Happy Middle Name Pride Day! The origins of this day are shrouded in mystery, and there is disagreement over the actual day it should be celebrated, but the day was created to honor our “middle” names. These names can help us in a number of ways as genealogists, so we should be pleased to celebrate this day.
During the eighteenth century in America, middle names were sometimes used, but they were not very common. Amongst the member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, only 15% of the delegates used a middle name (or middle initial). Other famous men of the time with middle names include Richard Henry Lee and John Quincy Adams.
It is during the 19th century, however, that middle names came into more common use. Middle names, or even a middle initial, can be very helpful in distinguishing between different individuals with the same name. But one must be careful in researching. Individuals with different middle names or middle initials can easily be distinguished from one another. But, an individual my have a middle name, but not use it all the time. So the lack of a middle name or initial in a record is not conclusive proof.
Middle names come from different sources. One must be careful about interpreting the names. For example, sometimes it appears that a middle name might come from a surname. Sometimes the name may come from the maiden name of the mother. But other times it may be further back. For example, John Quincy Adams’ mother was named Abigail Smith, daughter of William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy. One might be quick to think that JQA’s middle name come from his maternal grandmother. In truth, he was name for Elizabeth’s father (his great-grandfather), John Quincy. Both his first and middle names came from the ancestor.
Take care, however, when looking at individuals who have names that derive from famous individuals. Throughout the nineteenth century can find individuals named Benjamin Franklin Smith or George Washington Smith. These individuals were likely named to honor the famous individuals, but rarely do they indicate a familial relationship.
Other clues can be taken from middle names. For example, the infamous outlaw John Wesley Hardin was, unsurprisingly, a son of a Methodist preacher. Lorenzo Dow was an itinerate preacher in the early nineteenth century, and an important individual in the Second Great Awakening. In the first half of the century one finds many individuals named Lorenzo Dow as their first and middle names. My full name is Michael John Leclerc. My middle names comes not from any family members, but from John F. Kennedy, who died nine months before I was born.