ballooning, football to nuclear physics, warfare to witchcraft – lightened with humour.

“The idea was entirely my co-author’s,” said Mike modestly.

“We were friends in college about 50 years ago and he just popped up on email one day and said he had an idea to write this book, but he needed somebody to do the scientific bit because a lot of things in sciences are named after the people who discovered them. I liked the idea.

“He wanted to do something with a bit of a whimsical slant to it, a bit like Stephen Fry’s QI programme, something that would be reasonably accurate, so people could use it for reference, but more than anything people could dip into it for fun.

“I took up contributing to the original and then co-authored this latest edition.”

What is surprising is that the two authors, who both attended Jesus College in Oxford and shared a house in the city for a time during the 1960s, have not met face-to-face since – instead relying on the wonders of telecommunications technology.

“This sort of friendship endured, we both shared a lot in common,” explained Mike, who went on to work as an academic chemist at the University of Manchester for around 30 years, and now consults for several national museums.

“It is a tribute to the sort of electronic medium available, that someone can put something together like this solely through contact electronically.”

And while he says the research was fun - especially when it came to making new discoveries about people’s names - he admitted at times it was also quite challenging, and a little daunting, even for a retired teacher.

“Being faced with a name like Albert Einstein or Bertrand Russell, you would think ‘how am I going to write something that will do them justice?’,” he said.

A Buxton resident for the past 20-odd years, Mike strived to include one or two local references, and the book does feature a section on the origins of one of the town’s major tourist attractions, Poole’s Cavern.

But he admitted: “I was a bit disappointed by my efforts because I couldn’t find anything out about Poole, apart from what has been written in the book.

“So if anybody knows more than that, please put it to one side for when we do a third edition!

“We also had to leave a lot of stuff out, such as Solomon’s Temple, but the name Cavendish (the family name of the Dukes of Devonshire) goes in, because of their fame as scientists.”

Since leaving his role at the University of Manchester, Mike has been studying the science, history and conservation of photographs. His researches on historic photographic processes have been published in four books and numerous articles.

• What’s Who, published in paperback by Troubador, is available from all good bookshops, priced £12.50.