The Real Reason People Have Middle Names

In every society and across every culture, names are extremely important. The significance of names is something that dates back thousands of years and even continues into the modern-day. Today, we are often given three names at birth — a first name, a middle name, and a last name. According to Ancestry, this was not always the case. Back in Medieval times, especially in Europe, a legal name consisted of a first name and a surname. Many assume that the addition of the middle name is a more recent development, but it turns out the addition of a third name goes back to as far as Roman times.

Reader's Digest tells us that the Roman style of naming featured a three-name structure that consisted of a praenomen (personal name), a nomen (family name), and a cognomen (family branch name). The idea was that if you had more names, the more significance you held in society. Those at the top had three names, like Emperor Tiberius Cesar Augustus, while women often had two names, and slaves and the poor had one. This concept then began to spread across the western world with different cultures emulating Roman tradition.

Symbol of status to common practice

In later Medieval times, the idea of a middle name integrated its way into the culture as a status symbol, similar to what it had been in ancient Roman society. According to Time, the use of the middle name rose among the elites in European countries like Spain, France, and England. Over time, the use of three names was not just reserved for the higher-ups in society and all levels of the community began to use it. By the 19th century, middle names had become fairly commonplace across the western world, including in the brand-new country known as The United States of America.

Today there is tons of buzz around picking names for new babies. There is an entire industry of books and websites literally dedicated to helping name your child. Over the last century, experts have tracked the use of certain names, and the trends have included everything from religious names to maiden names and even nature-inspired names. Reader's Digest states that some of the more popular middle names for girls in the U.S. include Marie, Ann, Leigh, and Nichole. For boys in the U.S., Michael, William, Robert, and James are some of the favorites