August 20th, 2008
Double-barreled names / the third half
by Barbara Wallraff
Deborah Byrd, of Chicago, writes: “What does it mean when a male name is hyphenated -- for example, ‘Michael William-Smith’?”
Dear Deborah: That’s what’s called a double-barreled name, and it’s equally likely to belong to a man or a woman. Once upon a time in England, double-barreled names implied that the family had property -- a castle or some such -- inherited through the wife’s family. Naturally, people who were given such names tended to keep them, even after the custom fell out of fashion. So an inherited English double-barreled name today probably just means that the person’s great- or great-great grandmother had her own money.
Carl Steinecker, of South Lyon, Mich., writes: “What is your take on actor Dennis Haysbert’s recent ad for Allstate? When Dennis says, ‘Insurance for the third half of your life,’ I can just feel every math teacher, engineer and scientist cringe. How illogical is this?”
Dear Carl: You want him to call retirement “the last fourth or fifth of your life”? That might be more accurate, but upbeat it’s not. Ads rarely are intended to be informative -- and then they try to improve our knowledge of the product, not grammar or arithmetic. Ads are meant to stick in people’s minds and, even better, give them something to talk about. Most of us aren’t interested in chitchatting about insurance premiums and payouts, unless we’ve just suffered through a tornado or a flood. But did you see the guy drive a car off the top of a Chicago skyscraper? Did you hear Dennis Haysbert talking about a “third half”? Crazy, huh? Stuff like this makes for better conversation and longer memories.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.