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In several cultures, people's names usually include one or more names in addition to the portion that is usually considered adequate to identify them. In a number of cultures where a given name is expected to precede the surname, such a name is likely to be placed after the given name and before the surname, and thus called a middle name. In English-speaking American culture, that term is often applied (arguably mistakenly) to names, occupying that position, even if the bearer would insist that that name is being mistakenly called a "middle name", and is actually (to mention several types of atypical cases):
- part of a two-word given name (e.g. Mary Anne, about Mary Anne Clarke, and "Joe Bob Briggs"),
- a maiden name (e.g. Rodham),
- a patronymic (e.g. Sergeyevich), or
- a baptismal name (e.g. "Christopher" invoking St. Christopher).
In the USA such names are specifically referred to as middle names; in most other countries, as far as they are given names and not, for example, patronymics, they would simply be regarded as second, third etc. given names. The US "middle name" is often abbreviated to the middle initial (e.g. Mary Lee Bianchi becomes Mary L. Bianchi, which is usually standard for signatures) or omitted entirely in everyday use (e.g. just Mary Bianchi). An individual may have more than one middle name, or none. In the United Kingdom, for comparison, she would usually be referred to as either Mary Bianchi, M. L. Bianchi or Mary Lee Bianchi, or she may choose Lee Bianchi, and informally there may be familiar shortenings.
It is debatable how long multiple given names have existed in English-speaking countries, but it is certain that among royalty and aristocracy the practice existed by the late 17th century (and possibly earlier), as exemplified in the name of the Stuart pretender James Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766).
Despite their relatively long existence in North America, the phrase "middle name" was not recorded until 1835, in the periodical Harvardiana.
The use of multiple middle names has been somewhat impeded recently by the increased use of computer databases that occasionally allow for only a single middle name or more commonly a middle initial in storing personal records, effectively preventing people with multiple middle names from being listed in such databases under their full name. This is worsened by longer compound names, like María del Pilar Pereyra or María de las Nieves García.
The abbreviation "N.M.N." (no middle name) or "N.M.I." (no middle initial), with or without periods, is sometimes used in formal documents in the United States, where a middle initial or name is expected but the person does not have one. The middle name can also be a maiden name.
Since 1905, "middle name" has also developed a figurative usage meaning a notable or outstanding attribute of a person, as in the phrase "discretion is my middle name."
In countries that primarily speak English—such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom—the forename of a relative is sometimes used as one's middle name to honor familial heritage. In many cases in the United States, however, a person's middle name has little or no lineage-related context, and is used instead to honor close family friends or notable public figures.
In the United States, those who choose to be known primarily by their middle name may abbreviate their first name as an initial, e.g. J. Edgar Hoover. Others simply omit the first name, like Mitt Romney and Jacob Sartorius. A rare case of an individual being given only initials as middle names, with the initial not explicitly standing for anything, was Harry S. Truman. (He once told reporters—apparently at odds with his own practice—that the S should thus not be followed by period.)
More than two given names are fairly common. In England they are traditionally more common among the "upper classes" and "middle classes". Examples are J. R. R. Tolkien, W.E.B. Du Bois, George H. W. Bush and V. V. S. Laxman.
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Middle names do not traditionally exist for the Chinese people. Most Chinese names consist of three characters – the surname, followed by a two-character given name (ming), which is not separated into a first and middle name in usage. Some Chinese given names contain only one syllable (e.g. Wong Kit). In some cases, two-character given names follow a naming tradition in which the first character of the given name (and thus the second character in the three-character full name) indicates the person's generation in his/her family. For example, the Yongzheng Emperor of the Qing dynasty has the given name Yinzhen (胤禛) while his brothers' names all begin with the character "Yin" (胤). His sons' and nephews' given names all begin with the character Hong (弘). Traditionally, the list of generational names may be decided many generations in advance by the ancestors. In such naming systems, the de facto given name is the last character of a person's full name. Even if that was the case most of the time, sometimes the person's given name is the middle character and not the last. The one that's common in all the names of a generation of children of the same gender determines the "generation name".
A fading Chinese tradition is to use a courtesy name, called zì (字) in place of a male's given name in adulthood. Traditionally zì is given by one's father upon reaching the age of maturity at 20 years old. This name is intended for use in formal situations and formal writing and confers a status of adulthood and respect. Like the ming, the zì is composed of two characters which usually reflect the meaning of the ming. Prior to the 20th century, sinicized Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese were also referred to by their zì. An alternative courtesy name is the hào (号; 號; hào; Japanese gō; Korean: ho; Vietnamese: hiệu), which usually referred to as the pseudonym. A hào was usually self-chosen and it was possible to have more than one. It had no connection with the bearer's míng or zì; rather it was often a personal choice and may have reflected a personal belief or philosophy. Chinese adults may more frequently use the hào to refer to themselves. The zì or hào can be used independently of the given name and of each other, but the given name is almost always used with the family name in official situations.
Some Chinese Americans move their Chinese given name (transliterated into the Latin alphabet) to the middle name position and use an English first name, e.g. James Chu-yu Soong, Jerry Chih-Yuan Yang, and Michelle Wingshan Kwan. The Chinese given name usually has two characters which are usually combined into a single middle name for better organizational purposes, especially with Cantonese names, such as Bruce Lee's middle name, Junfan. There are also some new immigrants whose Chinese given names are their first names followed by English middle names.
The practice of taking English and Chinese given names is also common in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. However, rather than placing the Chinese given name between the English given name and the family name, it is commonly placed after the family name in these places. Under such a system, Bruce Junfan Lee would have been Bruce Lee Junfan. This practice is consistent with both the Western convention of putting the given name before the family name and the Chinese convention of putting the given name after the family name.
In Denmark and Norway, the term middle name refers to names that are originally surnames, but not part of the last name of the name bearer. The term middle name does not refer to additional given names, which are instead referred to as given names. A middle name could be e.g. one's mother's maiden name or the last name of another recent ancestor (for instance a grandparent). One can have several middle names, but it is unusual to have more than one or two. In law, middle names have a separate status. In practice, their status is similar to that of additional given names, and middle names are often omitted in everyday use, just like a person with 3 or 4 given names would only use one of them in most situations. The historical purpose of middle names is to honour some related family or person, a godparent, or even a completely unrelated person, such as a locally or nationally prominent figure. Until the 19th century, it was not unusual to have the last name of a godparent as one's middle name, even when the godparent was no blood relative. This practice, and the use of middle names in general, however, was mostly limited to the bourgeois class and the nobility, and was seldom seen among common people. In the 20th century, the use of middle names, especially one's mother's maiden name, was more widely adopted, although it is by no means mandatory. There are few set rules for how names are constructed today; people are required to have one given name and one family name, but can have as many additional given names and middle names as they like.
In the example Carl Viggo Manthey Lange, the names Carl and Viggo are given names, while Manthey is a middle name and Lange is the family name. Manthey is his mother's maiden name. Unless his full name is used, he is correctly referred to as Mr. Lange, not as Mr. Manthey Lange. Carl Viggo Manthey Lange has a name typical of the Norwegian bourgeois class, with both his family name and his middle name being of foreign origin and being recognised surnames. Most Norwegians and Danes of the working class and peasant class used patronymics until the 19th century, when permanent family names became mandatory, first in Denmark in the early 19th century and then in Norway around 1900. A middle name is usually a recognised surname and not a patronymic. One reason middle names have become popular in the 20th century, particularly in Denmark, is that most Danish surnames originated as patronymics and are shared by a large number of people. The use of middle names in modern times serves to differentiate them from other people. For example, Danish politician Lars Løkke Rasmussen has some of the most common given and last names in Denmark (Lars and Rasmussen); his mother's maiden name is the slightly more unusual name Løkke, derived from a small agricultural property, so he uses it as a middle name, which differentiates him from other people named Lars Rasmussen.
In Sweden, the position is much the same as in Denmark. Middle names were inaugurated in the previous Name Act of 1963, then called "tilläggsnamn" (additional name), and are called "mellannamn" (middle name) as of the present Name Act of 1983. However, it had previously been more common to join e.g. the last names of both of a child's parents, or for a married woman to join her maiden name and the husband's last name, as a double name with a hyphen; and large portions of the Swedish population have not adapted to the official system to this day, i.e. for almost 50 years. People often use a hyphen between their middle name and last name themselves, and/or are spelled that way by other people. Not even mass media know things correctly, but contribute to misinterpretations.
Furthermore, when the term middle name was introduced in Swedish ("mellannamn") the word was assumed by many to mean the additional given names (apart from the "name of address" (tilltalsnamn)), so since 1983 the word is being used more and more in this, officially, erratic meaning.
Occasionally, Scandinavians choose to use their middle name as their surname in everyday life. So Per Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has Per and Gottfrid as his given names, where Gottfrid, not Per, is his name of address, Svartholm as his middle name and Warg as his last name, but in practice he uses Svartholm as a surname. This usage, however, is unofficial. Historically, a middle name could become part of a double-barreled surname (family name) and hence cease to be a middle name, especially if used for several generations. There are many family names of this kind, which contributes to the confusion about middle names that shall not be hyphenated. Some of these double-barreled surnames are combined with a hyphen, while others are not, so a double surname without a hyphen can sometimes be indistinguishable from a middle name followed by a family name.
In Scandinavia, there is no limit on how many given names one can have. Given names have never been referred to as middle names, apart from many in Sweden believing so, as mentioned above. The use of more than two or three given names is generally associated with the upper class. The first given name is not necessarily the name of address. For the sake of completeness, Swedish forms often ask people to fill in all their given names and to indicate which one is their "name of address" (tilltalsnamn).
Traditional middle names in Vietnamese are "Văn" for male names and "Thị" for female names. However, modern Vietnamese consider these are not beautiful names, especially "Thị". Therefore, nowadays popular middle names also are popular first names. Middle names play an important role in Vietnamese full names; they could help creating beautiful names when combine with first names, distinguishing people who have the same first name (there are many common last names in Vietnam), and also distinguishing the gender of the names (unisex names are used widely in Vietnam). Hence, Vietnamese rarely abbreviate their middle names.
- "middle name (language) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com.
- "Middle name - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com.
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