ROOTS-L ArchivesArchiver > ROOTS > 2007-03 > 1173103224
From: Scott "R." "C." Anderson <>
Subject: Re: [ROOTS-L] Middle names: the genesis and use of them?
Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2007 08:00:24 -0600 (CST)
On Sunday, March 4, 2007 11:39 PM MT, Gordon A. Watts <> wrote:
> Some years ago I asked the question about why so many in earlier years were
> known by their second name. The response I received may or may not have
> some validity, but it explained in part why in many families siblings of the
> same sex had the same first name, but had and were known by their second
> name. For example, male siblings might be called Jean George and Jean
> Christopher while female sibling might be Mary (Marie) Elizabeth or Mary
> (Marie) Christina. I might add that in the times I refer to, people in
> general may have been more religious than many of us are today.
> In any case, the idea was that people would be known by their family,
> friends and themselves by their second name. As such they would normally
> respond when called by their second name. When the Devil came calling he
> would know only the first name and would call for the individuals using the
> first name. Being used to responding only to their second name, when
> hearing their first name the individual would not respond to the call of the
I'm thinking this story occured primarily in Catholic families? The first names chosen were usually the names of saints (better to protect one from the Devil), which is why there are so many Johns and Marys in the world. There is some discussion of the choice of Catholic christening names in the following article, in which it's stated that this practice was common but not (usually) prescribed:
But to distinguish children within a family, whether siblings or cousins, middle names were added. I wonder when this became common in this context? In the Catholic side of my family, middle names that I have records for began to appear, again, in the early nineteenth century. Initially the saints' names appear as first names, and later show up as middle names.
Distinction, of course, is why last names began to be commonly used about a thousand years ago in Europe (though it was not unheard of before that, think of all of the Romans with two names, e.g. Julius Caesar). This was influenced by the Crusades, which brought together people from many different parts of a country who needed to distinguish John of Cranston from John the Smith.
My guess is that adding names in general is primarily driven by population density as well as mobility, people coming into contact with others with the same or similar names. Both of these began to acclerate in the early nineteenth century: infant mortality was declining, and transportation improved. Hence the expansion of the use of middle names.
We're at another transition point now, with our population still expanding and the Internet bringing more and more people together. I don't know how many times I've been asked if I'm the Scott Anderson who "attended such and such high school" or "worked at this or that place". That's why for a long time I've signed myself
S R C A
cott obert ranston nderson
|Re: [ROOTS-L] Middle names: the genesis and use of them? by Scott "R." "C." Anderson <>|