Why do people put their names in books?
We asked 10+ bibliophiles to share their thoughts!
What is it about personalization that makes us want to mark everything we own? And does it have to be done even as adults? Is it – as a part of the book nerd community puts it – “book abuse”? Or is it just a way to become part of the book’s history? Let’s explore!
Team Yay: What makes readers write their names in books?
When I say readers, I do not really mean a specific age group. So, we can feel free to go back in time and look at the books we owned when we were schoolchildren. If you have been an avid reader since you were a child, it’s highly likely that you scribbled your name in most of your books. Because that’s what kids do. They like to distinguish their belongings to avoid getting them mixed up with those of their friends.
Besides, there was also the fear of losing the books, and we knew that if they had our names on them, they had a higher possibility of finding their way back to us. A teacher, a senior, or another friend could easily identify the owner of the lost book and return it. As we grow up, there are several reasons we may continue this practice.
- Out of habit
- To follow/create an intimate tradition
- An expression of emotional commitment
1. Old Habits: Many book lovers tend to carry the habit of labelling and personalizing their books. It’s not necessarily a conscious act, but for some, it can continue to serve the purpose of distinguished ownership. As my dear friend Achyut puts it, “I stopped writing my name on books ever since I stopped lending them out. But I like my books personalized.”
On the other hand, there are readers who eventually grow out of the habit due to their changing preferences.
“I used to. Then I didn’t. I don’t have a very good handwriting. Like I will open the book 10 years later and feel disgusted about the handwriting more than the beauty of it. Although it felt personalized earlier, now it feels like I’m just cluttering the pages.”
– Varsha Mahananda, Bangalore
2. Making history! Old souls like my fiancé prefer putting tiny calligraphic signatures in hardcovers to turn them into heirlooms that carry an air of mystery and rustic charm. Much like the strange appeal of coffee stains and browned paper, the initials of the reader/owner of the book can lend a historical quality to the book.
I also know of people who prefer stating the date they first got their hands on a book and include small quotes in the opening pages. The idea behind such a practice is to create memories that can be handed down to future generations. It also makes one believe that they are now a part of the book as well as its history!
“I just write the date or the place I bought it from. I started doing that perhaps with the thought that every time I pick one of the books, it’d remind me of the time and place I was in when I got it. I thought I’d go places and it’d be cool to have a collection of books from everywhere.”
– Nidhima Taneja, New Delhi
3. Much like signing the nuptials. Then there are people for whom their books are similar to their beloved. When they write their names on the pages, it is not merely an act of personalization. It is more like making an emotional commitment to the book, “I hereby promise to honor you, love you, and protect you all my life!” It is almost impossible to separate this lot from their prized books. They do not believe in sharing, which is completely alright because their personal library is a trove they treasure above all.
Team Nay: “Stop ruining books written by others, you numbnuts!”
A major part of the book-nerd community would resonate with the above rebuke from my friend Jasmine! It is understandable because there is a preference for clean, unmarked pages that are considered sacred by many bibliophiles.
“No, never on books. Never felt like writing names or anything. I like to keep them clean and treat them as humans!”
– Simran Dhiman, Ludhiana
For them, scribbling or spilling anything on the pages is sheer sacrilege.
“I’d never do that unless it’s absolutely necessary. I just hate spoiling any book, apart from academic texts of course. But no, never will write my name on any book. It is just weird. We had enough of that in school. I think now is the time we move past that habit.”
– Sparsh Mudgal, Ghaziabad
People like to keep their books tidy and as good as new to preserve their original essence. It is both aesthetical and emotional.
“It’s a personal choice. But you know some books that have great design and beautiful pages… On them, I would prefer no names.”
– Sumit Vashisth, New Delhi
Another friend, Aishwarya, has a very intriguing opinion:
“I don’t think the book belongs to me until the author’s name is mine. Plus, even if I like a lot of things, I stay detached to everything that provides materialistic joy. I would rather write my name on human relationships, compassion, and empathy if it were possible!”
Swinging both ways!
There are readers who like to keep work and pleasure distinct:
“I don’t write names in books I read for leisure probably because I used to write my name in textbooks, to keep them separate. A sort of physical demarcation. Keeping academics separate from pleasure is the goal I guess.”
– Sujata Sahoo, Bhubaneshwar
On the other hand, my friend Ratnam and I face a strange dilemma. She says, “I don’t like to touch my pen to my books. I don’t even touch the corners when I read. I want them to look new always. But I like it when a book is addressed to someone.” And I agree. While I never write my name on my books, I always love receiving books that have that personal touch.
I was recently reading a pre-loved copy of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. On the first page, there was a simple handwritten note, “Asiya, this is for you. Love, Ammi.” Somehow, it warmed my heart and made me smile. I have no idea who Asiya is or when did she own this book but I felt connected to her just because of this note. It was a written testimony that two strangers found an unspoken bond in A Thousand Splendid Suns!
“I usually don’t write my name so it is easier to pass them on to other book lovers. But I like to buy books that have the previous owners’ names, year, city, etc. written on the pages. It tells us a story about all the places the book has been to. So, may be I will start writing mine as well!”
– Ankita Ghoshal, Kolkata
What are your thoughts about scribbling anything on a book? Do you write your name too? Why/why not? We would love to know your opinions!
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