We sometimes ask for a person’s middle name in a crossword clue, although we usually choose a well-known one, unless we’re feeling very cruel.
We have middle names for various reasons. A person may be given a middle name to distinguish them from other people with the same first name and surname, especially a father or grandfather.
Sometimes a middle name is given to honour a relative or godparent, or even a prominent figure. A saint’s name was often chosen as a middle name.
Some cultures such as Brazilian or Portuguese often use the mother’s maiden name as a middle name, to keep it in the family.
If you’ve ever tried to trace ancestors, a middle name is sometimes the key to determining which one of the many Mary Hills is your ancestor.
A middle name also gives your child a choice if they don’t like their first given name, and many prominent people are known by their middle name. Sir James Paul McCartney, David Jude Law, William Bradley Pitt, Thomas Sean Connery or Mary Rose Byrne to name a few.
In many cases, (mine included) a person is given the first name of a parent and then it becomes confusing at home, so the middle name starts being used. I still use my middle name Christine.
Many politicians seem to be dissatisfied with their parents’ choice of first name, such as Maurice Harold Macmillan, James Harold Wilson, Leonard James Callaghan, Arthur Neville Chamberlain, Edward Gough Whitlam, John Malcolm Fraser or Joseph Benedict Chifley.
In the USA, Barack Hussein Obama once said, “I got my first name from my father and I got my middle name from someone who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for president.” His vice-president, Joseph Robinette Biden, might feel the same.
William Somerset Maugham and Joseph Rudyard Kipling chose to use their middle names, as did Adeline Virginia Woolf. George Shaw wouldn’t sound the same without Bernard in the middle, although he apparently hated his first name.
Whatever your middle name is, can you imagine using it instead of your first name? And would it change your life? Deep questions!