Meet my family: Allan, William, Allan, Robert and William

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Feb 18, 2013

I use this blog to indulge the many asides which, though interesting, didn’t really seem to belong in my main text. One of those asides, however, did make an abbreviated appearance in the book; upon introducing the third-generation boss of Pinkerton’s, named Allan just like the firm’s founder, I realized to my surprise and gratification that I actually needed to make some comment on this. Therefore I made note that this second Allan was “typically identified as Allan II to limit confusion resulting from his family’s stern economy with given names.”

“Stern economy with given names” is, in fact, understatement to the point of (one hoped) dry humor. By this point in the book, careful readers have been introduced to

  1. William Pinkerton of Glasgow,
  2. Allan Pinkerton, son of 1) who died in infancy,
  3. Allan Pinkerton, a second son of 1) who became a famous detective in America,
  4. Robert Pinkerton, another son of 1) and probably a business associate of 3)
  5. William Pinkerton, son of 3) and later director of Pinkerton’s,
  6. Robert Pinkerton, son of 3) and co-director until his death in middle age, and
  7. Allan Pinkerton (Allan II), son of 6)

As well as two Joan Pinkertons, wife and daughter of the famous Allan. The son of Allan II, last Pinkerton to direct the agency, does not appear in Brilliant Deduction, but by this point the reader will probably have at least a 50/50 chance of guessing that his name was Robert Pinkerton.

To a great extent this dedicated re-use of family names probably was not very rare in earlier eras, and may not even be that rare today in many places, but it does seem awfully confusing, at least in retrospect. Presumably it was manageable enough at the time, with context, but one has to wonder…

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