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Sunday: November 30, 2008

Historico-Sociologico-Linguistic Query

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:06 PM GMT-0500

I gather from various English novels read over the years that public-school boys routinely called each other by their last names (perhaps still do), and that brothers were called (e.g.) ‘Smith major’ and ‘Smith minor’. I’ve always wondered what they did for more complex cases. Specifically:

  1. What if two unrelated boys had the same last name? Was the elder, or taller, ‘Major’ and the other ‘Minor’? I’ve taught as many as three unrelated Smiths in a class of 13 in Alabama.
  2. What did they call three or more brothers? This must have come up now and then. When the third one arrived, were the first two renumbered ‘Smith primus’ and ‘Smith secundus’ and the third called ‘Smith tertius’, like ancient Roman daughters?
  3. What did they do for twins, identical or fraternal? (When I was in graduate school, one of my friends had a pair of red-haired 5-year-old identical twin boys living next door. Since she couldn’t tell them apart and their names were Pat and Dan, she called them both ‘Pan’. They were as mischievous as their age, gender, and hair-color suggest, so it was a very suitable name.)
  4. I assume at least some of these schools are now co-ed. Has that affected the question, or did the last-name rule go out before the girls arrived?

Do any of my readers happen to know the answer to these questions?