What’s in a name?
Folks who don’t work in print journalism rarely think about the fine details of being in the newspaper business.
The AP style guide is our bible, and we try to follow it as much as possible; but times and words change and we are not often made aware of the new style.
This year, the Walmart chain switched its spelling (it had been Wal-Mart), and I’m sure ours was not the only news business where a discussion took place. I know this because I e-mailed the AP about it.
In our house, I voted to keep the hyphen, since I hadn’t heard anything otherwise and because the Houston Chronicle was still using it.
But some colleagues suggested we go with the company’s decision and spell it the new way.
As it turns out, the message I got from AP Dallas told me their editorial staff had, that very week, decided to go with the new spelling.
What they determined was that mention of a single store would be “Walmart Supercenter.”
And the chain’s parent company in Bentonville, Ark., would keep the hyphen and be referred to as “Wal-Mart Stores Inc.”
Now wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting in Bentonville? First, of course, a memo would have gone out. Then everybody showed up thinking it was going to be relatively short and they could all get out to the golf course right after lunch.
But things turned for the worse and by the end, the authorities had to be called with an old man up on the roof shouting, “My grandfather loved that hyphen, damn you; and BY GOD he is rolling over in his GRAVE right now!”
I respect the AP’s decision, but it seems a bit strange to make happy a bunch of Walmart managers who sit around all day having pointless meetings about hyphens.
Here’s what I mean. According to AP style:
We don’t call someone “Harriet Smith, CNA, LPN. In AP lingo it’s, “Harriet Smith, certified nursing assistant and licensed practical nurse.”
We don’t say someone has a “PhD.” It’s that they have “a doctorate.” And we don’t call someone a doctor unless they’re a medical doctor, something my dad constantly reminds me. “I didn’t go to graduate school for eight years to not have a title!” (If he sounds a bit like the old man on the roof, well – he did go to school in Arkansas).
So let’s just say there’s a guy in town named Bill Wilson, a retired real estate agent. And he decides to run for city council.
Furthermore, he decides to start calling himself “Bill ‘Craphead’ Wilson.”
I somehow don’t think you’d see this story: “Former real estate agent and businessman Bill ‘Craphead” Wilson has thrown his hat into the council race.”
How about this one? Let’s say Mayor Simon Jones began putting the phrase “DJ” in front of his name. I don’t think you’d see: “The city of Victoria is growing with a rising economy, Mayor DJ Simon Jones said this week.”
I realize that my two examples are peoples’ names and not company names that can be changed by managers obsessed with hyphens, or when businesses buy out other businesses. I do find it interesting that one can go back and see company name changes and wonder how editors approached them in those days.
For instance, the Texas Co. became Texaco, but it’s been so long ago nobody really remembers. The industrial chain PPG got tired of being referred to as Pittsburgh Plate Glass and basically told newspapers the letters didn’t stand for anything. Just call us PPG, they said.
The “S.” in Harry S Truman generally has a period in news print although that was a point of contention for many years. Mr. Truman always said the initial never stood for anything and didn’t care whether the period was there or not. Since the early ‘60s the AP has called for a little dot at the end of that letter.
So I guess I shouldn’t have concerns about this Walmart thing. It won’t matter 50 years from now, anyway. By then Walmart will be known as something else, such as “Pig’s Knuckles,” “Horse Feet” or “Sir Chazalot.”
And how I do love it so. How I do love that old AP so.