This is a thing, or a number of things, which annoys me very much. And this has very much to do with hierarchy and protocol and all that stuff which contemporary authors often don’t know about, because we live in this ostensibly equality driven society and believe erroneously that these things don’t matter.
Well, maybe so. Or not. (I’m not certain that respect should ever be allowed to fall out of fashion.)
But the point is that just about any society previous to the one we’re living in was more formal than ours.
So, for example, here in the UK, males did not, until about five minutes ago, refer to our friends and acquaintances in public by anything other than their surnames.
I know it sounds mad to say so. (Surely we call them things like Bingo and Tuppy and Stinker…well, yes, obviously…)
But think about movies made during WW2. The American movies of the period will have had a cast of characters with names like Bob, Phil, Tom, etc.
The British films (yes, often starring John Mills) will have had a cast of characters known by the surnames, Smith, Barker, Tuffnell, Williams…And that’s how it was. That’s how they’d been referred to when they were in school, at university, at their bank, at their club…
I’m still known to many people only by my surname. Boys in private or public schools still often only use their surnames. It’s not that we’re not friendly…(well, probably we’re not very), but that’s absolutely how it was until at least after WW2…
This is even more true when one is speaking of those with a title.
They’re always known by their title, unless one is a close family friend or indeed a close relation.
So–for example–Viscount Castlereagh…yes, his name before he had a title was Robert Stewart. Absolutely it was. But no one, not anyone outside of his intimate family relations used his Christian given name–so that’s his wife, his brothers, his father and step-mother, and his uncles (sometimes). The rest of his colleagues and friends wrote about him as Stewart, or once he had the title, Castlereagh…Or still later, Londonderry.
And I’ll be frank…because this is typical usage, because of the very clear separation of private and public spheres here, and particularly 200 years ago, to see a contemporary author using his name and calling him Robert when they’re writing about him strikes one as unseemly, disrespectful, inappropriate and well…genuinely squirm-worthy. Because 200 years ago, to use his Christian name without the benefit of family relations would have implied that he was your inferior and/or subordinate…
So really, it goes beyond incorrect. It’s actually a bit offensive. (Perhaps similar to refusing to call a former president Mr. President…)
Which brings me to another thing that is mostly got wrong. And that’s introductions. Until, as I say, about five minutes ago, the rule was that one always presented the person of lesser degree to the person with the title.
It goes like this.
If I’m walking about a garden with my friend Miss Bosomworthy and I see Lady Strychnine who is also a friend, I say to Lady S: “Lady Strychnine, will you allow me to present my friend Miss Bosomworthy…”
What I don’t say or write is “Miss Bosomworthy, may I introduce the Countess Strychnine to you?” Because that would be an affront.
And up it goes.
If I’m strolling down Pall Mall with the Earl of Erewash and Sir Candlestick MacHandsome comes across the street to tell me about a new gun he bought, I say, “Erewash, may I present my friend–and fellow worshipper at the altar of Joseph Manton–Candlestick MacHandsome to you?”
And Erewash, being an amiable chap, says, “MacHandsome, glad to know you. It’s not that rifle-barrelled piece with the carved rosewood…”
The lesser degree is always presented to the greater title. Or…if you wish to be 18th century pedantic, you would ‘name’ the person you’re presenting.
So it’s, “Lord Buggerluggs, may I name Miss Frostyfanny to you…” (Buggerluggs leers appreciatively.) “Why yes,” says he. “Miss Frostyfanny…Enchanting…truly enchanting…”
Okay? Have we got that? No Christian names once the person has left the nursery and lesser or younger person always presented to their elder and better.
Excellent. Because this getting it wrong is making my teeth curl.