Getting a name wrong is just plain rude, Dr Starkey

What it really says is: 'I do not believe the bearer is important enough to justify my effort'

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Je suis Ellen, not “Helen” or “Emma”, so I empathise with the irritation of Mehdi Hasan, political director of HuffingtonPost UK, when David Starkey got his name wrong on Question Time last week.

The tongue-slip – or was it an intentional slight? – came during a discussion of the Charlie Hebdo cover, when Starkey referred to his fellow panellist by the name Ahmed. It doesn’t even sound similar. Perhaps he was thinking of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer who was murdered outside Charlie Hebdo’s offices? But that doesn’t make the conflation of two completely different men any less insulting.

“Ahmed” was far from the only controversial thing Starkey said, and it only served to further undermine any tenuous authority he may have had to speak on the topic. As Hasan retorted, when he was allowed a word in edgeways, “Given you can’t get my name right – my name is Mehdi, not Ahmed – I would question your selective recollection.”

Not that we really needed a Freudian slip to reveal that Starkey sees the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims as one homogenous mass of malice. The man has said so plainly himself, often enough. He also believes that the London riots can be explained in terms of crass racial generalisations (“the whites have become black”, Newsnight, 2011), that rape is defined by violence not consent (“This sense of a very large female paw resting on one pan of the scales is bad and it’s wrong”, Question Time, 2014) and much more nonsense besides. As a historian, perhaps Starkey has some interesting things to say about Tudor court etiquette, but his continued presence on current affairs panels is a mystery.

Still, the “Ahmed” experience will be tiresomely familiar to many people who’ve never had a run-in with “the rudest man in Britain”. It happens a lot to first, second or third generation immigrants whose names are deemed “too difficult” to pronounce correctly. It happens to secretaries, waiting staff and other people in low-status jobs (terms of endearment, soon cease to be endearing when it’s obvious “hun” is standing in for the name that’s been forgotten). It also happens to people in the queue in Starbucks, who thought they were individuals, until they read their name as mis-spelled on the paper cup, and realised they were just another caffeine-addicted sucker all along.

Sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it isn’t, but mispronouncing a person’s name is always an insult. Because what Daniel Sparkly (or whatever his name is) was really saying is this: “I do not believe the bearer of the name is important enough to justify my effort.”

Walking cure

We heard again last week about the many physical benefits of walking. Make sure you get your 20 minutes a day, and you can get away with eating pork pies for breakfast, smoking 40 Rothmans before lunch and, on special occasions, injecting crack cocaine directly into your eyeballs. That’s my interpretation of the research, anyway.

By now, we all know that walking is a wonder-drug, but what we don’t hear enough about are the more abstract spiritual and psychological benefits of time spent outdoors and on the move. Luckily, there’s a movie out this weekend, which will walk you through it.

Reese Witherspoon stars in Wild, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about that time she trekked a thousand miles across the Pacific Crest Trail, and in the process overcame her drug addiction, divorce and grief over her mother’s death. To regular walkers, none of those claims will sound exaggerated. The film is moving, inspiring, but more than that, Wild manages what the Ramblers Association never could in 80 years of existence. It actually makes hiking boots look sort of… well… chic.

Locking the ballot box

Does Westminster really want more young people to vote? I mean, really. They pay lip-service to the idea of greater democratic participation, but the news that nearly a million people have gone missing from the electoral roll must give us reason to be suspicious.

It used to be that people could add other members of their household to the electoral register, but since last year each voting-age individual is responsible for registering themselves. A survey of 373 local authorities found that in 307 there had been a fall in the number of people registered to vote in the past 12 months. Moreover, according to the Electoral Commission, there’s a correlation between areas with particularly low voter registration and areas with a high student population (such as Cardiff, London, Liverpool and Newcastle). That’s unsurprising, given that students often have a different place of residence during the holidays and are relatively new to the registration process. Previously, universities were allowed to block register students living in halls of residences, but no longer.

The Government says the new system was introduced to combat voter fraud, a crime of which approximately 100 people have been found guilty in the UK since 1994. That’s a lot less than the 21 million (34 per cent) of UK voters who couldn’t be bothered to vote, let alone go to the effort of rigging it. So which issue should really be the Government’s top priority?

Awards etiquette

Awards season is here and that means one thing: lots of silly red-carpet interviews, where women, in particular, are subjected to questions such as “Who are you wearing?” (translation: please plug the designer who gave you that dress). In a bid to stop all the nonsense, Golden Globes co-host and Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler has started a #AskBetterQuestions campaign on Twitter.

Like everything that Poehler does, this is all right by me, yet, I must speak up in partial defence of my profession. When it comes to inane interviews, actors themselves have a lot to answer for. Most have been media-trained to speak in only the most inoffensive platitudes, and this means repeating the same few soundbites to every journalist, regardless of the question. Also, just because a person can act, doesn’t necessarily make them capable of discussing their talent with any insight. (For proof of this, Google any interview with the notoriously dull Robert De Niro.) So, yeah, sure we’ll ask better questions, but only if you promise to give better answers.