I am well aware that people's names in several cultures include one or more additional names placed between the first given name and the surname. It is called a middle name. Like: "Tom r. Tyler"; but the question is that what does it mean and much more important, where it is taken from? (What is the formula for making a middle name for a person?)


4 Answers 4


A middle name, like a first name, is a 'given' name, bestowed by your parents at birth; both appear on all official documents and you are stuck with both of them for life, unless you go through a formal legal process of changing your name.

There is no formula for a middle name. Like the first name it may come from any source - from family or cultural tradition, from a mother's maiden name, from a 'namesake' (an admired or loved person whose name your own name echoes), or simply from the parents' taste.

What name you use is a different matter. Most people (my sister and my mother and father, for example) use their first names, but many (my wife and my brother, for instance) prefer their middle names and use those in their professional work. And some of us use nicknames, which are names we are given informally by family and friends. For instance, the name I use here at ELL, "Stoney", was originally a shortened version of my family nickname "Stonewall" (itself a derivative of my legal names "Thomas Jonathan"—my mother chose those names because she admired Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson, who bore the nickname "Stonewall"). "Stoney" was what all my friends called me when I was in school, and I adopted it as my professional name when I worked in the theatre. My son, unusually, gave himself a nickname, changing the spelling and pronunciation of his first name from Richard to Rickard, for reasons which elude me.

Note, by the way, that in your example R. is not the person's middle name but the initial of his middle name; R. may stand for Richard or Robert or Roger or Ransome or Randolph or practically anything.

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    ...or nothing. I have known people with middle initials (and first initials) that stood for nothing. Their parents just liked the way the name sounded|looked :-)
    – TimR
    Nov 1, 2014 at 15:13
  • Thank you @StoneyB; I know about the initial letter of the middle name already, but the question is that if a person based on his / her own taste makes a middle name or it origins from their parents taste or something like that. Unfortunately I have no sense of it at all. The only guess I have is that, someone can have two different first names at the same time. (one is possibly a nickname or a favorite name of the person) and this name plays the role of a middle name. Although I am not sure at all. :(
    – A-friend
    Nov 1, 2014 at 15:13
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    @A-friend Do the additions help? Nov 1, 2014 at 15:41
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    This is an excellent answer. To add a small bit: For most people middle names are unimportant except for in situations where they have to be identified carefully. Only my family and close friends even know my middle name. It's not a secret (my middle name is Lee); it just doesn't matter to me or to them. This would not be true for someone who liked to be called by their middle name, of course. A place where middle names (or initials) do matter is with common first/last name combinations, like John Smith. John A. Smith, John J. Smith, John H. Smith, etc. Nov 2, 2014 at 3:16
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    @A-friend Not usually, but occasionally: my mother, for instance, went by both her names,'Mary Anne'. Nov 5, 2014 at 12:33

StoneyB is correct that most contemporary Americans have first and middle names that were given to them at birth by their parents. Most parents choose the first and middle names based on what "sounds good to them at the time", so they are often based on family names, celebrity names, or combinations of potential first names.

However, there are some patterns in use:

  • Latin American countries have a naming pattern for the middle and last names. Latin American immigrants (and their descendants) tend to use this naming pattern.

  • Most American women change their name when they get married. Many would like to have their new name be <old first name> <old middle name> <parent(s)' last name> <husband's last name>. Unfortunately, many government agencies only keep track of three names per person. This forces these women to choose between <old first name> <old middle name> <husband's last name> and <old first name> <parent(s)' last name> <husband's last name>. Both choices are common. A few women (and a few men) choose to combine the bride's and groom's last names, usually by hyphenation.

  • Some families have a tradition of naming first-born sons after the child's grandfathers. The most common choice is <father's father's first name> <mother's father's first name> <family name>. If the mother's father's name is more common, or more prestigious, or easier to spell, some families choose <mother's father's first name> <father's father's first name> <family name>. This naming convention is used in Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayaran novels.

  • Similar naming conventions can be used for first-born daughters, using the grandmothers' names; for second-born sons, using uncles' names; and second-born daughters, using aunts' names.

  • Some families choose to name the child after a favorite relative, celebrity, or god-parent, and use the namesake's first and middle names.

  • As CarSmack points out, the Jr. naming pattern is very common. Many sons (especially first-born sons) have the same name as their father. If the father was not named for his father, the father takes on the suffix "Senior" (which is abbreviated to "Sr.") The first generation is Senior; his son is "Junior", "Junior"'s son is "III", et cetera.

  • Some families use the mother's maiden name as the middle name of all of their children.

  • Some families use the same middle name (such as "Bob" or "Robert" or "John") for all of their sons. Some families use the same middle name (such as "Jo" or "Ann" or "Marie") for all of their daughters.

  • Another possibility is to choose a matronymic to pass down to daughters. For example, choose a mother's mother's mother's ... first name or middle name, and use that middle name for all daughters. For example, "Rose".

  • One popular or at least traditional pattern is for the firstborn son to receive the same first and middle name of the father, and thus gets the exact same name plus the suffix of Junior or II. Example: William Franklin Beedle names his firstborn son William Franklin Beedle, Junior. (Who used the assumed name William Holden.)
    – user6951
    Nov 1, 2014 at 16:35
  • I knew a set of twin boys. The one born first was named exactly after their father and the other was given a different middle name. "Ronald Arthur ..." and "Ronald Andrew ..." and my own father has no middle name.
    – TecBrat
    Nov 1, 2014 at 18:49

Wikipedia has a comprehensive discussion of this.

To summarise, middle names come from a variety of sources:

  • The names of family members the parents wish to honour
  • The first or last names of a parent
  • A name that the parents like but chose not to give as a first name

They don't mean anything specific that you can apply to everyone (as opposed to in other cultures where middle names do mean something specific). Reasons to give a middle name might include

  • Honouring someone specific by giving their name as a child's middle name
  • Making a child's name more identifiable (for example, if they share both first and last name with a parent, a middle name can distinguish them. Or if they have quite a common first and last name, the parents might want to give a middle name so the child is more uniquely identifiable)
  • Tradition (giving middle names is common, even when they aren't of specific use, so it might just be because the parents feel they 'should', or want to give a middle name)

Just to add to the previous excellent answers:

There are probably almost as many different origins, traditions, customs, formulas, reasons, whims, and fancies regarding the selection of a child's middle name as there are parents who have bestowed middle names on their children.

There are cultural traditions that codify middle names (examples above), there are free thinkers determined to use names no one else would (musician Frank Zappa named his daughter "Moon Unit Zappa"), and there is everything in between.

My own parents shared the middle initial 'E' and gave it to each of their four children, allowing us to choose our own middle names using that initial. (I choose "Evelyn," which also works nicely as an online screen name.) But - I have never heard of any other family that choose middle names that way.

Maybe middle names are a little bit like jewelry. Sometimes a piece of jewelry has great meaning, like a family heirloom. And sometimes a piece of jewelry is just something that someone thought was pretty.

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