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SCOT BELLAVIA: What’s In A Middle Name?

The first two things my wife and I disclosed to each other after she agreed to be my girlfriend was our birthday and middle name.

I’ve always laughed at that memory. We treated it like a housekeeping item to address, or like fine print in our dating contract we made sure to read. Only a moment prior, without pomp or arbitrating, we decided to date, and with that verbal agreement (hardly a vow) we deemed the other worthy and trustworthy of such personal information. It was a daring foray into intimacy.

I remember an unstated rule in elementary school to keep our middle names a secret – as secret as we would keep our virginity in high school. I don’t know why we considered our middle names sacrosanct, though I could answer that regarding virginity. Still, since fifth grade, I have thought middle names should be kept secret and safe, as Gandalf warned Frodo to do with the ring, as if they wield the same awesome power. I have seen others practice this.

For example, I do not know my friends’ middle names. I might think of some, if given hours or multiple choices. But I do not know this private detail of even my closest friends. I do not know their email addresses, either. Both ignorances are because I have no need to know. We see each other in person or text often enough that I have no reason to use their full given name or email them anything.

But it seems like a double standard because I have clients whose middle names I can read in a filing cabinet, and I have colleagues whose email address I know better than their face. Why wouldn’t I have the same knowledge of people I am much closer to?

Because it is the same as texting my wife on Monday. I notice I haven’t texted her since Friday and know that is because we were together the entire weekend; I haven’t needed to text her, and for that I feel full.

My brother-in-law goes by his middle name. People like him have more trouble keeping their secret safe. Their true identity was always exposed by substitute teachers calling attendance. “We don’t have an S— in our class!” his friends yelled as H— raised his hand.

My dad and his siblings have no middle name. (One sister does, officially, but that was a clerical error by the Social Security Office.) Dad’s always spoken of his factoid with pride, but I wonder if it goes deeper than the family joke it’s become. How has it affected him to have one less item of privacy than most others? Does he feel cheated that people can fully know him sooner than they can someone with a middle name, or silent first name?

I’m sure there’s a history to the middle name trend. Perhaps it’s a precursor to the participation trophy: parents wanted their children to be special and unique. So long ago, people didn’t have last names, so maybe middle names came about to decrease cases of mistaken identities. Who knows? Who cares?

Sometimes I forget my wife’s middle name, my brother-in-law’s first name, and that my dad has one name. And they think nothing of it, because being on a middle name basis only matters on a need-to-know basis.

  • Scot Bellavia


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