The Breakfast Table

William F. Buckley Jr. and Michael Kinsley

Dear Michael,

Inasmuch as informality is encouraged in such exchanges as we are embarking on, let’s spend a minute on your first name. I remember, 60 or 70 Firing Lines ago, venturing to say to you, “Is there any problem if I introduce you as MICHAEL Kinsley, instead of Mike?” You nodded your head; but as I think of it, back then perhaps I intimidated you, a memorable period perhaps because it was so brief. But you now uniformly do the MIKE bit and I begin to wonder whether there is ideology there, as in JIMMY Carter and AL Gore.

You are entitled to comment (this being your magazine, that’s obvious) that I am called BILL Buckley. My response is in two parts. First, William is a little bit of a jawbreaker.  Even Prince William has become WILLS. Having said that, I report ruefully that in trade, everybody now calls me William, as in, “What Windows operating system are you using, William?” For a while I tried to stop that, not to plead the cause of BILL, but the cause of Mr. Buckley.  I have abandoned the crusade. Lost causes have been my coddled pets over a lifetime, but I am not strong enough to take on a fresh one, even on behalf of civility.

And secondly, I do not use BILL in any situation in which formality is so much as suggested, viz., my letterhead.  When I named Rich Lowry as editor of National Review, I made bold to say to him that when his name appeared, it would seem to me unobjectionable if he were to emerge as RICHARD Lowry. But I didn’t press the point, and so waited eagerly for the first Lowry issue of NR, upon seeing which I was gratified not only by the magazine as a whole, which I regularly am, but by the masthead. Which reminds me that a tradition, who knows how old–the Yale News is the oldest college daily–required that the officers of the Yale Daily News appear as WILLIAM FRANK BUCKLEY JR., CHAIRMAN. I don’t remember how it then was, or now is, with the Harvard Crimson, but perhaps Mike, Bill, and Rich is how they do it now, appeasing who? Why?

My son (whom I called Christo) signs his name Christopher, which goes to make a supernumerary point, namely that he inherited yet another of his father’s graces.