Why are double-barrelled surnames called "double-barrelled"? Wouldn't it make more sense if it was just referred to as "double surnames" or something like this? How did the expression "double-barrelled" comes from, and why was "barrel" added?

  • You can find the original meaning here: oed.com/oed2/00068968 - in the sense of a double-barrelled gun. It has since developed a figurative meaning.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 14, 2023 at 20:01
  • 1
    Note also that it's a colloquialism. The 'proper' term would be compound surname. Jul 15, 2023 at 8:17

1 Answer 1


The origin, and most literal application of 'double-barreled' lies with firearms (typically a shotgun) that have two barrels mounted side by side or one beneath the other, ie "a double-barreled shotgun'.

From this, there are numerous figurative uses, 'double-barreled names' being just one. A 'double-barreled question' is one that demands a single answer on two separate issues. And, to 'let someone have both barrels' means to verbally attack or criticise someone forcibly.

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