Waxing forth about my Booker Prize reading journey last night, I was stumped by a question from my other half: “Why is it called the Booker?” I had to admit I had no idea…and had only a vague idea that the name changed to Man Booker Prize when a new sponsor came along.
So for the record – and to avoid future embarrassment, I started to dig around. It turns out that the title of the prize originates not (as I had surmised) from the name of some famous literary figure but from the name of the company that first sponsored the prize.
The prize was originally known as the Booker-McConnell Prize, after the wholesalers Booker-McConnell who became the first sponsors in 1968. Quite why they thought a literary prize was a good match for their brand is unclear but the name Booker represented the surnames of their founders George and Richard Booker. Over the years, the prize name became more commonly known simply as the “Booker Prize” or just “the Booker.”
In 2002, the administration of the prize was transferred to the Booker Prize Foundation and the investment company Man Group became the sponsors. They opted to retain “Booker” as part of the official title of the prize. Today they sponsor three prizes under the generic Booker name: The Man Booker Prize, The Man Booker International Prize and The Man Asian Literary Prize.
The prize underwent another change in 2019 when the Man Group announced it was to cease its sponsorship of the award. A Silicon Valley millionaire has now stepped in to fund the prize.