One of the advantages (?) of having a long-running blog (gulp) is that you can return to subjects over a period of (oh dear) years. Take, for example, Dis vs. D'Is, which is not to be confused with Spy vs. Spy. In 2005, I came across a suggestion from George MacDonald Fraser, among others, that people who spelled Benjamin Disraeli's last name as "D'Israeli" during the course of his political career were making an anti-Semitic point about his Jewishness. As I pointed out at the time, this did not seem fully supported by the evidence on hand, something I explored further in 2010. My grand (not very) answer amounted to "well, it depends on the context"--sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes not relevant at all. Recently, though, I decided to explore another hypothesis having to do with the relative familiarity of Benjamin Dis as opposed to his father, Isaac D'Is. As we tend to forget, the famous D for a good chunk of the 19th c. is not Benjamin, but Isaac, and it is not particularly surprising that many people would have assumed that Benjamin spelled his last name as his father did. (This is also the era of persistent misspellings--"Jane Austin," the bane of many a modern English professor, is common in even major Victorian periodicals.) In any event, I began to wonder what happened to Isaac's name in the late nineteenth century, as the son's fame eclipsed the father's: would D'Israeli turn into Disraeli, thanks to writers, publishers, and readers operating on the (again) logical assumption that father and son used the same spelling?
To that end, I searched the British Newspaper Archive for the period 1850-1899. During this period, there are 152 hits for "Isaac D'Israeli," of which 92 alone are in the decade 1880-89; not coincidentally, these mostly relate to his son's death. By contrast, there are only 10 hits for 1800-1849. By contrast, between 1800-1849, there are 121 hits for "Isaac Disraeli," and a whopping 1921 for 1850-1899. These are more evenly distributed across the decades, but 636 are for 1880-89 (again, Benjamin's death). What about Benjamin? The "D'Israeli" hits initially go up as he becomes better known (50 in 1830-39, 82 in 1840-49), then drop sharply to 31 in 1850-59 before trailing off to 7 in 1860-69, 15 in 1870-79, and 32 in 1880-89. Even these are not necessarily errors: for example, there are references to D's grandfather, also Benjamin, to his own change of name, and so forth. Meanwhile, there are a total of 17006 hits for "Benjamin Disraeli" between 1850-1899. (In other words, most newspaper writers did indeed figure out what Benjamin's last name was.) Again, this is not conclusive--one would have to do more spot-checking to see if there were contextual reasons for the spellings at issue, for example--but it does suggest at least some correlation between Benjamin's fame and assumptions about how to spell Isaac's name. At the same time, it's clear that there may always have been at least some tendency to misspell Isaac's name in the opposite direction of Benjamin's, as it were.