I read a paperback book no later than the 1976 (I strongly believe that I read it before I graduated high school, possibly years before). I think I bought it from a garage sale, so it may have been even older. The book was in English.

  • The setting was modern day (for its time), and the main character worked at (I believe) a company that made plastics. He was a white-collar worker, I believe he was a scientist. He had a very long hyphenated last name.

  • At the start of the story, the company bought a new computer or database for human resources. His boss called him into his office, and explained that the new computer was unable to store his last name. The company may have been willing to work with an abbreviated last name, but I'm not sure, but the character refused to do so.

  • Because of this, he was fired.

  • The main character was angry and wanted to destroy the company. He developed some sort of mold or fungus that ate plastic. He released this.

  • At some point I believe his previous secretary joined him in his crusade. I believe she was an older woman, but that may have been a product of my age. I think that she was the one that used the phrase "It's a hyphenated name!" as a slogan.

  • I think that he won, and eventually released a form of his mold that would destroy plastics in dumps and make it so that future plastics would have a more limited lifetime.

This wasn't a particularly good book, and I don't remember the author's name. The cover was, I believe, reddish with some sort of machinery on it, but I don't know for sure.

I do not believe this is Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters.

1 Answer 1


The Man Whose Name Wouldn't Fit (Or, The Case of Cartwright-Chickering) by Theodore Tyler. First published way, way back in 1968, when the whole idea of having a mainframe computer start handling a large corporation's payroll records, etc., probably using lots of "punch cards" in the process, was considered cutting-edge technology, and nobody had ever seen or heard of the idea of the company having hundreds of computers placed on the desks of the individual employees. (Since Apples and other varieties of "affordable personal computers," as we understand them today, had not yet been invented!)

Cover of book Title page of book

I checked out a copy from a library, decades ago. The title character's name is Arthur Cartwright-Chickering. The plot goes as you describe (as far as I can remember), and a review on Amazon describes it thus:

Anyway, Mr. Cartwright-Chickering stumbled across a way to fight back against The Machine: a mold with a taste for computer tape, cultivated in dilute grape juice. This discovery can be chalked up to his nephews or grandsons having filled their water pistols with grape juice (before their mother caught them and made them dump them out), a missing plug, and a bit of moldy soap used to plug the gun...

I believe the computer software in question could only handle employee surnames of 20 characters or less. With the hyphen in the middle, the main character's surname was a whopping 21 characters, and so his name just missed fitting neatly into the necessary spot in the computer's database. He was the only person on the payroll whose name created such a problem. From the viewpoint of the senior executives, it just wasn't worth the hassle of paying someone to reprogram things to accommodate him alone. (Again, this was over half a century ago. Things have changed a bit.)

I seem to recall one of the executives saying approvingly that one of the secretaries on the payroll had a perfect name: Ann Pym. Three characters in the first name; three characters in the surname; making the whole thing very concise. The attitude seemed to be: "Why can't all our employees do it that way?" In fact, Ann Pym was very sympathetic to Arthur's predicament, as I recall. (I'm not sure if she was also Arthur's own secretary, whom you mentioned above. It's been too long.)

Here's a link to an Amazon page for the book. Apparently the text has never been converted into a Kindle e-book, so if you want to refresh your memory, you may have to order a secondhand copy of a paperback or hardback edition, or you could check it out in ePub or PDF format from the Internet Archive or in hardcopy from a conventional library.

  • 2
    FWIW, not seeing that this had been solved, I started posting an answer based on me finding it with novel man fired "hyphenated name" "too long" plastics
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 21:49
  • 16
    "Things have changed a bit." Not so much. kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/…
    – shoover
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 6:24
  • 6
    @shoover Some of those "falsehoods" can be legally mandated (e.g. that names can only consist of the 26 characters of the English alphabet). I think that Elon Musk ran afoul of that one with the name of his kid.
    – nick012000
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 7:01
  • 32
    @nick012000 Apparently, you mean “can be legally mandated in a certain country”. The falsehood collection is about the entire world, where most companies want to make business today. Trying to store the customer names of world-wide business into a database made by programmers who can’t think beyond the borders of their country, is exactly what it is all about.
    – Holger
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 7:46
  • 11
    It is naïve to assume that English uses only 26 alphabetic characters Commented May 28, 2020 at 14:49

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