Why Do Some People Have Middle Names?

Word Name lined with wooden letters on color background

Names are a universally crucial aspect of human identity. In any culture, any society, anywhere in the world, people have names. And yet, the way those names take form changes drastically. Some people only have one name. Others have a first and a last. Some people have middle names, and others have even longer titles.

But why do some people have middle names? What’s the point if you already have a first and a last, which can easily distinguish you from other people? Well, there are many reasons for middle names, but traditionally, they were used to either distinguish one’s lineage, add uniqueness to a name, or pay homage to someone.

These days, any of these reasons could be why someone has a middle name. The fact of the matter is, in modern society, people get middle names mostly because their parents want them to have one. But their reasoning for wanting a middle name for their kid could vary, and may be rooted in older traditions.

All About Lineage

Like many modern-day traditions, the notion of middle names has been around for centuries, really starting to take hold in the time of the Roman empire. In the past, having a middle name meant you were someone of import: someone worth noting in comparison to the average populace. In Rome, middle names often belonged to wealthy citizens.

And of course, you would inherit the name of your father. In ancient Rome, your first name was your personal identity, but your middle name was that of your father, and your last name was your family name. It was how the more socially important families ensured that everyone knew who they were.

Of course, even outside of Rome, this is the way middle names were often used in the past. It was a way to let everyone know that you were someone important: a member of the nobility, someone wealthy, a well-known family… it was a way to set you and your family apart from everyone else, and people love distinction.

Being Unique

At the time of writing, there are approximately eight billion people in the world. In a global society where you have to live alongside that many people, it can be kind of difficult to stand out, which is something that many people want to do. In the modern era, middle names generally have nothing to do with lineage: people just want to stand out.

After all, there are a million John Smiths in the world. But there are a lot fewer John Samuel Smiths or John Benjamin Smiths. Middle names are also a great way for people to add some flair to their kid’s name without making it their first name. Some parents like to have an eccentric name somewhere for their kid, but don’t want to make it too prominent.

Paying Homage to Someone

Many parents name their kids after someone. Sometimes, they even name their kids after themselves! But in some cases, a parent would like to include the name of someone special in their kid’s name without making it their first name. This is where middle names often come in. 

Have a beloved grandpa whose name you want to be carried on in your son? A middle name is a perfect way to do that. It can also be a form of compromise in some cases. For instance, maybe the dad wants his son to have his name, but the mom doesn’t want that. A middle name can be a compromise for both since it isn’t a personal name.

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