Middle Names.

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There are certain things that I’m very curious about without knowing why, and middle names is one of them.

I’ve always thought that the process of naming another person is intriguing, but I’m truly fascinated by middle names. I love discovering the middle names of friends and acquaintances and people I’ve just met, and I love hearing the story behind their middle name. I’ve been asking a lot of people lately what they think the purpose of a middle name is, because it seems to me that the main utility of a middle name is to give parents a little extra verbal oomph when they want their child to know they’re serious, and maybe also to have a morsel of information about yourself that’s not common knowledge and necessitates making people guess it (one of my favorite things to do because no one has ever successfully guessed my middle name). From the people I’ve surveyed, the general consensus says that a middle name is just a way to further distinguish yourself from persons who share your first and last name. There may be other Kendall Goodwins in the world, but there probably isn’t another Kendall Alyse Goodwin. If there is, there’s going to be a problem. But then, there’s also a longstanding tradition of bestowing family names on children by way of a middle name, which is fairly straightforward in its purpose: to honor someone else by passing their name on to a new generation.

In thinking about all of this, I asked my mom about how she and my dad decided on my middle name. Maybe it won’t be an interesting story to anyone, but I found it compelling, at least. I’m the oldest, and thus my parents’ first child. So needless to say, they weren’t exactly sure what they were doing. My parents didn’t know that I would be a girl because at every ultrasound my mom had, my little baby body was turned in such a way that they couldn’t distinguish my sex. But for some reason, my mom was absolutely positive that I was going to be a boy, and told everyone as such. She had a boy name all picked out, and in her mind, it was such an impossibility that I wouldn’t be a boy that she told my dad that if by some twist of fate I ended up being a girl, that he could name me. Imagine my mother’s shock when she discovered that I was a little lady. And now imagine my father’s panic at having to come up with a name for me, completely unprepared.

My dad took to the task of naming me in typical Dean-fashion: he pored over newspapers and magazines and books and called everyone he knew to try to find a name. When he had a shortlist, he went around to the nurses in the hospital and asked them how many babies they had seen with each of the names he’d been considering. He wanted something unusual, but not bizarre. He really liked the name Allison, and the shortened version, Ali, but there had been several babies who had been named Allison, according to the nurses; Kendall was the only name that the nurses hadn’t heard. And so, my first name was Kendall. As for my middle name, my dad gravitated toward the name Alyse, because my grandmother (my dad’s mother) had known someone named Alyse (pronounced like Elise) and he 1) liked the unusual spelling, 2) liked that it sounded like Ali, and 3) liked that it was the right amount of feminine to balance the masculinity of my first name. Thus, Kendall Alyse Goodwin was named.

I asked my mom why my middle name wasn’t a family name like both of my brothers, and she told me that they had regretted not giving me a family name. Maybe they were blindsided by the fact that I turned out to be the opposite of what they expected and didn’t think it all the way through, she said, and maybe they just thought that they would have another daughter to give a family name to. I asked my mom what she thought the purpose of a middle name was, and she said its purpose was to honor someone else that is important to you. Which led to the question: if my middle name isn’t honoring someone meaningful to my parents, what’s the purpose of my middle name?

I don’t think I’ve arrived at a definitive answer. Maybe my middle name doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything. Some people’s middle names are family names and are sentimental and meaningful, and some people’s middle names don’t hold great significance but just sound good with the rest of their name. And some people’s middle names are Rainbow, because their hippie parents wanted to commemorate their flower child days without giving their kid a undeniable reason to hate them later in life. It’s different for everyone! And in a broader sense, even though middle names are seldom used in everyday life, maybe just the historical tradition of middle names is enough to justify their continued existence. Regardless, I’m still going to ask people about their middle names and be endlessly interested in the stories behind them.

What’s your middle name? And what’s the story behind it?


5 responses to “Middle Names.

  1. Kendall Alyse is a beautiful name!

    My middle name is Brooke. My mom grew up on the corner of two streets and one of them was Running Brooke Ln. So, there you go. By the time I was born my parents had moved away from home because of the Navy. I am assuming that my name came from a feeling of nostalgia.

  2. Every male in my family has/had Teutonic, Germanic, Gaelic or Grecian names – Alex, Alexander, Averill, Bruce, Byron, Charles, Cooper, Douglas, Eric, Gavin, Keith, Monsel, Neil, Robert, Roger, Sean and Tobias, etc – with Teutonic/Germanic being in the main. The chicks (ahem!) get traditional English names (Barbara, Chyna-Jade, Deborah, Deidre (“dee-dree”), Griseldis, Florence, Robyn, Winifred, etc). We’re kind of brain-damaged and self-limiting in this department, but recycling the names in different combinations has become second nature to all of us, so it’s not really a problem.

    My dad named me Charles and mum Robert – Robert Charles – yeah, I know, “Bobby-Charles” if I’m from The South (but then again, I’m a Brit). Charles was my paternal great-grandfather, and Robert being from Sir Robert Brown-Black, governor of Hong Kong, when I was born – Sir Robert must have been one helluva good governor because lots of people named their kids after him. Would you name your kids after your governor?

  3. Great post by the way. I am also fascinated by names! I love it when the first and middle name flow together well. My son’s name is Jonas Charles. Charles is his paternal grandfather’s name (my boyfriend felt it important to have his dad’s first grandchild be named after him because he is his adopted father, which means a lot to him).

  4. The way a middle name is conferred varies according to country. I knew a Belgian, Robert, who had been given an additional six christian (middle) names; Germans do that also; there is the composer Karl Maria von Weber: middle name Maria for a man! And in the eastern slavic countries the middle name is not given, it is derived from the father’s first name. My father was Stepan; my middle name is Stepanovich. But I don’t use it.

  5. I love middle names, too! I also like trying to get people to guess my middle name, and nobody has ever guessed correctly, either. My middle name is Ione (pronounced eye-own), and it’s a family name. It doesn’t go back that far, at least not that I know of. It’s my grandma’s first name, my mom’s middle name, and my middle name. If I ever have a little girl, I’m giving her Ione as her middle name. (I’ve actually thought about as a first name, but I’m not sure if I want to subject her to the many mispronunciations and misspellings it would get). I feel a little bit like I’ll be torturing her, though, because I really want to keep my name if I get married, and somehow get both of our last names into our kid’s names. So their names will be like firstname middlename lastname lastname, which seems like a handful. Sorry, future kids!

    I hope that my hypothetical child doesn’t resent her middle name. I know a lot of people who dislike their middle name, and very few it seems who love theirs.

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