What is a Middle Name?
In Western tradition, babies are usually given a first name, and their father’s last name. The middle name is the name that occurs between these.
The purpose of a middle name was traditionally to demonstrate status, or an important connection. Middle names customarily had family or religious significance, as parents gave their children middle names from an ancestor or from the saints. However, today it is more common for parents to choose a middle name based on personal taste, rather than historical importance.
Origin of Middle Names
Middle names first appeared in ancient Rome, but they were only bestowed upon people with significant social connections and power.
Over time, the practice of bestowing a middle name fell out of favor, but it resurfaced in Western cultures, most noticeably in England and the United Kingdom where aristocracies thrived in the 18th century. Middle names became a way to demonstrate a child’s lineage in an era where social structure was considered of high importance. In these cases, children were given multiple middle names, thereby telling a story about their family lineage and important familial connections.
In the same way, names from other regions (like Spain and the Middle East) often had a tradition of adding surnames from previous maternal or paternal lines in order to trace their lineage back through the ages. Their names functioned in the same way that a family tree does, providing a clear picture of the links leading up to this particular child’s birth.
Middle names in the United States only became significant in the 1910’s. The United States enlistment form for World War I was the first official documentation asking for middle names. This solidified middle names as an official entity relating to a person’s individual identity.
Current Use of Middle Names
The use of middle names in everyday life has been gaining traction in recent years. Using middle names (and often middle initials) has become increasing popular among authors, actors, politicians and celebrities. These people often use middle initials as part of their official authorial persona to give their name elevation and notice.
Perhaps because of this trend, some now consider the use of a middle initial to be ostentatious. At the same time, however, studies have shown people are more likely to see those who use their middle initial as more intelligent and successful.
In the United States it is most common to give a child just one middle name. However, giving a child multiple middle names, or omitting a middle name entirely is not unheard of. While there is no limit to the number of middle names to give a child, if there is no logical reason for choosing two or more middle names for your child, many people feel that bestowing more than one middle name is over-complicated and unnecessary.