July 22, 2010

Middle Naming

In my role as professional names consultant, I've done a lot of thinking about the middle name. Some people have many, some people have none. Some are family names, maiden names, or tributes to someone or something. Others are completely irrelevant, unused, or unloved. Many people just use the initials or even make up their own initials (Harrison Ford first went as a Harrison J. Ford to distinguish himself from an earlier film actor, even though he has no middle name.) The point is, the middle name has a strange and mostly useless history. We have no choice over the matter, we're stuck with them, and we mostly don't use them.

I have a proposal for a kind of new 21st century secular tradition - a Middle Naming. The idea is that parents refrain from giving their child a pointless middle name. Now here's the interesting part: the child gets to choose their own middle name as a coming-of-age right-of-passage- - -, sort of like a Catholic confirmation, but it would actually be legally changed to be their real middle name.

As a white American growing up in a middle-class non-religious household, I had no coming-of-age party. No bar mitzvah, no quinceniera, no coming out ball, et cetera. I like the idea of a party when you're going thru adolescence, and what more powerful way to inscribe upon your evolving identity than a new name? Last names come from your ancestors, first names are chosen by your parents, but middle names could be chosen by the person themselves. I think 14-ish is a good age for this too, I feel 16 or 20 would be too late & rife with teenagery / collegey folly. When a person reaches middle school, they will have had years to think about it and change their mind twenty times, but they still have the wisdom of youth and it's slightly before the insanity of young adulthood.

And, like all good coming-of-age parties, it would include awkward Middle School dancing & a complete booze-up for the parents.

Friend-of-the-blog Mrs Eley-Nelson has already responded with some thought:

They still have the wisdom of childhood perhaps, but they are also on the brink of changing entirely who they are. I chose to be confirmed at 14, for example. I would also probably have picked the middle name "Jackie" after my favourite horse riding heroine. I think opportunities for self-determination are already purportedly infinite for the children of white American atheists, for better and for worse. That fact I was assigned a name by people who came before me helps to remind me that those people are there, and that not everything in life is up to me. I find it comforting.

I don't even know who "Anne" is. She is the stranger in my midst whose presence reminds me of a whole prehistory and ancestry I know little about. This is true even though I don't think I was named Anne after anyone.

Personally, my first and middle names are my two grandfathers, neither of whom I knew, so that's good for me - I'm not saying I wish I had had a Middle Naming, and as a child of the 80's I had plenty of "opportunities for self-determination." However, I propose Middle Naming as an idea with some legs if any expectant parents want to consider it.

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