Robert Bickers

What’s in a Name?

Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook

By Matt Houlbrook

University of Chicago Press 442pp £28 order from our bookshop

Have you changed your name recently? Perhaps you are one of the declining number of women to have taken your husband’s surname. In most cases, our names are fixed, though we might escape a childhood moniker and a schoolboy Bob might become an adult Robert. It certainly helps the historian or biographer tracking individuals through databases and registers if we keep the same name. But what is a researcher to do with a man who in a lifetime of fraud and dissimulation used at least forty different names? Such was the challenge Matt Houlbrook set himself when he became enamoured of Netley Evelyn Lucas (if we stick for the moment with the name the man was christened with in 1903), whose career as a confidence trickster and fraudster found its stride in a gentlemen’s outfitters on London’s Kingsway in 1920 and ended in a puff of smoke when he died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1940.

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