For some of us, middle names hold special meaning: It was our great-grandmother’s name, or our father’s name, or a family or maiden name that would have gotten lost down the line of succession otherwise. For others, a middle name doesn’t exist -- just a first and a last do just fine. And then there are those whose middle name was apparently an opportunity for their parents to...experiment.
My middle name, for example, almost never came to be. But when the nurses present in the delivery room heard of such a faux pas, they -- named Rosemarie and Marie -- urged my mother to give me one. I’ll give you one guess what it ended up being.
That being said, middle names (though they’ve gotten steeped in tradition and culture as of late) never used to exist at all, so it shouldn’t be that weird for someone to grow up without one these days.
Now, before you go off and buy a 23AndMe DNA kit, there are different examples of how we came to have multiple names in the first place: First, the ancient Romans would have names that indicated different things about them. The praenomen was a personal name, the nomen was a family name (which actually went in the middle) and the cognomen referenced what branch of the family you were a part of -- more names meant better standing. Long names faded out until the 1700s, when aristocratic families would give their children many a name to signify that they were upper class. Spanish and Arabic cultures kept the maternal or paternal names as their children’s middle names to keep the names in the family.
More likely, though, the practice of middle names as we use them now came from simple indecision. In the Middle Ages, Europeans couldn’t decide whether to name their kids after the family or after a saint. So, they compromised: The saint, or baptismal, name went between the family name and their given, first name.
Once the dependence on the religious aspect wore off, that’s when “fun” middle names started popping up, and the first instance of middle names being officially recognized was World War I, when enlistment forms left a space for them.
Now, a lot of people choose to go by their middle names instead of their given or family names, which gives us a nice option as we grow up and don’t necessarily identify with our names, but the practice itself has pretty much lost its aristocratic denotations. Too bad, because I was ready to make my kid feel like a princess -- ever heard of Amelia "Mia" Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi?