Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Middle Names

The other morning I work to find a message from my cousin on my facebook page. Cousin Lisa asked me, " ...what is the purpose of a middle name? Did people always have them (i know some people don't)? However, in your genealogy research, have you noticed if most people way back when had them?"

It is a good question. And truthfully, I don't know much about the tradition of giving a middle name. I told Lisa that I think it was often done to distinguish father and son. In my family tree I have a John who's son was John Melvin who's son was John Thomas. Kind of like how they put numbers after names; I also have a cousin John the VII - the number distinguishes him from his dad the VI and his grandpa the V. But if you think back there are many people who had middle names, or a second name, like, hmm: Johann Sebastian Bach. And then in some Latin cultures people have a string of names, usually honoring parents and grandparents - - Maria Conchita Juanita Rosana Perez Rodriquez... It's a great question! 

What is all this middle name stuff about?

Naming traditions vary from culture to culture. My focus here will be on the use of middle names in the United States.

In an online article by genealogist Rhoda McClure entitled "A Look at Middle Names" in which McClure states that it was the Germans immigrants who brought the tradition of middle naming to the United states in the the 17th century. Germans gave their children two names at baptism; a spiritual name and a secular name. The spiritual name was typically a favorite saint's name and the secular name which was the middle name would typically be the name the child would be called or the "call name" that they would be known by and would be used legally. McClure goes onto state that it would not be until the 1840s that this really became a popular practice in the United States. By World War i it was assumed that everyone in the United States had a middle name.

Personally I think that when naming a child it is about honoring some family member while still creating a unique identity. The use of a middle name makes that easier. My middle name for example is the same as my mother's and was the name my maternal grandmother went by; Lynne. But my first name is unlike anyone else among my immediate or extended family. 

And as I told my Cousin Lisa, having a middle name also helps a kid to know she is in trouble, APRIL LYNNE!

1 comment:

  1. I was going to say - it's my German ancestors who have two names going back the farthest, though as you pointed out, their spiritual name came first, whereas today most people's "spiritual" name (many Catholics still choose a favorite saint's name) comes second. Very interesting!