"When can a celebrity be referred to by their surname only?" has been placed on hold for being primarily opinion-based and thus attracting opinion-based answers rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. I'd like to call this into question.

The question certainly makes some opinion based claims but I fail to see why the answers must be. The question gave some provocative examples and some wild claims of what made sense and what didn't. But it concluded asking "why is that?". The answer is hardly opinion. It has to do with context and disambiguation.

If we'd been asked about a particular celebrity, that would be subjective. A correct answer today might be wrong tomorrow.

But we weren't asked about a particular celebrity. We were asked "when" and "why is that?".

This is a problem every writer who wishes to discuss a celebrity is faced with. Writers decide how to introduce someone as a topic all the time. What they decide to do might be subjective. What they should consider when doing so is not. Let's not confuse the two.

I am asking for the question to be reopened. If you feel it has issues that need to be addressed please spell them out.

  • 1
    And this is how you defend and ask for a question to be reopened. The last paragraph explains why the question is related to the English language. So, you're asking users to reopen the question, right? You haven't actually said it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 7:38
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    The question is basically asking "Why is it that people make opinion based decisions on names?" Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 10:28
  • Btw, I just want to make clear I am not criticizing your answer. Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 10:30
  • @Mari-LouA I ask that it be reopened or that someone please explain what it is the question needs to be viable. If there is something I don't understand then please teach me. I see a really substantive on-topic issue here and a potential for more and better answers than mine but apparently five people disagree. At least one of them could explain what is needed. I could edit the question but there is no point if I don't understand the issue. I'm not sure how to take your comment. Have I done something wrong here in meta? Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 12:02
  • @michael_timofeev I completely understand this isn't about my answer. DJClayworth has a very good and objective answer. Even Cargill makes a good point about it depending on how old you are. If the question is asking about peoples opinion based decisions why would that mean answers would have to be opinion based? Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 12:26
  • I didn't vote to close the question, however in my opinion the question isn't really about English Language. Maybe usage, but that's kind of a stretch. If someone asked me why I say "Picasso" my answer is, "because that's what everyone else says and that's what I grew up hearing." I'm not sure there is an objective answer, or one that can help predict future usage. Maybe it's because in "days of yore" people called each other Mr / Mrs Last Name but now the Mr / Mrs part isn't said much. Who knows? Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 12:44
  • In any case, many people liked your answer so it must have some merit. Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 12:45
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    @michael_timofeev the fact that you say Picasso because that's what you grew up hearing is an objective fact. It's only when you expect that to be everyone's experience that you wander into the subjective. Forget celebrities, words themselves behave like this. I use the word "the" and hope it means the same to you as it does for me. The fact that it might not means I can't ask questions about "the"? Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 12:55
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    No, nothing wrong. Just clarifying, I have voted to reopen in any case. But if you could clearly state in your meta post that you wish the post to be reopened, that would make it clearer for everyone, otherwise it's a post just saying a particular question isn't off-topic. I would suggest that you leave a comment to the OP (Ricky) on how he might adjust the question, if you have any ideas that is.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 13:05
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    In other words please state in your question here on meta: "Please can we (vote to) reopen this question". Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 14:07
  • @Mari-LouA You did, but I thought it might need some reinforcement! ;) Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:48
  • @Mari-LouA how's this? Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 3:39
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    To be blunt, it's hardly compelling. You're just sitting on the fence on this one, which begs the question why did you write this meta post in the first place? I mean your comment: I see a really substantive on-topic issue here and a potential for more and better answers than mine but apparently five people disagree. was a more of a passionate plea than this lukewarm edit.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:27
  • ....was a more passionate plea...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 8:17
  • @Mari-LouA I feel you're confusing my being open to an argument with fence sitting. I didn't come to meta without an agenda. I see two paths to opening the question. 1 over turn the votes. 2 edit the question. For 2 to work I have to understand why it was closed. I don't. I guessed it was confusion over subjectiveness. This makes no sense because the answers already given are not subjective (sure some of the comments are but why care about them?) I've addressed this with no response from the ones who closed it. So I'm left arguing with the wrong people. Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 12:24

1 Answer 1


I mentioned in two comments, which were swiftly deleted, (why, I have no idea) that in speech the word Poe might not be understood. For example, if out of the blue someone said:

I love Poe

The listener might ask for confirmation—

Oh! You mean Edgar Allen Poe?

I think the name Edgar would be stressed in speech, someone more expert than I might confirm or disagree and say which word would be stressed.

Regardless, echoing and adding extra info is but a spontaneous and natural reaction, a method to double-check we have understood. In normal speech this takes seconds. In writing the problem is less likely to occur; we see the word Poe and we (should) recognize the author immediately. I made a similar observation about Shaw in a comment (which was deleted), the surname has the same pronunciation as sure. In casual fast speech, a person may hear:

“Was it Shaw who said: ‘All great truths begin as blasphemies’?”

and quickly ask—

“Was what sure?”

“George Bernard Shaw, you nimrod!”

Again, in writing this error is unlikely to occur but in speech? And the OP seemed to refer to people speaking and asking for confirmation, not in writing. Surnames with two or more syllables are less likely to misinterpreted

Mussolini was great

No difficulty there. It's superfluous to add Benito, the same goes for Mozart, Van Gogh, Picasso, Obama, etc.

Finally, I argued that sometimes a first name or last name will mean different things to people according to their background, culture, and interests. If I say "I'm a fan of Jackson" or "I admire Jackson's innovative style" am I referring to the pop singer, Michael Jackson, or the artist Jackson Pollock?

The OP, Ricky also made some interesting observations along with several other users, but these comments were deleted too.
(Do I have an axe to grind? You bet I do)

So, to sum up, the question is subjective but answers can be objective and can offer a possible explanation as to why...

… if you say, "I read this story by Poe," someone is very likely to make absolutely sure by asking, "Edgar Allan Poe?"


Ironically, one of the users who closed the question left this comment—not deleted— saying:

It is an interesting question in its own right, and could stimulate some interesting discussion, but I see no way this can be answered objectively.

The risk of POB questions is that users will post their thoughts, opinions, and their experience in their answers. Things which are discouraged on ELU.

Users have to write answers that are supported by links, Ngrams, citations (which must be properly attributed); any references used in formulating their responses should also be cited, and authoritative sources are preferred, such as the OED.

You can't provide a good objective answer without using any of these props.

Or can you?

  • 3
    Just found out that the OP has just got himself suspended a second time. I don't know the dynamics, and I don't care either, but it was pretty inevitable.... shakes head
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 16:38
  • Really, more of your comments were deleted? You should flag a mod. It sounds like another mod being capricious and it needs an explanation (for which there very well may be one like you're in a comment conversation with someone whose comments really need to be deleted)
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 17:16
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    @Mitch what is the point of flagging a mod, when it has to be one out of the four more active mods who have deleted my comments? I don't know who deleted those comments, they just get zapped to obliteration. Pathetic that's what is it. Really pathetic, comments asking about prepositions, or offering morsels of constructive considerations. I wonder if I posted on meta and asked would my comments reappear? Course not.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 19:27
  • flag a mod outside of ELU?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 20:22
  • @Mitch it's not worth the hassle.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 20:26
  • Anyway, but relevantly, why is a writing desk like a raven?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 20:28
  • @Mitch I am hopeless at riddles.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 20:32
  • @Mari-LouA: So is the Mad Hatter.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 20:56
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    Mari, @SvenYargs: Ans: Poe wrote on both.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 21:04
  • @Mitch: I liked the suggestion "Both bear inky quills," but your answer is better yet.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 21:06
  • @SvenYargs: 1) It's not mine 2) It's relevant to the question on main 3) But is a strange sounding usage to me because I always expect 'Edgar Allen Poe'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 21:11
  • @Mitch: In fact it might introduce a further refinement to the question on main: "Why do some celebrities (John Paul Jones, Edgar Allan Poe, John Philip Sousa, Ford Madox Ford, William Carlos Williams) receive three-name treatment instead of two- or one-, even long after their death?" I know that in Poe's case, Allan was not his middle name, and he used it out of respect for his adoptive family.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 21:20
  • @SvenYargs Any answer to this question should probably do a data analysis; I expect the answer to be "There's no pattern". But I wouldn't be surprised if this has been asked and answered on Quora
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 21:25
  • @Mitch how on earth would you do that? I think the question has some validity if we consider how people use and say these names in everyday normal conversations. On paper, on any type of publication, the problem does not exist. Articles, and stories will contain context, the orthography will tell us that Cook is a proper noun, and so we guess that Cook probably refers to Capt. (James) Cook, etc.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 21:32
  • Only peripherally relevant, if at all: Shaw disliked the name "George". He initialed himself "GBS" , but all of his works were published under the name "Bernard Shaw". Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 22:37

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