This Is How We Ended Up With Middle Names
Middle names tend to get a bad rep. They're either a family moniker most people want to hide, an embarrassing homage to a long-forgotten ancestor, or worst of all, used as a way for your mom to let you know she’s really mad. (Seriously, think about the last time your mom used both your first and middle names together and tell me you weren't scared for your life.)
But, if you have a middle name at all, you should count yourself among the lucky as not everyone has one. In fact, the practice of giving a middle name is a relatively new one in human history. Here’s everything you need to know about middle names, why you should appreciate yours, and a few popular ones if you’re looking for suggestions.
The phrase “middle name” was first recorded in the 1800s.
According to MentalFloss, the phrase “middle name” first appeared in an 1835 Harvard University periodical called Harvardiana. But, even then middle names still weren’t all that popular. In fact, according to Ancestry.com, just three of the first 17 American presidents had middle names. And, according to the 1911 census, just 37 percent of children were given a middle name.
Ancient Romans likely gave middle names first.
In Roman times, MentalFloss explained, having multiple names was reserved for prominent figures such as Gaius Julius Caesar. However, according to Karen Stern, a historian at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York who spoke to TIME, the Romans’ naming system was not quite the same as today.
Instead, she explained, Romans used a praenomen, or personal name, and a nomen, or family name, which “has the same placement as a middle name but has a different function.” She added that Romans also used cognomen, which acted as a nickname to what branch of a family you were from. But, this fad too eventually died out with the empire.
The way middle names are constructed now first began in the Middle Ages.
The modern way of constructing middle names, Reader’s Digest explained, likely began in the Middle Ages when Europeans grappled with bestowing their children with a family name or the name of a saint. So, they did both, eventually giving their children a “given” or first name, followed by a baptismal second name, and finally a family surname. The tradition of giving children a middle name then spread to the United States as immigrants made their way across the sea.
The most popular middle names are seriously classic.
Middle names matter. They can be used as a way to distinguish ourselves from others with similar monikers or as a way to reinvent ourselves later. Simply put, a “third” name can play an important role in our lives and can even help us remember where we come from. And that is perhaps why all the most popular middle names are classics.
“Middle names are less likely to follow popular culture and more likely reflect age-old traditions or names that were popular in our parents’ or grandparents’ generations–hence the very traditional make up of today’s top 10 middle names,” Miriam Silverman, UK Content Manager from Ancestry, told Marie Claire.
According to a 2014 study by Ancestry.co.uk, the most popular middle names for both boys and girls are typically classic names that seem more from a bygone era. For girls, the top names include Louise, Rose, Grace, Jane, and Elizabeth (joint fourth place), and Anne rounding out the top five. For boys, it’s James, John, William, Thomas, and David.
Why not give a little love to your middle name and start sharing it with the world? After all, it’s likely the only one you’ve got.