Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Cole from Sydney Nova Scotia, FL. Cole Wonders, “Why do people have middle names?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Cole!
Yes, they're famous. You've probably heard of all of them. In fact, you might be quite familiar with their inventions, books, movies, and music. But there's something else they share. They all go by three names, their first, middle, and last!
If you look around at your friends and family members, how many of their middle names do you know? Chances are you probably don't know the middle names of many of even your closest friends and family members.
Yet there are certain famous people whose middle name you do know because they are known by all three of their names. For example, if we mentioned a famous architect named Frank Wright or a famous guitarist named Stevie Vaughn, you might already know that their middle names are Lloyd and Ray, respectively.
While nearly everyone you come across today has a middle name, things weren't always that way. None of the pilgrims on the Mayflower had a middle name. George Washington was just George Washington. In fact, of the first 17 presidents, only three had middle names.
So where did this practice of giving children three names come from? The term "middle name" has been traced back to a Harvard University publication from 1835. The practice of giving children a middle name goes back much further than that, though.
Historians note that the ancient Romans often gave multiple names to nobles and other important people. This practice seems to have died out for quite a while until it was revived in Europe in the Middle Ages.
European aristocrats began giving children lengthy names as a way of denoting their societal status and setting them apart from others. Some common people began to adopt the practice in order to elevate their status in society.
Others simply had trouble choosing between giving their children a family name or a saint's name. Giving a child a middle name allowed them to do both.
When the population across Europe and the United States boomed in the 19th century, middle names started becoming much more common for a practical reason: middle names helped distinguish one person from another.
While only around five percent of Americans born in the Revolutionary War era had middle names, nearly all Americans had one by 1900. When World War I erupted, middle names were so common that the United States armed forces enlistment form became the first official government document to contain a space for a middle name.