Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

English names

Yes, there it is again, that absolute tin ear Americans have for English names. In a crap Christian thriller called "A man called blessed" about a search for the Ark of the Covenant (I say crap - it's better written than the Da Vinci Code, but then so is the label on my Thai packet of Peculiar Flavour Broad Beans) and one of the McGuffins is a letter from a crusading templar who found the ark had moved to Ethiopia at some vaguely given date approximately 800 years ago. It begins "I, Sir Wallace Thronburge III...."

'Sir' goes only with a given name.

'Wallace' is a surname, and people then didn't use surnames as first names.

'Thronburge' is one of the very few collections of letters that doesn't appear on Google and has never been used as a name by anybody (actually, that could be unfair; it's probably a misreading of misprint for Thornburge, which does exist).

And that 'III'... Mencken notes: "The use of 2nd, 3rd, etc., is marked as an Americanism by the DAE and traced to 1804. At the start 2nd seemed to have been only a substitute for Jr., but now it often indicates, not the son, but the grandson or nephew of the first bearer of the name. The use of the Roman numerals II, III, etc., came much later. It is frowned upon in England as an invasion of Royal prerogative..." Not that the royals numbered themselves till a good deal later than 800 years ago.

Even some good writers, though, have the same tin ear; "Lord John Marbury" in West Wing still rankles. CJ says he's the 'hereditary Earl Of Shelbourne' , making him Lord Shelbourne and not Lord Marbury.

What is it about Americans and English names?

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