Once the preserve of the upper levels of society, double-barrelled names have proliferated in recent years. Flora Watkins considers the reasons why.
Sir Walter Elliot, father of the heroine in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, is a man who ‘never took up any book but the Baronetage’ as there he found ‘occupation for an idle hour and consolation in a distressed one’.
How Sir Walter might have choked on his toast and marmalade to read recent reports of the England youth football teams’ success. On the squad that won the under-20s World Cup last June, there were four players with double-barrelled names. Last October, the squad that won the under-17s World Cup also boasted four men of double-barrelled moniker.
For the Sir Walters of this world, it all used to be so straightforward. One could safely assume that a double-barrelled name indicated a ducal family (Innes-Kerr), landed gentry (Fox-Pitt) or a Tory grandee (Rees-Mogg). They graced Country Life’s Frontispiece and the bow window of White’s and were convenient shorthand for TV toffs (Audrey fforbes-Hamilton in To the Manor Born) and upper-class cads (Rupert Campbell-Black in Riders).
However, around the time that the Carlton Club began to admit women, things started to get complicated. Suddenly, the most unlikely types were popping up brandishing double-barrels. As with red trousers, Sir Walter could no longer be sure if he was addressing a duke or a hipster.
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In November, research by The London Mint Office to mark The Queen’s platinum wedding anniversary suggested that 11% of married couples aged 18–30 joined their names. This trend moved one Sir Walter to contact Country Life’s resident agony uncle, Kit Hesketh-Harvey (Town & Country Notebook, November 1, 2017), so concerned was he that his soon-to-be-married daughter was set on double-barrelling her surname. Wasn’t it, he fretted, a bit ‘nouveau’?
These days, the reasons for double-barrelling surnames on marrying have certainly changed, confirms Peter O’Donoghue of the College of Arms. Now, it’s often born ‘out of a desire to equalise the sexes’ or because the mother and father don’t have the same name. In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, it was done mostly by families ‘who looked to be expiring in the male line, to perpetuate their surname and, very often, their coat of arms as well – Spencer-Churchill is the most obvious one that comes to mind’.
Often, inheriting property could be on condition of adopting the additional surname. The intention was to tie up property for the long-term benefit of the family, so that it couldn’t be dispersed, thereby avoiding the plight of the Bennets in Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice.
It’s because of the ‘association with estates and property,’ continues Mr O’Donoghue, that double-barrel names have historically had ‘that prestige’. It was an expensive business, too, open only to the wealthy. Names had to be changed by Royal Licence and involved the drafting of a petition at the College of Arms at a cost of about £200 – a substantial amount of money 200 years ago.
Today, there’s no charge to double-barrel a name; provision of a marriage certificate is usually all that’s needed. If the name change is more complicated, then it costs £14.99 to apply for a deed poll online. Louise Bowers of the UK Deed Poll Office says she recorded ‘just over 200’ applications in 2006. Last year, there were more than 500.
Lucy Hume of Debrett’s thinks the trend may be due to ‘wanting to recognise the two branches of your family’, but also to do with changing mores. ‘My husband has a double-barrelled name, including his mother’s maiden name, because his parents didn’t marry,’ she discloses. Miss Hume refers me to Debrett’s Wedding Handbook, which now includes a page of crisp, clear (and non-judgemental) advice on the subject.
‘The only caveat we give,’ she continues, ‘is that, in some cases [where the new surname is not a straightforward combination of both names], you may have to officially change your name by deed poll.’
Fashion is clearly another driver. The rise of double-barrelling has been accompanied by an increase of hyphenated Christian names (265 Amelia-Roses were recorded in 2016 and 203 Ella-Roses). It’s accepted that Christian names tend to move downwards on the social spectrum, the classic example being the demise of Samantha as a Sloaney name. Meanwhile, Kit – for the benefit of those Sir Walters who don’t sneak a look at the Daily Mail – is the name of footballer Wayne Rooney’s youngest son.
There’s no ‘single phenomenon’ behind double-barrelling, cautions Mr O’Donoghue, who advises that ‘communities have different naming patterns’, such as ‘a cultural trend from the Caribbean’ to do with the ‘desire to represent both female and male lines of ancestry’. Similarly, it’s a naming pattern in Welsh culture, where there are a lot of names such as Gwyn Jones and Lloyd Jones, not always with a hyphen.
Where does it all end? Quite apart from the problem of fitting those names onto the back of a football shirt, what happens when the children of the newly double-barrelled marry? In a Letter to the Editor (August 16, 2017), one reader wondered what surname might be given to any offspring of the marriage of Frontispiece Philippa Denlegh-Maxwell (August 9, 2017) to Daniel Moriss-Jeffery.
The solution, Mr Hesketh-Harvey suggests, is ‘to insert the matronymic as a first or second Christian name to children of the marriage’. Otherwise, it’s a frightful bore cramming the name into the boxes on forms. And, just as few of us would while away an idle hour in Burke’s Peerage, a double-barrelled name, ‘like having attended Eton,’ he counsels, ‘is arguably more of a disadvantage, these days. Just ask Sir Ranulph (Twistleton-Wykeham) Fiennes’.
ROLL OUT THE BARRELS
- Several old British families have triple- barrelled names, including Vane-Tem- pest-Stewart, Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby and Buckworth-Herne-Soame. In practice, these are usually abbreviated in everyday use, for example, Sir Ranulph (Twistleton-Wykeham) Fiennes
- There is a handful of quadruple-barrelled names such as Hovell-Thurlow- Cumming-Bruce, Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (the current head of the family is the Conservative MP Richard Drax) and Montagu-Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie. However, even in Burke’s Peerage, this is rare
- The record is thought to have lain with the now-extinct family of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, which had a quintuple-barrelled surname: Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville
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