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My name is Smythe. Spiffington-Smythe

June 26, 2018

My uncle at Oxford (top row 2nd left). Resolutely single-barrelled, but I’m not sure about his mates.

In my previous post I talked about acronyms, and how many of them have mutated such that it’s no longer possible to use them in conversation without the listener believing that the speaker is trying to communicate in some yet-to-be discovered language from the Amazonian rain forest.

Having got that obsession off my chest, I’ll now move to a second trend that I find a bit baffling. A while ago anyone sporting a double- or triple-barrelled name was highly likely to be posh – or at least to have aspirations in that direction. So if your name was Jago Smirnoff-Bullingdon-Drax, you were highly likely to own a house in the country, a pied-a-terre in London and a couple of very nice cars, one of which would have been a Range Rover. You would probably also have a liking for spanking derived from your years at one of Britain’s elite private schools.

If, on the other hand, you had all these things but no family ancestry to boast about, you probably wouldn’t be happy with plain Smith. You’d change it to Smythe, and expand the name to Spiffington-Smythe. Much more impressive. Then you could definitely walk tall in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot Races.

But now the currency is debased. Just about anyone who’s anyone has a double-barrelled name. It’s usually the result of the offspring taking both their parents’ names. Fifty years ago a top-flight footballer would be laughed out of the game if he sported a posh surname. Now in the England team currently taking part in the World Cup, we have Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been there were it not for injury.

In case anyone who follows football in the UK thinks that the trend is a black thing, it’s not. Everyone’s doing it.

This is all fine by me. It’s ridiculous that a small elite should be able to be identified as such by their baroque family names. It does cause problems for football shirt manufacturers, who have to try and accommodate those long names on the back of their apparel. They must be grateful for the eminently sensible Brazilians, who are content to be referred to as Fred. Since half of all Brazilians are called Silva, it’s doubly sensible.

But for us stubborn Europhobes, it’s to be hoped that the cowering rump of EU residents who are left over after Brexit don’t jump on the double-barrel bandwagon. Otherwise we’ll have to contend with Zabrze-Szectenny and Flugelhorn-Schlacht. Try spelling those over the phone.

Even more troubling is the question of what happens to the offspring of the newly anointed double-barrelled. Will they also take the names of their mothers and fathers, and thus become Quentin Hampton-Jones-McLaren-Smellie? This way surely lies madness.

It’s entirely possible that once we’ve arrived at quadruple and octuple surnames, sanity will return. Maybe our grandchildren will adopt the Arab way, wherein wives retain their family names when they get married, and husbands keep theirs. But the problem is that the offspring automatically get the father’s name, which doesn’t work if the mother wants the child to bear her name.

Or perhaps they will come to realise that it matters less what their names are than what sort of person they turn out to be. Should they decide that celebrity isn’t much fun after all, Smith, Jones, Leclerc and Mousa will be quietly waiting in the wings. And if those names are too boring, they can select from a massive canon of single-word English surnames, such as Hogsflesh and Bloodworth, which were the names of two boys at my school. Needless to say, they became firm friends in adversity.

Which leads me to advise any would-be parents agonising over names for their children: give them the blankest possible canvas, and let them paint their own pictures.


From → Social, UK

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