In his column "In Public Life, First-Name Familiarity Isn't Always Affectionate," (Op-Ed Page, April 28), David B. Oppenheimer argues that the use of a public figures first name alone to identify him or her implies somehow less respect than if the person were known by the last name alone. For example, Jesse Jackson is often referred to simple as "Jesse," whereas Mike Dukakis is not identified publicly as "Mike," but rather as "Dukakis." Oppenheimer then goes on to point out that slaves of African origin were only allowed first names--thus adding on implication of racism to the lack-of-respect theory.
I believe the real explanation is at once more simple and less sinister. The rule is: The more unusual name prevails. If there are two public figures called Petronius Smith and John Balthazar, headlines and campaign buttons wide probably not proclaim "Smith" and "John." Jesse Jackson is known by his first name because it is more unusual than his last, Mike Dukakis is known as "Dukakis" because it is rarer than "Mike," therefore identifies him more rapidly. Somebody called Petronius Dukakis could, however, presumably go either way . . . but probably not in politics!
RICHARD D. MYTTON-MILLS