On the Use of Names.

Just a little rant!

Fionnuala Fallon wrote a review of Jimi Blake’s book, A Beautiful Obsession, in today’s Irish Times. As might be expected, she was lavish in her praise – expected because they are long-time friends and also because it is well deserved.

I hasten to point out immediately that I expect no blame whatsoever lies with Fionnuala regarding this rant of mine but, rather, with the editor and editorial policy/practice of the newspaper.

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It is the practice that after the first mention of a person’s name – first name and surname – s/he is afterwards referred to by her/his surname only so Jimi Blake subsequently becomes “Blake” and Noel Kingsbury, the co-author of the book, becomes “Kingsbury”.

We have, for example, “Kingsbury’s probing text explores the making of this very modern Irish gardener…” and “Readers also learn about Blake’s love of travel to foreign gardens…” Not “Noel Kingsbury” and not “Jimi Blake” but a blunt “Kingsbury” and “Blake”.

I find this single use of the surname rude, bad-mannered and inappropriate in a newspaper of the standing of the Irish Times. I expect better from that newspaper. Were I to read it in some other newspapers I would find it equally rude but, perhaps, not surprising. Standards vary in all things.

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Certainly, none of us in conversation with a group of friends would lapse into such a usage and would be taken aback to hear one of our company refer to another by surname only. It would not be appropriate and I feel it is inappropriate in the Irish Times.

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The photographs above are from Jimi Blake’s Huntingbrook Garden.

11 thoughts on “On the Use of Names.

    1. I raised this with a lady who was a journalist with the Irish Times and she agreed but explained that it was editorial policy and practice and that her work would be amended to reflect this.

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  1. Using the surname only reminds me of the time that I was asked to be the commentator at a Leinster Schools Track and Field championships. One of the colleges adjacent to the city of Dublin was modelled on an English Public School , the one that William Trevor attended one time and all the qualifiers from that school were only described by their surname thus their 100m runner was merely Tobin or other such surname . My Irish egalitarianism heckles were roused and I demanded a first name for the contestants from that college. One of the teachers told me that he didnt even know their first names.Maybe the Irish Times reviewer also attended such a college.
    The old school mentality still exists!

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  2. Dear Paddy, (Or should that really be Mr Tobin, as we are not so well acquainted?)

    Like you, I value the correct use of address and salutation. The correct form in print would be to use the forename and surname the first time in the article and thereafter refer to that person as Mr/Mrs/Ms etc.

    Referring to someone by their surname only is a social faux pas, the Irish Times should be better mannered and use the appropriate honorific.

    Some English public (boys) schools still refer to pupils by their surnames, but it is generally seen as socially demeaning.

    However, the exclusive use of a surname may also indicate an element of greatness; think Brown, Jekyll, Kent…………………………..Tobin?

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    1. Referring to someone by surname only seems to have become the normal practice in newspapers and it is something which I find disagreeable and I am not famous enough that my opinion on the subject would have any bearing! I will have to remain a simply Irish Paddy!

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  3. Hi Paddy,
    Just to let you know that you’re correct in your assumption that my use of Jimi Blake’s first name throughout the piece was corrected to “Blake’ by whoever subsequently subbed it. Sadly I have absolutely no control over how my column is subbed for print or for the online version (including the inaccurate ‘correction’ of Latin plant names despite my regular pleas that they be left as is). The piece on Jimi’s book includes some other ‘corrections’ that I wouldn’t agree with but then that’s the life of a freelance journalist; you learn to reluctantly accept that other people will do things to your copy that you don’t always like. I personally agree that the use of surnames sounds unfriendly and overly formal. All the best, Fionnuala
    PS My praise of Jimi’s book is heartfelt/ sincere and- I would like to think- relatively objective.

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    1. Many thanks for your comments, Fionnuala. I knew it was not your writing that put in the use of the surnames and that the hand of an editor was involved. Like you, my comments previously on Jimi’s book were “relatively objective” – it is an excellent book but there is also the feeling of wishing him well, cheering him on, so to speak, delighting in his success and letting others know that “one of ours” has done something very significant in the world of gardening.

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      1. Bobby, there never was anything other than peace. I know, from another person who wrote for the Irish Times, that this was the work of the editor and not of Fionnuala.

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