ForeignMom's Blog

Bicultural mom adjusting to motherhood in a foreign country

Why Are Middle Names SOOO Important in the U.S.? May 18, 2011

Filed under: Living in the US,Uncategorized — ForeignMom @ 7:04 pm
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There are many things that are different from the norm when you are a multicultural family living in a foreign country like we are: our last names, our looks, our accents and, in the case of our children, the lack of a middle name.

Why is it that every time someone asks me what my daughter’s name is or what the new baby’s will be, they always expect me to say a name and a middle name and get confused when I say that we only chose one name for them? I don’t know about you, but I think that having a hyphenated, Arabic last name is enough to have a life-long journey of correcting names. Adding a middle name to the mix, just seems much more complicated. Besides, both of my kids will have the Mexican nationality and in Latin American countries, everyone uses both the father’s and mother’s last names. Can you imagine how long would an I.D. with two names and two last names would be?

We just wanted to keep things simple but people are almost shocked when I tell them that my kids and I don’t have a middle name. That made me let the geek in me do some research to find out why on earth are middle names so important for people in the U.S.

Turns out that the practice of using a middle name first started by German nobility in the fifteenth century, but did not become common until the seventeen hundreds. A middle name was not common in the United States until after the Revolutionary War. And according to my web search, it didn’t become common practice until around World War I when the enlistment form became the first official document to have a space for the middle name.

According to Askville.com, nobody knows exactly how “middle names suddenly became popular within the space of a few generations.  To some extent it may simply have been a social trend that eventually became the norm.  But it must have been encouraged by its obvious practicality:  With increases in population density and the size of extended families, the incidence of multiple persons in the same vicinity carrying the same first and last names eventually became quite common.  Distinguishing among several persons of the same name became, for the first time, a practical problem.  Whatever the driving forces, the custom eventually became just that: a custom.”

Wow, I never thought I would find such detailed explanation but I guess that helps me answer my question of why are middle names so important in the U.S. It is interesting how much of a norm it is that everyone is expected to have a middle name, I guess is just one of those things that make up traditions in a society.

I know that learning the origin of middle names will not help me avoid questions in the future, but at least it shed some light into the issue of this cultural difference. I also wanted to clarify that though we don’t call them “middle names” in Latin America, many people have two names but they are normally used as one like: “Juan Carlos” or “Maria Elena”. And our official forms have enough space for multiple names but we just don’t call them middle names and it isn’t a big deal is you don’t have one.

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One Response to “Why Are Middle Names SOOO Important in the U.S.?”

  1. Sonya Says:

    My parents didn’t want to give my sisters and I middle names either – they just didn’t see the point. My mom is Korean and “middle names” aren’t customary in Korean Culture either. I technically have a middle “name” but it’s just one letter, and it confuses everyone and is wrong on most forms. Apparently my parents felt pressured to fill in the middle line on my birth certificate. 🙂


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