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In the following passage, I am (for now) using "...had had..." (bolded below for easier findability).

Is my usage that way correct? I'm not using a single "had" because it was a temporary name for his father.

YOUNG MAN AFRAID OF HIS HORSES

Living from 1836 to 1893, Sioux chief Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses, was far from being a shrinking violet as one might surmise from his name. Young Man-Afraid-of-his-Horses took part in Red Cloud's War, acted as a negotiator for the Sioux after the Wounded Knee Massacre, and served as ambassador for his people during forays to Washington, DC.

It should be noted that the accurate translation of his name is really “His horse is feared” or “They fear his horse,” meaning that even the sight of his horse elicited trepidation in his enemies, not that he himself feared his steed.

It is interesting, too, that his father had had the same name; when the “Young Man” discussed here became chief and took that name, his father then became “Old Man Afraid of His Horses” - somewhat like a “Sr.” and “Jr.” father-son relationship.

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    Yes, it is; the verb to have may be governed by past perfect, rendering use of "had had" not only grammatical but actually very common in usage. – Robusto Aug 31 '17 at 18:20
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    ... had had the same name; when ... seems a bit awkward to me. You are moving the point of view twice in rapid succession. You could smooth it out a bit by replacing when with until. It is interesting, too, that his father had had the same name until the “Young Man” discussed here became chief and took that name. The father then became “Old Man Afraid of His Horses” - somewhat like a “Sr.” and “Jr.” father-son relationship. The past perfect tense, when used to shift a point of view, really benefits from addition lexical support to nail down that point of view. – Phil Sweet Aug 31 '17 at 19:23
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Yep. The two hads here are serving different purposes.

The first one tells you when the thing happened, the second tells you what happened. An easy way to see this is to change the second had to a blank and then fill in that blank with some other verb, as in:

It is interesting, too, that his father had used / gone by / been given the same name

had had is a pretty common construction. That said, I'd agree it sounds weird, and I doubt your confusion about whether it's grammatical is uncommon, which is one reason I avoid it wherever possible. I've never found a situation where it couldn't be replaced with something that flowed better conversationally.

  • What do you mean by "weird"? If I wake up in the night, look out of the window and see flying turtles landing in my garden, attended by dancing fairies, that would be "weird". Do you really think that use of the pluperfect of the verb "have", to give "had had" is "weird"? – WS2 Aug 31 '17 at 21:24
  • I guess I mean "weird" in this context as "mildly jarring", "unpleasant to the ear", or "a cause to give pause". I will cede the point that I may have delicate sensibilities. – Parthian Shot Aug 31 '17 at 23:43
  • At school I was asked to punctuate "John where James had had had had had had had had had had had the full marks". Can you do that? – WS2 Sep 1 '17 at 7:00
  • Sure. I would punctuate it with crying. – Parthian Shot Sep 2 '17 at 0:10
  • It is a grammatical sentence if you punctuate it properly. – WS2 Sep 2 '17 at 8:37

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