Magazine article The Spectator

Hived off Hyphens

Magazine article The Spectator

Hived off Hyphens

Article excerpt

IT IS ALWAYS a dicey business identifying a trend, but I think that the doublebarrelled name is facing relegation, at least among its traditional users. In recent months two of my friends have taken the decision to lose a barrel, despite their being of good stock and people who a generation ago would have regarded their monikers as door-openers. The doublebarrel did not exist much before the industrial revolution, but as the wealth of aristocrats declined in the transformed world and new industrial fortunes sprang up, there was extensive marriage between the two. Naturally, a self-made man wanted to immortalise his own name, but not to lose the cachet of the nobby family name his offspring had married, or bought, into. Hence the sudden social importance of the hyphen.

My friend Rupert Gordon-Walker, nephew of the irritating former Labour foreign secretary Patrick, has to all intents and purposes lost his Gordon. Another friend, James Wellesley-Wesley, a descendant of Wellington who I always thought bore his name very proudly, will shortly make the great leap. They both work in the City, but the phenomenon is not confined to the Square Mile.

Richard Compton-Miller, 'Daisy' of Private Eye fame, is now bylined Compton Miller. John Ungoed-Thomas has dropped his Thomas (working in newspapers, it would have been unwise to drop his Ungoed).

John Major, our former prime minister, is in the strange and esoteric situation of having affected a double-barrel, MajorBall, and then pseudo-disaffected it. Hillary Rodham Clinton has dropped her Rodham as a gesture of solidarity with her husband and cap-doffing to the simple classes (Rodham was also rather too tempting a pun to wave before critics of her husband's bedside manner). There is a young salesman working for a broker of electricity units called Charles O'ConnorFenton, who has dropped his O'Connor. The Arctic explorer Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes now relies on the last of his three surnames, as does his distant cousin, the actor Ralph Fiennes. The Duke of Buccleuch's family name, Montagu Douglas Scott, has been shortened to Scott in everyday usage.

All these people operate in spheres where others have an opportunity to judge them before they have met them. In the City, now swarming with foreign bankers who regard our old families as tourist attractions rather than business partners, the reasons for dropping half a name are mainly commercial. One friend who has to deal regularly with American and European bankers and businessmen and has now forgone one barrel, tells me, 'I do not want to be a point of amusement for anyone. People with titles and double-barrelled names have a life that is prejudged for them. The City is a brutally meritocratic place, to the extent that if I had a title I would not use it. The only people who care about such things these days are women in villages around the country who organise fetes. If you have a double-barrelled name there is far too much baggage which precedes you through the door, too much of a statement.'

George Pascoe Watson had been at the Sun for three years when it dawned on him that he was frequently not being credited for articles. One night he had written a piece which had to carry his name and Kelvin MacKenzie stormed up saying, `Your name's too fackin' long and keeps bustin' the column' - which in the language of publishing meant that it was too long to fit across one column width. …

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