5

Lately I've been seeing a trend that I find disturbing for some reason, mostly in Indian publications but also in some American ones - prefixing people's names with "the". For example: The Mr. Gandhi said that taking the Narendra Modi's name was tantamount to committing a crime in the party.

Is this proper usage? It surely doesn't sound right.

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    This is common (and required even) in some languages, but in English, it is generally extremely unnatural and jarring. I do not know enough about any Indian languages to know which, if any, use definite markers with personal names. In the cases you give, it sounds very much like something a non-native speaker would say, but not like anything a native speaker of English would ever say. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 4 '13 at 18:23
  • As a native English speaker (American dialect), I can safely say I have never heard anyone use 'the' in this way. I would consider it incorrect. – adj7388 Nov 4 '13 at 22:13
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    This is in fact common in Spanish among people with low education level. – Francisco Presencia Nov 5 '13 at 1:51
13

It is not proper usage. As a commenter said, using the definite article with proper names is necessary and correct in some languages, and sometimes this gets carried over into English by non-native speakers (English language learners).

We do use the article with proper names in English in a very specific situation, not all that common, when you mean "people of a certain sort." Often when you do this, you make the proper name plural. For example,

The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are changing the way we interact with one another.

You can find this with an indefinite article, too. For example,

She's quite a Beyoncé, breaking out of the group to have a successful solo career.

We also use the indefinite article with proper names in English when referring to someone we do not really know. Here's a typical example:

A Mr. Jones called to speak with you; he didn't say what it was about.

Hope that helps.

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    +1. You also come across the indefinite article in sentences like A relieved Mr. Jones walked out of the doctor's office. – user13141 Nov 4 '13 at 19:18
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    Certain honorifics require the definite article, I believe. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 4 '13 at 19:34
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    Another sort of example distinct form the first: "Your name's Mark Zukerberg? But you're not the Mark Zuckerberg, right?" – Robert Kaucher Nov 4 '13 at 20:39
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    @EdwinAshworth: I think that's a misunderstanding. 'Queen Elizabeth II' could be called an honorific or it could be called a name; but 'The Queen of England' is a description, like 'the eldest daughter of George VI'. – TimLymington Nov 4 '13 at 21:16
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    @EdwinAshworth I think you add a really useful piece of information. But I wanted to point out that, in those cases, you only use the definite article in combination with the honorific. That's not meant as a disagreement; I'm just pointing it out for the potential benefit of the OP. – Michael Broder Nov 5 '13 at 1:37
7

A name is sometimes prefixed with "the" to indicate a particularly eminent person, where there are other people of the same name who are less famous or not the person intended. For example, one might talk of the Michael Jackson, to distinguish him from this interloper.

While this would be fairly normal in conversation, it would be unusual in writing, because one can't put the emphasis on the the which is required.

3

I agree that the examples in the question are not correct or acceptable.  One exceptional and very idiomatic / idiosyncratic example in which this construct has become accepted simply through having been used (and because of the eminence of the subject) is “the Donald”, to refer to Donald Trump.  I can’t think of anybody else for whom this convention is used.

Related:

“You ARE Zaphod Beeblebrox?  ...  THE Zaphod Beeblebrox?”

“No, just A Zaphod Beeblebrox, didn’t you hear I come in six packs?”

:-)

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    I think "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski is somewhere between "The Hulk" and "The Donald," and may constitute a distinct category of this phenomenon, but darned if I can figure out what to call it or how to describe it. – Michael Broder Nov 5 '13 at 1:42
  • @Michael, you’re the man! But why do you believe that “the Dude” is something more than “just a regular noun used in the definite sense to refer to someone in particular”, like ‘the Queen’, ‘the president’, ‘the phantom’, ‘the boss’, ‘the doctor’, … or ‘The Situation’? – Scott Nov 5 '13 at 18:37
  • Because only The Dude is The Dude. There will be other presidents, queens, bosses, etc. But there's only one Dude. – Michael Broder Nov 5 '13 at 23:07
  • George Herman Ruth was universally known as "Babe" Ruth, but he was also referred to "the Babe." Prefixing a definite article to an actual given name (as opposed to a nickname) is very uncommon, however. I wonder whether it has any connection to a francophile affectation I've sometimes seen in United States: prefacing the last name of a much-admired female celebrity with "La." In particular, I recall that the (never funny) comic strip Brenda Starr would frequently refer to its heroine as "La Starr." – Sven Yargs Jan 10 '14 at 19:43
0

The definite article appears in the form of address for many British titled subjects.

The below Wiki entry deals exhaustively with the correct manner of address for everyone from the reigning monarch to a local Justice of the Peace. You will see among them that the correct form of address for a viscount's or baron's daughter is 'The Hon Mary Smith'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forms_of_address_in_the_United_Kingdom

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    The Honorable (or Honourable) John Smith and the Reverend John Smith are widely used – but how different are these from The Talented Mr. Ripley or The Mysterious Miss Austen? – Scott Nov 5 '13 at 18:27
  • They are all correct usages of the definite article. – WS2 Nov 5 '13 at 20:35
  • Um, yeah, but my point is that “the” + (adjective) + (person’s name) sometimes adds up to a valid construct, and my question is, to what extent is “honorable” just another adjective that works in this pattern, and to what extent does it represent a different category? – Scott Nov 5 '13 at 21:32
  • @Scott Yes, 'honourable' is used frequently in titles. In the same way Members of Parliament are always referenced as 'The Honourable Member', or if they have been a Privy Councillor 'The Right Honourable Member'. – WS2 Nov 5 '13 at 22:49

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