Why Do We Have Middle Names?


Most of us can understand the utility of having
a first name: since it prevents us from calling everyone we meet “hey you!” And in many naming customs, surnames are a
way to tie us to our family members and express our direct lineage. But why do we have middle names? Do they have
any function? And when did we start doling them out? The practice of assigning middle names likely
traces back to the 13th century. In his book on the history of names, The Means
of Naming: A Social History, author Stephen Wilson notes that at first, having more than
one name was popular largely among the Italian elites in places like Florence, Perugia, Venice
and Rome. And in Gascony, a region in southwest France,
having two first names came into play among the elite as early as the 11th and 12th centuries. By the 1400s in Italy we start to see middle
names pick up in popularity in Europe, and among the well-to-do the preferred names came
from those of saints in the Catholic Church. The logic was that naming a child after a
saint would offer additional protection. So middle names were kinda like the baby proofing
of the 1400s. By the 18th century, Europeans from all social classes
began giving middle names to children on a more common basis And in the 19th century,
second names were an accepted practice across Europe and in the US. So, what happened? Well, in the years between
1400 and the 18th century, middle names in certain parts of Europe became less associated
with the elite, and more to do with the specific naming trends in particular countries. For instance, in languages like French, English,
and Italian, middle names were ornamental or were just a way to tell people apart as
the population swelled. So if there were 6 guys named “John Doe”
in your village, then it was helpful to have “John Marcus Doe” “John James Doe”
etc, just for clarity. In others, people went by different names
at different points in their lives. And for others still, middle names served as a way
to pass on a popular family name, without having everyone go by the same moniker. So you get to honor your great grandma Eunice in a more discrete way. But in other countries, and languages, middle
names serve a similar purpose to surnames, namely to connect people to their paternal
lineage. So it’s less of a middle name, and more an extension of the family name. These kinds of names are patronymic, meaning
they’re derived from a father. Although in some instances patronymics can be drawn
from another male ancestor. The language that uses patronymic middle names
that you’re probably most familiar with is Russian. In Russian, it’s common for people to have
a first name followed by a patronymic and a surname. The modern Russian patronymic takes
a distinct form that’s broken down into two parts: Male patronymic names typically end in -ovich
or -evich While Female patronymic names end in -ovna or -evna. So a man with the patronymic name Alexander
“Ivanovich” would be Alexander, son of Ivan.
But patronymics also stretch back hundreds of years and across continents. For example, Wilson notes evidence of patronymic
middle names in the North African regions that were part of the expanded Roman empire. Romans of higher rank sometimes had a 3 part
names consisting of a praenomen (or personal/first name), a family name (or nomen) and a cognomen
which served as a sort of nickname. After the Roman defeat of Carthage (located
in modern day Tunisia) in 146 BCE, patronymic names were adopted that blended Roman naming
customs and the Punic names favored by Carthaginians to create a new tradition. This system is pretty similar to the Hebrew
naming practices I discussed in “What was Jesus’ real name?” so if you’re interested
in hearing about that be sure to check out that video after this! And to add just one more layer to the mix,
the title “middle name” may not even be useful in other languages where family names
and surnames come first and second names are an extension of your personal name (and not a
“middle name” at all). So if you have a Korean or Chinese name, your
family’s name would come first, followed by your personal names. Which means that in
this order it would be surname, personal name, second personal name. So the moniker and concept
of a middle name truly only works for certain languages. And in other languages (and regions) the middle
name is also not a personal name but another form of family address. So if you have a Spanish
name, depending on your country of origin, your middle name can be drawn from your maternal
side or from a series of names meant to show the extent of your family tree. For example
Spanish painter Pablo Picasso’s full name was a whopping twenty words which you can read right here Aaaaaand, great! You’re all caught up. But while he tested out a few combinations
of names in his early career, he ultimately settled on the moniker that we all know him
by today which was two words. But while today in the US it’s not all that
common to see people with more than one personal name (since even people with multiple names
usually stick to one or the other) the middle initial also saw some increased popularity
in the 20th century. At least according to a 2014 article in the NY Times by Bruce Feiler.
Feiler notes that middle initials for writers, which used to be a staple of many book covers,
slowly dropped in popularity from the end of the 20th century and into the early 2000s.
7 US presidents used middle initials from Franklin D. Roosevelt up to Gerald R. Ford.
Although President George W. Bush did bring the middle initial back to the oval office
to avoid confusion with his presidential father. Social scientists Wijnand A. P. Van Tilburg
and Eric R. Igou also note in their article that people who used middle initials in fields
like medicine, academia, and law were evaluated more favorably on things like writing, status,
and intellectual performance. So while middle initials may be on the decline
for John Q. Public (myself included) they still serve a function in certain fields. Well it seems like the middle name is essentially
the 6th toe of the naming world: it’s not always useful or functional, sometimes we
inherit it from our ancestors, and it’s always pretty fun to look at. So what do you
think? Anything to add on this little history with lots of offshoots? Think you can turn
your dad’s name into a Russian patronymic? Be sure to get into the comments and leave
me all of your questions and feedback. Also if you want more Origin of Everything be sure
to subscribe on Youtube and Follow us on Facebook. Special thanks again Tedley Meralus on Youtube
for this episode suggestion and I’ll see you guys back here next week!

Comments 100

  • my grandpa didn't have a middle name.

  • what about african names?

  • I like that she talks normal English and not ebonics. I'm sure she pronounces ask correctly too.

  • In Hispanic culture you either have a first and (probably hyphenated) surname or 1200 names, there's no middle ground

  • My brother has two first names and I have two middle names. My father really likes names.

  • For some reason I got 2 first names, but my brothers only got one first name. We all have the same middle name, but for some reason I had to have two first names.

    My dad's second name is Erik, which is also my grandpa's second name, which is also my great grandpa's second name, which is also my great great grandpa's second name and so on, and I'm considering joining in, giving myself 3 first names, so my full first name will be Nicklas-Erik Lærk and then my middle and surname.

  • My first name is Daniel, Middle is James. no one ever called me DJ. what a wasted opportunity

  • lol I know why I have mines, to know I'm in deep shit. my mother would only use it when I was about to get that ass whipped. no other reason than to know you have done it now.

  • We wouldn't have Rihanna if she didn't use her middle name

  • You focused on European naming which is saddening.

  • I have two middle names

  • My family tends to give middle names based on ancestors (like Eli for my brother after Eli Bagley, and Venus for me after great-something grandma Venus, both deceased). If I have kids, I’m either going to continue doing that or give middle names based on gods, mythologies, or folklore (like Rhiannon, Lugh, Freya, Cuchulain, Scathath, Loki, and the like). Though if I choose the traditional family name route, I have a bit less to work with that I actually like (some of the stuff I like is Lloyd, Merl, Ramona, and Jane). It’s interesting how many different choices there can be for names!

  • Lol so my dad is trans and changed her name after transitioning, so if I did a Russian style patronymic it’d be Annaovna/Annaevna

  • You had a Spanish name in the thumbnail. Those who follow Spanish naming customs don't have middle names. The length of Spanish names does not come from having a middle name. It comes from first names sometimes being compound names and everyone having two last names (one from mom and one from dad). Those two last names are both last names, one is not a middle name.

  • In our country (The Netherlands) we call middle names 'doopnaam' which translates to baptize name. You can have more than one baptize name. I guess it stems from Christian culture to show that you are baptized. But now a days you don't need to be baptized to have more than one name.

  • All the girls in my latino family and extended family are named Maria. So we go by our second names.

  • My mother didn't have a middle name. My great-grandfather, grandfather, father, brother and eldest son all have the same middle name.

  • Ah, I’m sad I didn’t see this when it came out, but if anyone still looks through the comments here goes. As far as I know many Ghanaian people use middle names to describe what day of the week the baby is born. This may just be the Asante people, but middle names can be a male or female form of the day of the week in the Twi language and/or cousins of the language.

  • Wow Ive never seen someone say ever wor
    d with their hands.

  • All I could focus on is the fact her fro changed a couple times during the video

  • *Alexander, Son of John/Johannes, I heard that 'Ivan' is more like… John, generally said you tend to split them into the Ivan group

  • I have two surnames but no middle name.

  • I've always found Arabic naming tradition to be really fascinating. As someone who does genealogy, and minored in history in college, the idea that your name is literally a string of your ancestors' names, going back a set number of generations is really useful.

    "First Name", son/daughter of "father's name", son of "grandfather's name", etc., etc., of the family "Surname".

    Pretty much prevents people from having too similar of a name, while simultaneously giving patrilineal family history.

  • Very cool! I got my middle name when I was adopted. My parents kept my original name as my first name but I go by my middle name. So there's that. 🙂

  • My middle name is my grandmother's maiden name. My daughter's middle name is my first name.

  • I'm just going to say I went thru way too many naming things and my technical full name is ridiculous. My legal name is technically 2 first names no middle but many ppl will treat second first name as middle as in companies.

  • In the word of social media it's pretty common to use a middle name as a defacto last name. Mine has been come so common as I use it on multiple platforms that most people don't know it's only a middle name.

  • then, I must have been bougee for awhile now because I've been slipping in my middle initial "J." in everything since I was 6…even class projects like drawings of animals…

    not because there were more than one Terence Heesch…I mean, come on…why would there be more than one…

    …I've always just liked the sound of saying my name with the "J." in there…

  • My farther's Welsh side has the tradition of a paternal middle name, in that the father's first name was the son's middle. So my grandfather's given name of Owen was my father's middle name, and his given name of Charles became my middle name. I just wish I'd had a son with whom to continue the tradition. Then again, I'm a genetic cesspool, so maybe it's just as well that I never passed these genes on.

  • I have 4 middle names, good to know they're all useless and just make filling out forms VERY DIFFICULT 😂

  • They do in South where 99% of men are named John!

  • I love watching your videos. I use my middle initials because it looks cooler and looks more dignified. 😊 Even tho I'm not.

  • I dont know what that is

  • I live in Western North Carolina. My paternal grandmother was raised in what is now the Nantahala National Forest. None of the girls in her family (or an many of the families in her area) were given middle names. The thought was that they would marry, and their maiden names would translate into a middle name.

  • I also really like the Icelandic naming scheme! It's so egalitarian, and goes given name and then mother or fathers name with the suffix of son or dottir attached. So just as an example using english names, you would get Charles Johnson that would literally mean Charles son of John, and then the next son would be Thomas Charleson, and so forth. Same for girls except with thier mothers names! Like mine would be Theresa Murialsdottir, literally daughter of Murial. However it could be kinda confusing when 5 generations are literally Magnus Magnusson. Lol.

  • When someone has a hyphenated last name I think their parents are selfish.

  • Thank you.

  • the sixth toes comment was a great line.

  • In my country our naming goes:
    Personal name (usually 1 to 2 but I've known many to have 3 to 4) + middle name (mother's maiden name) + surname (father's surname)
    For example:
    Diana Mae Grace Lim Javier
    The 1st 3 names being the personal names, Lim being the mother's maiden surname and Javier being the father's surname.
    We also have "official" nicknames given by our parents or by a family member. I've given 4 of my cousins their nickname. It can be an abbreviation or derivation of one of your personal names or a completely different one (can be sentimental or a fck-it-I-like-this-nickname-for-you thing 😂 which is usually my go-to looool)
    Going back to the example, "Diana May Grace Lim Javier"
    She could have Didi, May-May (but it in no longer a long a sound but a long I sound), or Gha-gha. Seldom does a family go for another name that may sound like a first name like "Mia but there are cases. Then my favorite, the fck-it system. The two eldest of the four got generic nicknames because I didn't know the power I held. Then I became older and knew better, I named her Bulak which directly means flower. She hasn't chased me with a pitchfork yet but I'm expecting my death from the fourth. I named her after a candied peanut.

  • My middle name is Mariah any other Mariah’s?

  • My names are all from the paternal side of my family. 1st, 2nd, and last name

  • I've known a lot of older folks with no middle name. They all made up middle initial for the sake of signing legal papers.

  • This is the first time that I have seen you on YouTube. You have a great voice for narrating these videos. Interesting topic and well-done presentation.

  • 1:15 Taika Waititi???

  • Why are serial killers so often referred to with their full name eg John Wayne Gacy?

  • In Iceland, there are no family names. People have a personal name and a patronymic (or occasionally a matronymic instead). I use my middle initial in formal situations and in my signature because it's necessary. The local branch of my bank has five customers named Ken Collins. (At the moment, if you search for "Ken Collins" on Bing, I come up first.)

  • Imagine being Latino and not having a middle name..
    So many times I’d have to explain my first name (which is my real name but typically a nickname) and my last name were my ONLY names.. “no seriously, that’s my legal name.”

  • Portuguese naming system is similar to the Spanish naming system. Girls in the past ere named Maria, Mary the mother of Christ and you needed a middle name to tell you apart. The rest is to prove who you are for inheritance purposes. You have to have a name from the bible.

  • Interesting video! ( & the shelf in the background is everything.👍)

  • You really haven’t discussed middle names until you’ve discussed Hawaiian middle names.
    -I know a girl whose Hawaiian middle name has 143 letters. Yes, in just one name.
    -Many Hawaiian children are also multi-racial, and many are given a middle name honoring each of their races. In this vein, I know a boy with 9 middle names.
    -Many middle names in the Hawaiian culture are revealed in dreams, or are given to honor a special person or event in the young child’s life. My grandson’s middle name celebrates an unusual weather phenomenon that occurred the day he was born.

  • I'm researching my family history and am seeing patterns alot like the Russian patterns with my Scandinavian ancestors. We have alot of dotters and sons. Neils'dotter or Nielssons, Eriksons, Eriksdotters, etc. I'm finding that with many of my ancestors they lost their surnames completely after emigrating and Eriksson became ericson for example. It's been very interesting to see naming patterns and how they have changed and evolved into more common American names over time. I haven't been fortunate to find any names of Afrivan orgin yet but home to. The Swediah Luthetan church has an amazing database, as do my Ffench ancestors as they were Acadians so they are well documented. Africans not so much unfortunately. Do you know much about how African names became slave names? Were they just randomly assigned names or was there some sort of pattern? Also, did their names change when and if they were sold? Since I know many took the Masters last name, if they were sold to another plantation did they then go by the new Master's last name? I can't make sense of some of these names. I have people who I know that the records belong to that randomly change their names and I'm not sure why. Any insight that you can offer is much appreciated. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, especially in a down to earth easy to understand format!

  • This video is cultural appropriation. This black chick has no business speaking about European history.

  • My only suggestion to the narrator of this video…

    You've a lovely voice and enunciate your words properly and speak concisely, however, it would do you (the narrator) to speak a bit slower/slowly and not in a rather rush so your words are executed in a clear and concise manner which in turn, would be easily followable.

    It was the only point that made me tune out and not care.

  • Among some American Amish communities, a middle initial (there is no name, just the initial) is a matronymic. You get your surname from your father's family, but your middle initial from your mother's family! If your mother's name is Rachel C. Zurcher and your father's name is Jacob M. Barnhart, your name might be Caleb C. Barnhart or Leah C. Barnhart.

  • Nothing on African naming process

  • This is off topic but what do you put in your afro?

  • I have two middle names my I have my grandmother middle name and my aunt does too then my mom side all the men in my family has the name Samuel or mike

  • It's not a sixth toe.

  • I tend to think that middle names are used to honor someone else in the family. Sometimes a second middle name may honor a whole family from the distant past: John Robert Smith Jones, when  the "Smith" isn't really used for identification.

  • In certain communities in India, when women marry they take their husbands first name as their middle name.

  • I have two middle names– destiny Michelle

  • What did you say about middle initials 😉

  • I think my head is gonna explode!

  • Even weirder is that I know someone without a middle at all. Just 2 names.

  • Hey….I go by my middle name.

  • Lots of Christians have baptismal + confirmation names, which go after the first + before the last names, respectively.

  • I went by my middle name until 10th grade because… My parents would've made my first name my middle name, but then my initials would've spelled "Jew," and, not that they were anti-Semitic, but they were worried other kids would make fun of it. So my mother named me after her mother as my middle name, which… It's an older, out-dated name, which I wasn't crazy about. So, when I changed schools in the 10th grade, I decided to start going by my actual first name, which suits me a lot better, I think. Also… At some point I had started noticing that my mother tried to kind of push me toward her family, and that she tried to show off her closeness with them. So I felt like she used the name she gave me for those reasons, and… That felt manipulative to me, like she decided I was going to be close to her mother before I was even born. In fact, I'm not particularly close to her mother. Moreover, I have a strong sense of identity and independence, so that kind of thing bugs me more than it would a lot of other people. I still went by my middle name at home, and that was fine, but I feel more confident with other people with my actual first name.

  • It's very common to use them as a way for the children to keep their mother's last name as well in some countries (mine, Brazil, included). My name is Helena (1st name) Ferrari (my mother's last name, from my maternal grandpa) Federico (my father's last name).

  • This is so interesting! I always heard that we had middle names because names have power, and people who know your full name have power over you, so middle names are like a secret name, so people don't know your full name and have power over you. Silly I know, but I really like it even if it totally isn't true 😂

  • I am black and Korean. In my Korean culture middle names are a generational name. And you would say the middle name last.
    Young Hyng Mi
    Young… last name.. family name
    Hyng… first name… personal name
    Mi… middle name… generational name

    And when called by friends or elders this person would here, ' Hyng-Mi come here and give me the kimpa.'
    Lol

  • Just found this channel and I'm super stoked that not only do you give fun information, but I'm really glad that it's hosted by a woman of color. Keep up the good work, and I'm definitely subscribing!

  • My middle name is Dawn

  • Don't have one and wish i had one…

  • The pictures that you show in this have literally nothing to do with what you're talking about. You show a picture of Renaissance Italians when talking about Medieval France, of an English monarch when discussing France, and a painting that was viewed as extremely promiscuous and scandalous during the Enlightenment (of a woman's lover looking at her vagina up her skirt while her unknowing husband pushes her on a swing) when discussing how naming trends changed over time.

    And that's just 1 minute in.

    Sorry, but I'm changing the channel. I'm subscribed to you, but I really can't stand it when people write a factual video, then choose random pictures from Google without even bothering to learn if those pictures are appropriate for the content being discussed. It just shows a certain level of sloppiness, and apathy towards factual accuracy, that I can't stand…but hey, that's just me. :/

  • I come from an Italian family, and middle names are to keep the other grandparent from getting pissed off and to tell apart all the Cousin Mikes and Cousin Lous. Then, there's the whole "confirmation name" thing …

  • Dead ass my middle name is the letter J

  • Who cares? Instead why do some people have 4-5-6-7+ names between their first and last name?

  • In my family the middle name is passed on from generation to generation. My Grandma Louise Marie, Aunt Lucile Marie, Jane Marie etc. Grandfather Eskildsen Carl, father Edward Carl , Walter Karl ( because grandpa wished his Carl had been spelled Karl). Etc.

  • My first name and patronymic: Роберт Доминикович

  • I gave my children middle names of people in either mine or their father's family. 💙
    My middle name is what it is because of a compromise between my parents.
    My dad wanted to name me Mandolin (after the instrument), and my mom wanted Amanda after the popular song from the early 80s. They compromised by naming me Amanda, with the middle name of Lynn. 💙 Amanda Lynn

  • Here in Russia name+patronimic =polite. Use use it when you talk an authority figure or an older person or between people in a strict professional envinroment. Pupils to a teacher, colleagues that sort of thing. It also help because our analogue for Mr. and Ms. are kind of cringy and almost nobody likes using them…. The Soviet address 'Comrade' (товарищ) has become strange and is used very rarely and by a very few people. So, we are left with our first names+patronimics.

  • I don't have a middle name. Where I come from it's not that common. You can have a middle name, but it is more common two have both of your parents surnames.

  • Imma give my children so many middle names that they hate me 😂

  • All I know is, I was raised Catholic and you were given a baptism name as a baby and a Confirmation name when you were deemed an adult in the eyes of God and both names were a Saint's name.

  • In my family the first name of every male that's the first male bornis new but the middle name is the first name of their father.I was the first one and only one whose father gave me his first name and I actually go by my middle name

  • My son's both of them have my middle name as their middle name and then a second middle name

  • I have 4 names but my parents just call me Amistake 😬

  • As someone who goes by their middle name due to their dislike for their first, which is my great grandfather’s name that even HE hated, I’d be upset as heck if I lost my middle name 😂

  • In my family, apart from my siblings and I. Everyone is called by their middle names, apparently it’s something to do with culture and religion.

  • I'm Italian, I have 5 middle names ( of patron saints and of my grandmothers ) but they're never used

  • In my family, middle names are reserved for the godparents. My godfather was from a different culture than me, so i have a pretty funky middle name that always gets reactions from people.

  • I am from turkey and it's not that common to have middle names. I live in germany now, and I really can't make out the sense of it. My bf and everyone in his family has a middle name, but no one, really no one ever calls them by it. I just don't see the point of it if you have a name that no one ever uses. I won't give my children middle names. If they don't like their name, they can change it, but I don't see a point of having two names, even if it's after family members. I know dozens of german people who have embarrassing second names of some distant relative they never met. I won't let this horrendous outdated tradition carry on.

  • My friend is Italian, and she says that her family has a tradition where all the girls’ names end in “a”, and all the boys’ names end in “o”.

    That doesn’t have anything to do with middle names but I just thought it was interesting.

  • in brazil what most ppl do is u have yr personal name then yr mother's last name then yr father's last name, and usually this is yr grandfathers' last names, but my father always used my grandmother's last name socially so he wanted to pass it on as well as my grandfather's, and my mother p much said that if he was going to pass on two names then so would she to make it even and… that's how i ended up w 4 last names (no middle name tho thank hell)

  • me and my brother have the same middle name is that weird?

  • I knew a guy who's middle name was legit "Danger" on his military id and everything! His parents clearly had a sense of humor.

  • Thank u for the captions

  • Well we dont have middle names here in Ethiopia it like Your name- Your father name -your grandfather name. Thats what we use here

  • In the Philippines we use our mom’s unmarried surname as middle name. For example, if my father is Jose Cruz Fernandez and my mom is Geraldine Manalo Ramos, then their child will follow Ramos Fernandez as middle name and surname. If you doesn’t have a middle name then you’re born by wedlock 😓

  • Came here from Evelyn on the Internet

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