What's in a Middle Name and Why do you Have One?

Posted by martin.parnell |

Today, March 19th. is Saint Joseph’s Day. Wikipedia states that “The Feast of Saint Joseph is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and legal father of Jesus Christ. It has the rank of a solemnity in the Catholic Church. It is a feast or commemoration in the provinces of the Anglican Communion, and a feast or festival in the Lutheran Church. 

Saint Joseph's Day is the Patronal Feast day for Poland as well as for Canada, persons named Joseph, Josephine, etc., for religious institutes, schools and parishes bearing his name, and for carpenters. It is also Father’s Day in some Catholic countries, mainly Spain, Portugal and Italy. The 19th of March was dedicated to Saint Joseph in several Western calendars by the 10th century, and this custom was established in Rome in 1479 by Pope Pius V.” 

Now you may wonder why this is of particular interest to me. The reason is because my middle name is Joseph. It was given to me when I was baptized into the Catholic Church. In many countries, it is customary for a person being baptized or confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church to adopt the name of a biblical character or saint as it is meant to engage the patron saint as a protector and guide. I use it on official documents and I sign my name with a “J” in the middle. 

Other people may have a middle name for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is part of a family tradition, a name in memory of someone or being named after a family member or friend. Of course, it can simply be because the parents like the name. 

I found an article on mentalfloss.com. by Sean Hutchinson, August 2004 in which he asks “Why Do We Have Middle Names?” and he tells us some of the history behind the practice: “The phrase “middle name” first appeared in an 1835 Harvard University periodical called Harvardiana, but the practice dates back much further.

In ancient Rome, having multiple names was an honor usually bestowed upon the most important people—like Gaius Julius Caesar. The fad died out only to pick back up again in Western cultures in the 1700s, when aristocrats started giving their children lavishly long names to indicate their place in society. Similarly, lengthy Spanish and Arabic names adopt paternal or maternal names from previous generations to trace the individual’s family tree. (In other cultures, like Chinese, there are traditionally no middle names.)

The three-name structure used today began in the Middle Ages when Europeans were torn between giving their child a saint’s name or a common family name. The practice of giving three names eventually resolved the problem with a formula: given name first, baptismal name second, surname third. It branched to America as immigrants arrived: Adopting a trio of labels became a way of aspiring to a higher social class.

Nonreligious middle names—often maternal maiden names—gradually became the norm, and by the Civil War, it was customary to name your child whatever you liked. Middle names had started to become more or less official by World War I, when the U.S. enlistment form became the first official government document to include space for them.”

So, if you are given a middle name, are you legally bound to use it? This question was answered by trial attorney, Mark Wheeler, in July 2017, on the Quora website: “If you are signing a deed, or any to be recorded document you must use your full name. Banking practices have dictated this modern trend. Ancient practice only required a person’s mark. Then first and last names were used. And now, full names are the norm. I would guess that the future holds some type of biometric application like an RFID chip or a drop of blood. Nothing is more individual than DNA (in the case of identical twins I would perceive the addition or an eye scan).” 

You may love your middle name so much that you would rather use it than your given first name. However, you may not like it at all and want it removed from any legal documents. This can be a lengthy process as one contributor to Reddit showed when listing all the documentations that he had to change:

  • SIN
  • Health Card
  • Driver's License
  • Some banking information
  • Citizenship card
  • Passport
  • University records
  • High school diploma
  • Online banking
  • PayPal
  • Vehicle ownership
  • Insurance (Home and auto)
  • Utilities
  • Telecommunication
  • Employer's records
  • Pension plan
  • Various organizational memberships
  • Subscriptions”

And someone else noted that there is a fee of $137 just to have it changed on your birth certificate.”

So love it or hate it, you may want to stick with that middle name that was given to you by a person or persons with the best of intentions and it might be fun to find out why it was given to you in the first place.

Martin Joseph Parnell

About the Author

Martin J. Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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