Whitney Port, Audrina Patridge, Lauren Conrad

Chris Weeks/WireImage.com

I've noticed that the world seems to be on a first-name basis with the girls from The Hills. I mean, do Whitney and Audrina even have last names?
—Becca, Madison, Wisc.

Now that's just silly. What about the New York Times, which never bows to trends and nearly always pairs an honorific with a last name, like Mr. and Ms. So and So? Take this here NYT review of The Hills written last month, which says that—OHGREATGOOGLY MOOGLYTHE

"The Hills...has continued to track the emotional warfare between former best friends Lauren and Heidi."

So. The whole world is on a first-name basis with those kids. Huh. Well, here's what's clear: The trend starts with celebrity magazines. When Us Weekly decides that someone is famous enough for first-name treatment ("Betrayed by Brody and Audrina"? Eek!), the editors are assuming that readers already know who they are.

"The readers see the celebrities as their friends," says Mark Pasetsky, former Life & Style editor and the current head of CoverAwards.com. "You wouldn't call your friend by their last name when you go to see them. The people who buy these magazines know these stars, and you don't want to insult their intelligence by using a last name."

Sure, readers know who celebrities are because mags keep covering them, and the magazines keep covering celebrities because the readers want to know—but let's not go tumbling down that Kool-Aid-colored spiral, shall we?

Instead, some examples:

  • Jessica Simpson. Judging from an examination of old Us Weekly covers—pardon me for a second while the gag reflex fades—she was still unknown enough to have a last name in 2002. But by '04 she was just Jessica. And now she's simply Jess.
  • Britney. The media largely dropped the "Spears" in 2000, about a year after she broke big, judging from old coverage I dug up from People magazine.
  • Paris. Back in 2003, she apparently hadn't yet inserted herself into the lives of all 6.5 billion people on the planet, because Us largely included her last name in its coverage. But she was a one-name wonder by August of '04.
  • Beyoncé. Back when she had to share the spotlight with Destiny's Child, she had a last name, Knowles. But just today, when the Associated Press reported that the singer had taken out a marriage license with Jay-Z, the outlet referred to her as just Beyoncé.

Oh, you had a question in there, didn't you, Becca? Yes, Audrina and Whitney do have last names. They are Patridge and Port, respectively. But really. Why would you need those when talking about your BFFs?

Got a question about how Hollywood works? ASK ME already!

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