#114: Stuck in the Middle

114.1  Dear Stolf: On my daughter’s history test, she was asked what was George Washington’s middle name. Wouldn’t you say that was a trick question?  …from Abigail van der Loewnhoake, Caffeineville, WI   PS: She got it right, but still…

114.2  Dear Abigail: I’d call it a tricky question…but a trick question implies a certain degree of deceit or at least ambiguity, and this one has a definite, legitimate answer, as your daughter knows: George Washington didn’t have a middle name. Not surprisingly, since in this day, most people in the English-speaking world didn’t either.

114.3   It’s off point, I know, but I’ve always been interested in obscure opposites…like, do you know the opposite of retrograde? For the record, it’s prograde…look it up. Surname actually has a seldom heard opposite, forename…a similar construction to afternoon and forenoon. You have family names versus given or Christian names. And the opposite of first name used be be second name, since people only had 2…today of course it’s last name. Here’s the skinny on the name stuck in the middle…

114.4  Historians estimate that in the Colonies in the 1600s, only about one of every thousand babies born was given more than one Christian name…a mere 0.1%. By the the 1700s, that number had risen 30-fold to a whopping 3%. Middle names became increasing common among the upper classes in the first half of the 1800s, and after the Civil War, the custom caught on with the population at large. By 1900, virtually everyone born in the US had 3 names…and sure enough, the World War I enlistment form is said to be the first federal paperwork to provide a space for “middle name.”

114.5  There is no precise agreement as to why this happened. Emulating your “betters” certainly played a part in it…altho to my mind, the obvious explanation for fads…especially those that become permanent parts of a culture…is that people like them, or at least find them useful. In the case of middle names, increasing population, together with limited mobility, resulted in many extended family members with duplicate names, and middle names would then distinguish one from another.

114.6  Early on, most middle names were family surnames…mother’s and grandmothers’ were especially popular. This was seen as a way to honor and preserve distinguished lineages. In the first part of the 1800s, 75% of middle names were pedigree-related. By the time middle names were the norm, this custom had faded, altho it is still occasionally done even today. As a small personal example, when I graduated from the 8th grade of a Catholic grammar school in 1965, of the 82 students listed on our program, all but 2 had middle names that were also given names. I remember asking Thomas Poor G. about his odd middle name, and it was indeed his mother’s maiden name. I don’t remember asking Jeremy Carr L., but I think it’s safe to assume.

114.7  And even this tiny sample bears out the tendency to give surnames as middle names to boys and rarely to girls, altho this did happen occasionally. A patriarchal thing I guess…or should we say patrilineal? And this trend ran in parallel with the use of surnames as given names, even when there was no middle name. After all, “Christian name” means what it says…one from the Bible, the name of a saint, or something related…like Dolores, Spanish for “sorrows,” as in the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin.  The trend of giving no Christian name at all, but rather the surname of an ancestor as the sole forename, again started with the aristocracy and was limited mostly to boys.

114.8  The custom of giving surnames to girls as first names began in the American South…in the 1935 movie “The Little Colonel,” Shirley Temple portrays a moppet whose name is Lloyd Sherman….and Lionel Barrymore is her grandfather, Col. Lloyd. In fact, Shirley itself is a surname…she could have very well been named Temple Shirley!  This explains how such surnames as Lynn, Leslie, Joyce, Vivian, Hollis, Beverly, Ashley, Allison, Tracy, Stacy, and Dale began as boy’s names, and eventually migrated, thanks to that Southern influence, to become almost exclusively girl’s names. And this happened pretty much in our lifetime…recall that Maury Povich’s father was a popular sportswriter, Shirley Povich.

114.9  All this is born out by the genealogy, admittedly incomplete, I put together for Samuel Colt. Generation 1 begins in 1625. The earliest middle name I have is Generation 4…James D. Colt, born in 1740, brother of Samuel’s grandfather Benjamin…his is variously given as Danielson or Dennison. Generation 5, starting about 1770, has just a smattering of middle names. About half of Generation 6 (1790) has them…about three quarters do in Generation 7 (1820)…and remember, the Colts were a well-to-do family, thus presumably ahead of the curve. Samuel Colt was Generation 6…none of his siblings nor his wife had one…all 4 of his children did.

114.10  And it’s worth noting that in the course of your genealogical research, middle names that appear to be surnames are a valuable, altho not infallible, clue to further ancestral lines and their interconnections. For example, I see several Colts who married Spencers and Seldens…and when I find “Elizabeth Selden Spencer,” we’re off the to races!  

 chart 412

114.11  As to the Presidents, Chart 412  gives a chronological summary. Of the first 16 Presidents, Washington to Lincoln, only 3 had middle names: John Quincy Adams (6), William Henry Harrison (9), and James Knox Polk (11). The last President without a middle name was Teddy Roosevelt (26)…and in the time between him and Lincoln, we see the trend accelerating. Still, only 8 of the first 25 Presidents had one…after which, for the POTUS anyway, it becomes the rule.

114.12  But look here: 3 Presidents are generally listed as if they had only one given name…but this is because they used their middle name as their first name, and in analyzing Presidential names, we will consider them as they were born:  Stephen Grover Cleveland, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, and John Calvin Coolidge. (Trivia question: What is Paul McCartney’s middle name? Answer: Paul…first name: James. He titled an album with his complete name …how considerate!)

114.13  And among the middle name Presidents, there are several special cases. Bill Clinton’s original last name was Blythe, but he retained the same first and middle names, William Jefferson. On the other hand, President #38 had 2 full names…he was born Leslie Lynch King Jr., and at age 3 became Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr., after this step-father, altho he was never formally adopted. He didn’t change his name legally until he was 22, choosing the more conventional spelled of “Rudolph.”

114.14  President #18 was born Hiram Ulysses Grant…he was mistakenly nominated for admission to West Point as “Ulysses S. Grant” and he adopted that name for the rest of his life. As a cadet, he was nicknamed “Sam”…from U.S or Uncle Sam. Accordingly, he would say that the “S” didn’t stand for anything, altho in later life he would attribute it to his mother, Hannah Simpson. For our purposes, we will go with his birth name, as we will for President #34, David Dwight Eisenhower.

chart 413

114.15  Then we have Harry S Truman…note the lack of a period after the “S”. This was done deliberately by his parents so as not to play favorites between his grandfathers, Chart 413.  As you can see, Shipp had a long history as a surname on his father’s side. Solomon was his mother’s father’s given name…and it appears to be unique to him…I find no other Solomons going back 3 generations, back to when the name Young was spelled Jung. Now obviously “Truman” came from his father’s family…but his mother’s side was also represented by “Harry,” which was in honor of her brother Harrison. So they split the difference with the “S”. Why they didn’t name him Harry Solomon Shipp Truman is my question, unless it was so delicate a situation that which “S” name came first would have made a difference. Surely they could have legitimately “grouped” the given names and the surnames together, as I have done…but then again, maybe not… 😉 😉  And to further muddy the waters, he generally, but not always, signed it WITH a period…

114.16  But we are now prepared to analyze the middle names of the 26 Presidents that had them…both because I find it damned interesting and it’s my blog…and also because…tah-dah!… we will end by giving a middle name to each of those who didn’t have one. And of those 26, only 9 had a middle name that was their mother’s maiden name…perhaps that seems low, but it illustrates the trend away from the custom. (Well, 10 actually if you count Grant, which I don’t.) These would be: James Knox Polk, Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Milhaus Nixon, Ronald Wilson Reagan, and George Herbert Walker Bush. 

114.17  In Bush’s case, he was named after his mother Dorothy Walker’s father, George Herbert Walker, but I think he still properly belongs in this group. Likewise, 3 others of these were not so much given their mother’s maiden name for a middle name, as they were named after someone on their mother’s side…in Polk’s case, his grandfather James Knox…with Wilson, his grandfather Thomas Woodrow…and with Roosevelt, his mother’s uncle Franklin Hughes Delano.

114.18  Now you might wonder if among the other 17, any had middle names that were still surnames from further back in their lineage. The answer is just 3…and one is tricky, since “Howard” looks like a given name but was actually William Howard Taft’s paternal grandmother’s maiden name. John Quincy was John Quincy Adams‘ mother’s grandfather…and Leslie Lynch King Jr.’s great grandfather was named Lynch King, and “Lynch” sure sounds like somebody’s surname, but that trail is long cold, on the net anyway. In addition, Stephen Grover Cleveland was named for Stephen Grover, the first pastor of the church where his father was then pastor.

114.19  The one that’s got me stumped is Herbert Clark Hoover…again, “Clark” sounds like a surname, and it was also his father’s middle name…Jesse Clark Hoover. Going back 3 generations on both sides from Jesse, I find Burkhart, Coate, Coppock, Davis, Embree, Fouts, Graeff, Haskett, Lowe, Waymire, Yount…but no Clark. Back even further we have Bassett, Bigland, Chaplin, Chichester, Duncalf, Grafton, Hicks, Hill, Hoag, Huber = Hoover, Humphrey, Lester, Minshall, Moore, Overton, Saunders, Smith, Spragg, Symonds, Willson [sic], Young…there’s gotta be a Clark hiding somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t find him.

114.20  But Jessie Clark Hoover had a brother named Davis Hoover, after their mother Mary Davis, so that’s something anyway. At any rate, here’s the first batch of newly minted middle name Presidents…and yeah, George Ball Washington…


114.21  In this second group there are 2 points of interest. Millard Fillmore’s mother’s maiden name was Millard…so I chose Wood, his paternal grandmother’s maiden name.


And Uncle Wiki says that Franklin Pierce is sometimes referred to as “Franklin K. Pierce.” You know, I have to admit that rings a bell… and the “K” certainly hints at Kendrick…but by all accounts he was not given a middle name at birth, nor did he use one or sign his name with one. True, his picture turns up when you do a Google image search on “Franklin K. Pierce”…but then it does also when you try “Franklin J. Pierce”…LOL…

Wicked Ballsy

fake middddle

Just for the fun of it, I’ve listed the Presidents whose middle names weren’t their mother’s maiden name…and what they’d look like if they were. Fair warning: we’re not done with this list! Uh-oh. What uh-oh? It’s all good…as you’ll see if you check back next week… 


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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