Boris Johnson has undergone a makeover and no, it’s got nothing to do with his tidier hair and vanishing paunch. While Boris's girlfriend Carrie Symonds has been busy transforming his appearance, journalists are now doing their bit to rebrand Boris too. I’m talking of course about Boris becoming Mr Johnson.
A ‘request’ from Channel 4’s Louisa Compton is doing the rounds telling reporters to ‘STOP referring to Boris Johnson as just ‘Boris’. She says:
‘He’s a politician - we shouldn’t use first names for politicians - doing so is over-familiar and gives the impression they’re our mates, or much loved comedy characters’.
Leaving aside that to some Boris is a comedy character, it is clear that a lot of the media has taken this advice to heart. There is now a conscious effort to ditch Boris and call him only Mr Johnson. On TV, in newspapers – in The Spectator, too – the references to Boris are harder to come by and the mentions of Mr Johnson are growing in number.
Compton does partly have a point: it is right not to treat politicians as our friends. They aren’t, even if they might pretend to be. But the problem with trying to ditch the Boris label is that – for better or worse – it is far too late. Boris has already stuck.
Sky News’ Beth Rigby found this to her cost yesterday when she mistakenly called the man everyone knows as Boris as just that: Boris. She promptly corrected herself, but she shouldn't have done.
For most people, Boris isn’t Mr Johnson. He’s Boris. Some of those who call him that are doing so in a bid to emulate familiarity. It’s obvious why that winds up Boris’s detractors. But whatever the stop Boris mob might claim about this label being part of some sinister branding exercise to make Boris more relatable and likeable, it isn’t. The truth is far more boring.
Put simply, it’s just that Boris’s first name is more distinctive and far less common than his surname. Johnson is the tenth most common last name in Britain. Boris isn’t even in the top 100 baby boy names (it’s even behind Barrie). This logic explains why Michael Gove’s closest supporters don’t call him Michael – it’s easy to get confused about which Michael they might be talking about. The same happens when people call Boris Mr Johnson.
So while Boris’s critics and much of the media might be desperate to rebrand Boris to make his name more neutral, their attempt is doomed to fail. It doesn’t matter how often those on TV refer to Boris as Mr Johnson, the average punter – whether a fan or a critic – is only ever going to call him by his first name.
This isn’t the first time an attempt by talking heads on TV to rebrand something has failed. Take the ‘so-called Islamic State’, the moniker the BBC and others gave to the terror group formerly known as Isis. Their intentions were worthy but despite the best efforts of the government and broadcasters, no normal person talking to their friends in the pub ever uttered the words ‘so-called Islamic State’. The same is true for Mr Johnson. Like it or loathe it, Boris is here to stay.