What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Lots of things. We are attached to the sound of our names. Scientists say only the voices of our children or lovers can cut though the din and catch our attention like the sound of our own names.

Names are personal. Very personal. We get in the habit of identifying with the sound of our name, and the written symbols that identify it. In many ways we become that sound, or that set of symbols. Mary says "I am Mary" as easily as she notes "My name is Mary."

Millions of people identify with a given name other than the first one in the series written on our birth certificates. Even if you are not one of these people, you do know many of them.

Many --a surprising number-- of statesmen, artists, race car drivers, movie stars, crooks, musicians, and business moguls whose names you recognize actually have *another* given name or two sitting in front of the one you are familiar with.

The name you recognize as "their name" is a given name other than the first one in the series.

Very likely some of the co-workers and friends you talk to every day also have additional given names listed on their birth certificates in front of "their name," the one that you know.

What's the point?
There is a hidden world of onomatology or onomatistics [the study of names] out there you may have missed. Becoming aware of this aspect of your social world can be entertaining, shocking, revealing, or at the very least it can help you understand the world a bit better.

Good old "Dan Smith" who lives across the street might actually be named "Lawrence Witherspoon Armstrong Danforth Smith," but uses "Dan" to honor a beloved uncle who earned a silver star in WWII. "Jane Doe" from the office could be "Dorothy Jane Doe," who is estranged from her abusive alcoholic mother, also named Dorothy, and is not fond of people who assume they can call her "Dorothy" without asking first.

Obviously, understanding middle names isn't going to lead to a cure for cancer or become a route to world peace.

But thinking a bit about middle given names adds a certain richness to your experiences of other people and the world we live in. And it might prevent you from hurting the feelings of someone you care about. That's all. That's enough.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dangerous people who refuse to use their "first names, middle initials"

I’ve listed these names of famous people here in the annoying one-size-fits-all-form used by lazy bureaucrats everywhere.

I've provided click-through links to the Wikipedia entries for them so you can see their names as you know them.

Maria C. Aquino
Yitzak E. Asner
Orvan G. Autrey
Francis L. Bailey
Lymann F. Baum
Henry W. Beatty
Earnst I. Bergman
Charles E. Boone
Troyal G. Brooks
Eleanor R. Carter
Arthur N. Chamberlain
Stephan G. Cleveland
Edward M. Clift
Thomas S. Connery
John Coolidge
Ruth E. Davis
Dorothy F. Dunaway
Ralph D. Earnhardt
Ralph D. Earnhardt
John W. Ferrell
Francis S. Fitzgerald
Richard Fuller
Malcolm S. Forbes
William C. Gable
Henry L. Gehrig
Jean P. Getty
Irwin A. Ginsberg
Paul J. Goebbels
Daniel R. Graham
George K. Griffey
Delorez F. Griffith-Joyner
Ernest G. Gygax
Walter R. Hess
John Hoover
Philip Hopkins
Everette H. Hunt
Jon D. Imus
Arthur S. Jefferson
Lewis B. Jones
Joseph R. Kipling
Charles E. Koop
Christopher A. Kutcher
George G. Liddy
Chester T. Lott
James P. McCartney
Terrence S. McQueen
John P. Morgan
Keith R. Murdoch
Clarence R. Nagin
Robert M. Nesmith
George R. Newhart
James D. Nivin
Jame R. O’Neal
Julius R. Oppenheimer [some uncertainly exists regarding this name]
Olive M. Osmond
Morgan S. Peck
Eldred G. Peck
Henry R. Perot
William B. Pitt
Helen B. Potter
James D. Quayle
Charles R. Redford
Michael T. Reznor
Margaret L. Rimes
Willard M. Romney
Anna E. Roosevelt
George T. Seaver
Christa B. Sheilds
Marvin N. Simon
James S. Thurmond
Georgi S. Trebek
Robert T. Turner
Eugene L. Vidal
Aaron M. Ward
Marie D. Warwick
George R. Waters
George O. Welles
Walter B. Willis
Thomas W. Wilson
Laura R. Witherspoon
Adeline V. Woolf
Vina F. Wray

NOTE: Many of these people have more than one "middle initial." In conformity with the "first name, middle initial" model I've only listed the first name, first of any "middle initials," and left off titles as well as indications like "Jr."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Andy Rooney: people with famous middle names

A few years back, famous grumbler Andy Rooney tackled the subject of middle names and offered a somewhat different kind of list: famous people known by their first, middle and last names. Rooney also revealed his own middle name: "Aitken."

Rooney's column makes me smile to imagine "Zsa Z. Gabor" on a tax form or driver's license.

See the article here

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Middle name stories --mine

I never used my first given name. There isn't anything wrong with my first name. But it is the same as my father's, I'm not a junior, and so it was a bit confusing.

For clarity in household communications my folks just skipped over my first given name [identical to my Dad's] and went right to my middle one. Made sense. I never really knew I had another name in front of the one I used [or that it mattered] until I was well into public school.

No one who knows me, knows me by my first given name, so it causes no end of confusion when the new receptionist at the dentist's office or the phone bank college kid from the cell phone company calls or asks for someone with that name. I've even had people cut off business they were conducting with me because they tried to call and were told they had the wrong number because "no one with that name lives here."

My poor Dad used to end up getting much of my junk mail, doctor's appointment reminder calls and credit card solicitations because my current girlfriend or roommate or other friends or neighbors would direct these wrong-name-folks off toward my Dad. [Just before Dad died the credit bureaus conflated our credit reports in this bizarre, combined, monster bad report. My name, his social security number, my address, his phone number. A nightmare that took months to resolve that could have been avoided, of course, if they had just used our full names]

Now Dad is gone and --now that I think of it-- I suppose I could start using my first given name if I wanted to. Dad doesn't need it now. But for decades I've been called and identify with my middle name. I "am" that name in the odd fashion people have of "being" some label or characteristic.

While I am fond of both my given names [lots of family history in them both] I really just want to continue to "be" who I have always been, the person who uses my second given name.

All my life I have been asking people who want to use "my first name" or [more insulting] my "real" name to just use my "full name" [all of it--how can you argue with that?] and that is likely what I'll continue to do. Stops confusion. Stops arguments. My *whole* name. Hard to argue with that. Yet people sometimes do argue.

"Real" names and who gets to decide?

By some estimates more than 30 million Americans use one of their legal names other than the first one as their "proper name." In many American subcultures and in the rest of the world, people have four, five, even six "legal" names.

For all of these people the old misleading standard of "first name, middle initial" on fill-in-the-blank forms are not just annoying and frustrating, they are inaccurate and misleading.

The reasons for preferring one of your legal names over another are as varied as the reasons for choosing those names in the first place: honoring an ancestor, avoiding confusion in a family full of people named "James" or "Mary," changing social norms [i.e.: at one time Carrol and Hillary were primarily men's names], or just plain personal preference.

The point is that it is your name and you can use it as you please. Or that is how is should be.

As a friend of mine once pointed out: "The system exists to serve us, we don't exist to serve the system." Indeed. Remember that line and drop it on the next 'First name, middle initial please" person you meet.

Sadly, many millions of us have wasted thousands of hours during our lives arguing --futilely-- with bureaucrats on every level regarding our "real" names.

"...the system exists to serve us, we don't exist to serve the system..."
Most anyone --and there are millions just in the US-- with a name that does not conform to the "first name, middle initial" standard can offer examples of where this unrealistic standard caused them mind-bogglingly frustrating, if not dangerous and even life-threatening, confusion.

Carbon copies are dead. Data storage is almost free. We don't need to scribble information on little slices of dead trees. A newly smaller and increasingly interconnected world means we all deal with a much greater variety of people in our daily lives.

When is this "first name, middle initial" nonsense, a relic of the 18th century, going to change?