We’re often asked about J.B. Priestley’s middle initial, so we thought we’d share our knowledge.
B is for BOYNTON!
Young John Priestley, known as Jack to his friends and family, adopted the B and the Boynton in his teens, growing up in Bradford before the First World War. J. Boynton Priestley, 5 Saltburn Place, Bradford, Yorks was “added hopefully” to his juvenilia: scribbling books of closely-written poems, stories and essays and neat typescripts typed up for him by kind girls.
So why did Jack decide to use this extra name? Partly to distinguish himself from other John Priestleys (not an unusual name in his family or the region. His grandfather was John, his father, Jonathan). The addition also gave him a more suitable, interesting, distinctive name for a writer.
So why did he choose “Boynton”? We don’t actually know. There is a village of that name in the East Riding of Yorkshire, near Bridlington. Could Jack have seen the village on a family holiday to that popular seaside resort? However he came by the name, B for Boynton served Jack Priestley rather well as a pen-name and he was to be J.B. Priestley for the rest of his literary career …
Sources and credits:
I am indebted to James Ogden for the suggestion that Jack found Boynton on a family holiday in Bridlington (“The name Boynton” p. 27-28, J.B. Priestley Society Newsletter, no. 24, Autumn 2011).
The road image is from the SABRE website, a vast compendium of images of Britain’s roads – the Roader’s Digest.
Priestley wrote about the juvenilia in the Swan Arcadian section of his memoir, Margin Released. He gently mocked the literary pretensions of his teenage self, including the pompous pen-name, comparing J. Boynton to an “eighty years old retired clergyman” and sarcastically observing that “J. Boynton makes a bold frontal attack on his subject.” Other than the hint of pretentiousness, he doesn’t actually explain the purpose or origin of the name.
The two reasons listed above come from an interview with Jacquetta Hawkes cited in Vincent Brome’s biography of Priestley (Hamish Hamilton, 1988). Jacquetta, J.B.’s third wife, would be likely to know and the reasons make perfect sense to me.
“Boynton” though awaits further explanation!