What’s in a Middle Name?

She’s thinking: You want to know what it is, don’t you?!?

The other night, my husband sent himself a package to his mom’s house, one he will catch up with when we arrive for Thanksgiving.  To be sure to whom the package belongs, he included his middle name “Byron” in the name for the addressee.

You see, his dad was “Charles Allen Black.”  My husband is “Charles Byron Black.”

Punctuation saves lives; middle names add interest and depth to who we are.  They are a source of intrigue, prompting the ubiquitous question, in one form or another:

So, what’s the “Z” stand for?

Huh.  “E.W.”  Wonder what her middle names are?

Why do we keep our middle names on the “down low”?  Why the coverup?  Middle names should be a source of pride, defining our individuality and grounding us in family culture and history, even though we may think they are kinda weird and embarrassing.  Have you ever noticed in the “Seniors” section of your high school yearbook how many classmates revealed only their middle initials?  What, no space for my full middle name?  Darn. I get that.  Because back in the day, I hated my middle moniker. I didn’t want anyone to know because it’s not terribly common.  Of course, I learned all to quickly what happens when you slip up and reveal the first letter, a juicy hint to what that secret second name may be:




No, dammit.  It’s Gayle.  Happy?  

So after that totally embarrassing high school exchange, I surrendered to proclaiming my second name.  Which came from my mother.  And that’s cool.  (And yes, it is printed out in full splendor in my high school yearbook.)  Plus there are few names that meld with Heidi, so my parents are lucky a family name worked at all.


Middle name revealed in a hundred or so copies of the ’89 high school yearbook. But look at that shocking “nickname”…


Sometimes middle names seem simply a place holder, or are they just simple?  There are many James’s, Michaels, Janes and Maries, (and Lynn(e)s and Ann(e)s…).  One could claim these are unoriginal choices, but are they, really?  All are beautiful names and each is like a good pair of denim jeans; they go with almost everything.  Simple just works.  “Jane” was never on my radar for middle names until we matched it up with our daughter’s multi-syllabic first moniker.  And as an added bonus, she could be “D.J.” if she ever chooses.

But, of course, there’s the opposite of simple.  Think Prince William’s full name (William Arthur Philip Louis) or my husband’s maternal grandfather’s chain of names (Byron Ervin Wilhelm Heinrich).  With all due respect, monikers of that magnitude are like trying to close an overflowing suitcase:  too much for the available space.  Let’s face it, there’s just not that much room in the itty-bitty “M.I.” box on that carbon copy.  And even though all those names are cherished family ones, I bet Great-Grandma rued the day she entered those names on the birth certificate when Byron was naughty (and I hear he often was):





(Of special note, the middle name does seem to exist as a harbinger of big trouble when used.  To this day, even though my dad uses “Heidi Gayle” affectionately, a cold flash of terror dives through my stomach.)

And then there’s the MIA middle name.  Some people just don’t have one.  I remember reading a story when I was little about a girl who felt left out because her parents didn’t give her a middle name.  So she made one up and became “Patty Tap”, “Pat” spelled in reverse to make a surprisingly fun (and to her, complete) name.  I doubt my own grandfather would have given himself “Obbe” as his second name, though; he was christened “Ebbo.”  When I was little, I asked (over and over, because I never got the answer I wanted) why he didn’t get a middle name and he always said he never knew why.  But I’m guessing his parents ran out of permutations of the four male names in the family and decided to go “totes” original on their youngest son:

The heck with it!  We already have a dozen “Rhiners” in this family.  Let’s just call him “Ebbo”, no middle name.

And that was that.  (Years later, I learned that my great-grands didn’t just pull letters of the alphabet out of a hat to name my dear grandfather…there is actually an Archbishop Ebbo (of Reims)  .  Perhaps that’s the inspiration.)

So whether it’s simple, long or absent…cherish the middle name.  There’s a good story behind it.


[And finally:  a shout-out to a dear friend for allowing me to pirate her original semi-swear word “crapdangit.”  Miss all our silly fun and grateful for Facebook to keep us laughing together.  Love ya, lady!  BTW, what’s your middle name?]



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