Why Do People Have Middle Names?

Our full name is a massive part of our identity and our middle name makes up a good chunk of this.

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We’ve all sat down and asked our parents why we got our name and some of us received long explanations while others were given a simple shrug of the shoulders and forced to move on.

Text on paper: middle name, surname, date of birth

The thing is that leaves a lot of unanswered questions as we all want to understand our roots and origins as well as possible.

There are many different reasons that we have middle names and it’s important to consider them all so we have compiled a collection of some of the reasons.

  • Family traditions- Some families have set middle names that they pass down generation to generation depending upon gender. These names often have something to do with the families history and are based upon older traditions. For instance, if every male within a families middle name is William the chances are that generations ago there was a William in the family. 
  • To recognise a parent- A lot of the time children will take their mother or fathers first name on to form part of their own name, this is often used as a middle name. Generally, going by this tradition a daughter would receive her mothers name and a son would receive his fathers day. However, with names becoming increasingly gender neutral this tradition has experienced a slight shift as daughters are starting to take their fathers name and vice versa, common examples of this could include Stacey, Alex, Bobby or Billie. 
  • To pay tribute to someone deceased- A lot of the time if one of the parents involved in naming the child has lost someone close to them they will choose to use their name as their baby’s middle name in order to pay tribute to them. This can sometimes lead to a child having two or middle names as parents can struggle to choose one person to pay tribute too. 
  • To add originality- This is a more simple reason for having a middle name. Adding a middle name when a more traditional first name is used can help to make a full name more unique. This can also be relevant where someone in the family already has the same first name. 
  • To give your child choice- Having a middle name can actually give your child the freedom of choice. Often children can grow up to dislike the first name that they were given so having a middle name gives them the option to go by that instead. 

The History of Middle Names

Now that you have an understanding of why people still choose to give their children a middle name it is a good idea to also look at where the tradition or middle names originated from in the first place.

The history behind middle names is actually very interesting.

They can be traced back to the middle ages in European countries where parents could not decide between the options of giving their baby a name of a saint or a family name. Most families would choose one or the other but for some, both traditions prove to be really important.

In these cases, families made the bold decisions to use both. These families decided to give their child their given name first, their baptismal name second and their family name third.

This allowed parents to honor both family tradition and societal/religious tradition at the same time. Since the middle ages, the use of middle names has changed significantly with many children now being given names that have nothing to do with saints.

Having said this some common middle names used today still originate from saints, the most common include Emma, Ava and William. 

old books and family photos of descendants

Are There Any Reasons For Parents To Decide To Not Give Their Child a Middle Name 

When it comes to a child it is always the parents’ choice, this is especially true when it comes to naming. As previously stated, parents choose different middle names for different reasons which can be personal to them.

The same goes for choosing to have no middle name at all. Some parents prefer to simply give their children a forename and a surname and no middle name at all. The reasons for this can vary from family to family but here are some of the more common ones.

  • A complex first name-  Some parents who choose to use a less common and more complex name for their child decide against using a middle name. This could be because it is hard to find one that goes nicely with the first name, the name is already long or it could be difficult for the child to learn. 
  • Family tradition- Just like how some families have a tradition when it comes to using a certain middle name some families traditions are simply having no surname at all. 
  • To place emphasis on the first name- Not having a middle name allows more attention to be drawn to the first name. Therefore, often if a first name is of particular importance to parents or if it is a particularly powerful name they may choose to leave this isolated and not combine it with a middle name. 
  • To place emphasis on the surname- Similarly, if parents want to place emphasis on their surname then they sometimes choose to not use a middle name. Parents have many different reasons for wanting to place emphasis on their child’s surname; these can range from simply liking their surname to wanting to honour family. 

Final Thoughts 

Middle names are something that most of us have, yet know very little about. Hopefully, this article has shed a little light on the subject. As previously stated the reasons that we have middle names are rooted within history.

However, in today’s society parents may choose to (or not to) give their children middle names for many different reasons including family tradition, paying tributes and personal choice. 

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