Our children only have one forename each. My second forename has never served any useful purpose, in fact probably no useless purpose either apart from confusing the Spanish who think it is my first surname. This is because they cannot conceive of anyone having only one surname. My husband also has only one forename, which confuses the Spaniards even further and occasionally leads them to put his surname twice on forms that demand two surnames!
As a result of her having only one forename our daughter decided that her offspring would all have a middle name. I never quite understood why she was so adamant about this, except for those occasions when you really feel that you need to call a child by its full name. Her two youngest children, their father being from a Chinese family, have two English forenames followed by their Chinese forename, in each case a two-parter chosen by the Chinese grandparents and selected for their meaning, thus hoping to endow the small children with excellent qualities.
So when it came to choosing a surname for these two - would they have their mother’s or their father’s surname? an important decision in the 21st century - they considered going double-barrelled but decided that this would be burdening the small people with an insane length of name to learn how to spell when they started to read and write. And so they have ended up with their father’s surname.
Our daughter, free-thinking and determined and strong-minded about so many things seems always to have been fairly conventional when choosing surnames for her children. The oldest has changed her name a fair few times in her 22 years. Initially she had her biological father’s name. When that relationship fell apart her name was changed to our family name. A stepfather came on the scene and she was given his name for a few years until he too was out of the picture. And she went back to being one of us - an Adams.Her teenage half siblings still have their biological father’s surname but the 16-year-old is making noises about becoming an Adams now that she has reached an age where she no longer needs to seek permission to do so.
This naming business has grown more complicated as the years have gone by. It is very normal for young parents to discuss which surname to give their new child, and if it is to be both names there comes the further decision about which order to put them in. Because, of course, nowadays young mothers want to assert their right for their name to be in evidence, just as they so often keep their own name on marrying. It was not something that ever bothered me. It probably didn’t bother others of my generation too much either. I even know a few who on divorcing opted to keep their ex-husband’s surname as that was what they had been known by through their professional life thus far. Or maybe they just preferred that name.
I was prompted to think about this and to go on about it at length by a conversation we had the other day about how double-barrelled names originated in this country. For Phil and I had both known a couple of people in our childhood who prided themselves on their having two names, as if this made them rather special and perhaps superior to the poor one-name-only folk.
So I did what we all do in such cases nowadays: I googled it.
Here’s a little definition:
“A double-barrelled name comes about when two different family names are joined together, usually after a marriage. The term 'double-barrelled name' first became popular in Victorian times referring to two-part last names, but has since been narrowed down to 'surnames' thanks to the popularity of double first names (think Mary Kate Olsen or Lily Rose Depp).”
And here’s a bit more information:
“Back in days of yore, names were closely tied to notions of inheritance. If a family lacked any male descendants, creating a double-barrelled surname was a way of preserving a name that would otherwise have died out – and of keeping the estate in the family (just think of the plot of every other costume drama…). Back then, it tended to be the wealthier classes (the ones who actually had land to inherit) who adopted this naming tactic, giving it the slightly uppity connotations which have stuck around to this day.
Unlike in other European countries, British double-barrelled names are traditionally heritable (or passed down to each generation of offspring) and yes, you can end up with a triple or quadruple-barrelled surname if you and your family so desire (but just imagine how many hours you'd waste spelling out your email address over the phone...)”
Nowadays coupling-up their two surnames might almost be seen as a sign of devotion on the part of a couple, nothing to do with class or snobbery. But even better is “meshing”:
“While double-barrelling is a simple matter of putting two surnames together, ‘meshing’ is another naming option that involves splicing two names to form one new one. For a celebrity example, see Dawn Porter, who adopted the mash-up surname O’Porter after her marriage to actor Chris O’Dowd.”
And if you thought it was all nonsense, there is this: when it comes to internships and work experience placements one in four of the young people asked think you have a clear advantage if you are blessed with a double-barrelled surname, one in five say the type of school you went to counts, and one in six say your accent really matters.
So there you go!