Friday, August 28, 2009

initials and names

So, when you heard about a blog on British and American English, did you think: 'There's a blogger who's going to run out of material soon'? If only! I've written more than 300 posts on BrE and AmE over the past three-and-a-bit years, have 92 messages in my inbox requesting discussion of other (often MANY other) topics that I've not yet covered, and those don't even include the ever-growing list in my head of things that fit my original intention of discussing the "words/phrases/pronunciations/grammatical constructions that get me into trouble on a daily basis" (plus the pragmatic conventions, social constraints and value systems that affect communication and get me into even more trouble). I'd hoped that I'd blog at least three times a week during my (AmE) vacation/(BrE) holiday, but instead I have blogged just twice (ok, now thrice) and received six emails with good requests for new topics plus a number of others in the comments sections of current and old posts plus the 'have you blogged that yet?' conversational asides from Better Half and others at a rate of about three per day. I'm fairly confident that I could blog daily on this topic until retirement age and still have ideas for new posts. But, of course, I'll have to wait until I'm retired to blog at my desired pace. In the meantime, I'll just have to take my vitamins (while trying not to think too hard about how that's pronounced) in the hope that I'll have a long enough retirement to even start to do these dialects justice. If you're interested in reading the faster-paced version of the blog, please remember to eat your five a day, walk your 10,000 steps and use your SPF 50--you've got another 20-some years to wait before it even starts.

And after that bit of solipsistic (ish) reflection, a post that concerns me-me-me! Ok, so it starts with a much more famous writer, but that's just an excuse to get to me. One of the aforementioned six emails was from Marc, who wrote:
I'm listening to Just a Minute on Radio 4, and the subject is "Scott Fitzgerald". It seems to me that Americans always say "F. Scott Fitzgerald". I actually think the Just a Minute usage makes more sense, since his full name is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. If he chose to call himself "Scott", the alternatives in my mind would be his four-name full name, or Scott Fitzgerald.
Well, his family called him 'Scott' and I'm sure that's how he introduced himself in social situations, but when he published he called himself F. Scott Fitzgerald, as on the cover of the first edition of The Great Gatsby (via Wikipedia):


Fitzgerald was named after his famous relative, Francis Scott Key, but the family called him Scott--I don't know why, possibly to differentiate him from some other Francis or because they didn't like the possible nicknames for Francis or because they just liked Scott. But when Americans (like me! like me!) go by their second names (like I do! like I do!), they (I) tend to acknowledge that they (I) have a first name by including the first initial in formal, written contexts.

My story is a little different than Fitzgerald's--when my parents named me, it was with the intention that I would be known by both of my names. When I got to high school, the computeri{s/z}ed attendance (esp. AmE) rosters had room only for first name and middle initial--so my teachers tended to call me by my first name. I didn't like that, so I rebelled (kind of) and reinvented myself (more so) by adopting my middle name as my 'main name' when I started attending college/university courses. But the outcome is the same as Fitzgerald's: when I publish, I do so with my first initial, full middle name, and full surname.



(Sorry, I can't find an image of this in which my name is clear--nor is there a good picture of the next one. That linked picture is a pre-publication mock-up...my lovely co-author's name will also be on it when it's published.)

I must pause for the inevitable question "What does the M stand for?" When I lived in the northeastern US, I had a ready-made non-answer that worked: "It starts with an M and I have an Irish surname. You can figure it out." But when I moved to foreign lands (first South Africa, then TEXAS), I found that the people couldn't figure it out, since they had considerably less exposure to certain Catholic-Irish-American naming practices. (NB: my non-answer doesn't work in Ireland either.) But you're intelligent, worldly people. You can figure it out. Or if not, you can read this. Note that the double-naming Irish-American thing in the north is perceived (at least by folks like me) as being a different tradition than the (largely non-Catholic) double-naming tradition in the South, for which a broader range of possible name combinations is available (as well as the tradition of using a family surname as the second name). See here for some examples.

When I moved to the UK, I started having trouble with my first initial and name. I had come to think of M. Lynne Murphy as my 'brand', but you can see that my employer has decided not to include my initial in my web profile. Furthermore, plenty of people seem to have a hard time referring to my work using my first initial. So, I'm referred to as Lynne M. Murphy and L.M. Murphy (even by people who I work very closely with--Scandinavians seem to be the most frequent reversers). Google Scholar even thinks I'm L.M. Murphy for this publication (even though it links to something that gets my name right). I thus work toward(s) the next research-based funding exercise for higher education in England with fear and loathing, since I have particular reason to fear that citations of my work will not be counted accurately.

When I first moved to my job at Sussex, I had an American colleague, the great Larry Trask, who was born Robert Lawrence Trask. This led some English university folk to ask me "why do all you Americans use your middle names?" Of course, two linguists do not amount to "all Americans", and looking at famous linguists and philosophers who use their middle names, I'm not at all convinced that Americans use middle names more than the British do. After all, two of the people I cite the most, HP Grice and DA Cruse were born in the UK and were/are called by their middle names. But they mostly publish(ed) with both initials, rather than initial-plus-name. Checking Wikipedia, the Cambridge University Press catalog(ue) and my own friends/citations, all of the first-initial users are American:
G Tucker Childs
W Tecumseh Fitch
D Robert Ladd (working in Scotland)
M Lynne Murphy (working in England)
T Daniel Seely
A Ronald Walton
(but here's another one, with an interesting story, who doesn't quite fit in this list)

The most famous living linguist also goes by his middle name, but Avram Noam Chomsky just skips to his middle name with no fanfare. I have no way of checking how many other middle-name users completely omit the first name when publishing. (Know of any others?)

If you're not all that interested in linguists' names (poor you), here is a first-initial-plus-middle-name hall of fame, which cheats a little by including some people who didn't really use the first initial (like Neville Chamberlain).

The AmE tendency to use first initials is tied, no doubt, to the AmE tendency to use middle initials in the names of people who go by their first names. Wikipedia notes that "The practice of abbreviating middle names to initials is rare in the United Kingdom", although certainly some UK authors use their middle initials when publishing--especially if they have common first and last names. Americans are so in love with these initials that we had a president who had an initial and no name to go with it: Harry S Truman. (And I'll repeat a link here because it's the same kind of story.)

But Americans like to spell out the name that they're called by, and so do not tend to reduce their names to just initials + surname, as the British often do in formal/bureaucratic situations. For instance, it's more frequent on forms in the UK to be asked for surname and initials, than in the US, where one typically is asked for first name and middle initial (much to the chagrin of those of us who want to be mysterious about our first names). UK credit/debit cards and (BrE) cheque-books (=AmE checkbooks) typically have only initials+surname, though the bank will certainly have your full name on record. American ones more typically have a name and an initial. And this is reflected in signatures, too. Better Half's signature includes neither of his given names--just initials, and it's my impression that this is much more common in the UK than in the US.

But while the English often use just initials in 'formal' (i.e. printed) settings, I've also heard them complain about the American trend for calling people by their initials. (I once belonged to a group of about a dozen Americans that happened to have two people called 'D.J.'--this had nothing to do with turntables. One was male, one female.) I must say, it's not my taste either, but then again there are lots of names that aren't to my taste.

And then there's the question of who uses both first and middle names--e.g. Percy Bysshe Shelley and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I direct you to Language Log for that discussion. But in that discussion there is a comment that the first initial + middle name thing is common in Scotland. I'll quote it in its entirety:

  1. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 2, 2009 @ 11:57 am

    Scots eldest sons frequently have the same first names as their fathers, but actually use their middle names instead, and will abbreviate themselves as e.g.

    J. Ewan McPherson

    An author relative of mine whose name follows this pattern finds that Americans frequently switch round his initial and forename to conform to their preferred Homer J Rodeheaver pattern. I actually have an American edition of one of his works with this error on the front page.

"Americans frequently switch (a)round his initial and forename"! Oh, don't get me started (again)! (Except to note that forename is much more common in BrE than in AmE.)

54 comments:

lilacsigil said...

I live in a rural area of Australia with multi-generation farming families, who will often have several (male) members of the family with the same name - first, middle and last, and more with the same first and last name. Very few of them use a middle name. Most of them seem to use another name entirely - e.g. John Smith will be called Norm, Jack Jones will be called Brownie. I only know their real names because I work in the pharmacy.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

(BrE) Using one's middle name is normal enough that I do wonder why official forms can't cope - examination certificates and so on. I only know one person who signs himself - and refers to himself on documents and so on - with his first initial before his next two names, though. Neither of my parents - who both use their middle names - do this.

I would use a first name and last name, or the two initials - not both at once. So "Joe Bloggs" or "J B Bloggs" but not "Joe B Bloggs", if that makes sense. Or, at that, "B J Bloggs" rather than "B Joe Bloggs". I don't know if that is personal shibboleth or common British usage, though.

tortipede said...

There are characters in a Philip K Dick short story who swear by "Elron"; being British, and therefore not greatly exposed to Scientology, it took a while before I got that one... But I couldn't help but wonder: does no-one ever think you're of Welsh origin? ;)

Mark said...

(nerd alert)

Actually, there were 2 American presidents with middle initials that didn't mean anything

The "S" in Ulysses S Grant was meaningless too. The story (if I remember my Ken Burns properly) was that he was incorrectly registered with the "S" when he joined West Point, but was too shy to point it out.

After that it stuck.

Marc Naimark said...

Such prompt service! So you think that for British folks, saying "F. Scott Fitzgerald" would sound odd? And am I alone among Americans for finding the lack of "F" odd?

Re Lynne's first name: I'm betting on Maud.

disgruntled said...

I'd call him F. Scott Fitzgerald (BrE) - I'd have to stop and think who this 'Scott Fitzgerald' fellow was.

I have noticed that when parents have given their child an outlandish first name, they've usually compensated with a plain middle name as a 'spare'. But I would have thought most people would just drop the embarrassing first initial altogether. If you want to conceal the fact that your parents lumbered you with 'Esmerelda' or whatever, why advertise it with a teasing 'E.' in front of your name?

Richard Sabey said...

@Lynne This seems as good an opportunity as any to ask: Which of the Kerry/Carrie/Cary mergers do you have? (cf John Wells's blog entry http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2009/08/my-colleague-patricia-ashby-consulted.html )

@Mrs Redboots In my British experience, too, it is rare for someone's name to be given with at least one given name in full and at least one reduced to its initial; that is, unless the source is giving a famous person's name in its best-known form (e.g. F. Scott Fitzgerald).

An interesting exception is that Scottish writer Iain Banks has his science fiction published under the name Iain M. Banks and his other fiction published under the name Iain Banks.

Harry H. Corbett, the actor who played the younger Steptoe in Steptoe and Son, had only the one given name. He added the H. to distinguish himself from Harry Corbett, the entertainer who presented The Sooty Show.

Coal Porter said...

H Rider Haggard seems to be an (unusual) example of a BrE name where the first initial is followed by the Christian name.

Double-barrelled surnames without a hyphen can confuse the issue. Eg Winston Spencer Churchill.

I agree with other contributors that typical BrE usage is not to include an initial with a first name, whether before or after the first name. The initial seems rather grand for BrE tastes, a bit like calling yourself [George Hamilton] III.

Sadie said...

@Coal Porter Wikipedia tells me that H Rider Haggard's father was Sir William Meybohm Rider Haggard, so in his case I think it's more first initial plus compound surname.

I (BrE) tend to parse most initial - name - name combinations as similarly indicating a compound surname, even where that's obviously highly unlikely (E Annie Proulx, for instance).

SimonK said...

Sadie, I agree, I would likely parse names in that way as well, especially where the second name is one that would also be a common surname. Indeed, before reading this post, I'm not sure I could have said for sure whether the "Scott" in F Scott Fitxgerald was a first name or part of a compound surname, but if I had to plump for one I'd probably have assumed the latter.

Actually, thinking about it, I seem to remember having this exact discussion with my wife when we were alphabetizing our bookshelves. I'll have to check when I get home whether he ended up under S or F.

Graham Cobb said...

I (British) use my first name for business and all non-family usage (since schooldays) but my family all use my second name. The reasons for that are specific to my history but I have noticed other people who are in a similar position (family use a second name although the first name is used in public). I wonder how common it is?

It certainly causes some confusion as I introduce myself to (for example) neighbours with my first name but anyone who knows my wife (through work or socially) will know me by my second name! Never mind, it makes life interesting.

For that reason, I sign myself with forename and initial, which I agree is unusual for a Brit. It is partly to help reduce confusion when people cross-over from one "domain" to the other! I suppose signing myself with both names would reduce it even further but that seems too pretentious as well as too much like hard work!

GwynF said...

You don't often hear the word 'surname' over here (in the US), I thought 'last name' was the only option. I stand corrected.

Kel said...

I'm even more confusing-- I'm called Kel, which IS my initials. It stands for Karen Elaine Laura. So When I publish (let's keep our fingers crosses!) it'll be as K.E.L. Miller. And that's meant to be pronounced =D

Nick said...

Do you think that attitudes to forenames splits along US vs Commonwealth lines too? I recently used the term "given names" (emphasising the plural) with a group of American friends who claimed that they'd never heard the term. For them the first name and middle name are completely different animals. That attitude goes some way to explaining why forms always have "first name" "middle initial" fields but it would suggest far fewer Americans using their middle names, which isn't the case.

The upshot of this was that I discovered something I hadn't realised before. I'd previously thought that the American custom of "FirstName MaidenName MarriedName" was just a double-barrelled surname without a hyphen. But speaking to two friends of mine recently married I realised that on forms both were writing their maiden names in the MIDDLE name field. What's more, the thing I found inconceivable, was that they had dropped their original middle names to make room.

Is this standard practice in the US? Are multiple middle names really so rare that they couldn't have kept both?

PS Irish feminine names beginning with M bring to mind Moira then Maeve. Probably because I associate Irishness with Celtic heritage first, and Roman Catholicism only as an afterthought.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

(BrE) I was brought up to say Christian name and surname, but the former is obsolescent or probably obsolete as not everybody is Christian; it has been superseded by "first name" or occasionally "forename".

I have also seen on forms: "Christian or other forename".

Ginger Yellow said...

My parents still call my brother by his first and middle names (his middle name being, ironically enough, Scott). This is presumably to distinguish him from our father, who technically has the same first name, though it's always abbreviated. I just go by my first name, as does my brother with everyone else.

bill said...

SimonK,
If you listed him under "S" you should move him...;)

I live about a mile from his and Zelda's graves, and they are definitely the "Fitzgeralds"

Nick said...

@Mrs Redboots: My (Australian) mother still says "Christian name". I'm not sure why I never took it up; it's so rarely seen in writing that I didn't give it any thought. I only realised how parochial it sounds when a Jewish cousin applied for membership of a bowling club and took it upon herself to cross out "Christian" on the form and write "given". My guess is that something that divisive would have died out much earlier in America.

Jo said...

It seems to be more common for Americans to have middle names. I know of plenty of English contemporaries who don't have any middle name at all - leading to my former employer, Amex, making an initial up for new starters so their computer registration system would work - a middle name was compulsory.

bill said...

Oh, and while I, raised Irish Roman Catholic in the NE US, was pretty sure I got Lynne's first name right off the bat, I did, in fact falter briefly to thinking it was Margaret...which is probably the second most popular.

Anonymous said...

@Nick - married American women who choose to adopt their husband's names commonly do one of these:

First Middle NewLast
First Maiden NewLast
First Middle Maiden-NewLast

It is less usual to keep all four as separate names, but it can be done, as can other variations on merging the two last names into one. I also know one couple who invented a new last name unrelated to their previous names.

All the French Canadian (Roman Catholic) women in my family actually have three given names. Marie is always the first, and most of them are called by the second name. The third is the middle name. Their drivers' licenses, passports, etc. generally don't include Marie, but it's on the birth and baptismal certificates.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

I think that in England, particularly among males of a certain class, having three first names is not unusual - certainly all the males in my family have. And those of you who know the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge may remember that Darbishire was "Charles Edward Jeremy Darbishire" but was told to forget the first three....

Anonymous said...

Truman preferred his initial to be spelled with a full stop/period.

And as an American I see the term "family name" often, and to some extend "given name".

Ulysses Grant's initial came from his mother's maiden name, Simpson, if I remember correctly.

arwel said...

My Welsh family seems to have varied its policy over the generations - my mother and her brother and sister all had the second forename "Jones", their mother's maiden name. This sometimes caused confusion when my mother was in hospital, when her records would sometimes be filed under J instead of P.

In my generation, my parents were very sparing with given names, giving myself and my three brothers only one each. My (only surviving) brother gave his three boys two names each, and number two son got the second name "Salusbury" - a locally historically significant family name he's related to through his mother. Number one nephew on the other hand gave his first son no fewer than three names - "Jac", which the lad goes by, and the names of two of his great-grandfathers; a second kid is due to arrive imminently - I wait with bated breath to see what names s/he gets!

David said...

For sure we would have got your first name in Ireland. Just look at the names of our first two women presidents.

I heard a story from the mother of a friend, who would probably have been at school in the late 40s or early 50s: All the girls in her class were asked to stand up. The girls who were called Mary could sit down, then all the girls with an older sister called Mary could sit down. The remaining girls were asked to explain why they weren't called Mary.

Lisa said...

Following on from what arwel said, it is not uncommon in Wales to drop the surname completely and use the middle name instead.

The most well-known example would be Bryn Terfel (Jones). Although this is more common among Welsh-speakers there are also Anglophone examples, including Richie James (Edwards) from the Manic Street Preachers.

The (relative) lack of variety in surnames is more than likely the reason. Even when the surname is not dropped it is still more common than in England to use all three names. See Catherine Zeta Jones (who I've noticed has added a hyphen to ensure that the full name is always used).

Shannon said...

@Nick: Yes, it is pretty uncommon to have more than one middle name, since forms and such only give room for one. I went with the method your friends used: First Maiden Last, dropping my original middle name. My mother decided to keep both (First Middle Maiden Last), and, luckily for her, both her original middle name and maiden name start with "M," so normally she doesn't have to choose the "official" one.

I also have two uncles who go by their middle names, rather than first. Both don't use their first initial in informal contexts, but do put in on official documents for work.

shudity said...

I have two (Swiss) friends who had to invent a middle initial in order to register at university in the US as filling in an initial was compulsory!

Harry S Truman once told journalists it should be S without the period as it does not stand for anything, but was inconsistent in his own use.

Almost American said...

@Nick as others have commented, forms over here assume you only have one middle name. I decided to do the same as many of my American friends and switch to 'First Maiden Married' and drop my middle name when I got married. The Immigration service here in the USA had a hissy fit over that and told me that without a legal name change my name had to be 'First Middle Married'. I wanted to keep the maiden name (for practical purposes - I found I could not sign my name without including it!) So legally my name is now 'First Middle Maiden Married'and is spelled out in full on my checks. For credit cards I have to choose which middle name to use, or to use none, as the option to use both does not seem to exist. Usually when I sign my name it's with three initials and my married name.

My father was given the same first name as his father. In the US he would probably have been known as "Joe Jr." No one in the UK knows him by his first name though, as he only uses his middle name. He signs his name with both initials, and only very rarely signs using his first name. It effectively gave us an ex-directory phone number as people always looked us up under the wrong first initial. Given that were pages of us (the family name being one of the most common in the UK) it made it next to impossible to find the number!

Stephen Jones said...

------"I'd have to stop and think who this 'Scott Fitzgerald' fellow was."------

Interesting that in Ballad of a Thin Man Dylan still uses the initial.
Youve been through all of
F. scott fitzgeralds books
Youre very well read
Its well known

lynneguist said...

@Nick: Yes, the tradition in the US is that the maiden name effectively becomes a middle name. Having more than one middle name is rare. A friend of mine's family (this is an extreme case) gives middle names only to boys, because girls will get their maiden name as their middle name when they get married. My friend resented never having a middle name and rebelled by not taking her husband's name when she married.

Anonymous said...

In case you're running out of topics...

I was surprised to see you write "instead I have blogged just twice (ok, now thrice)" instead of "instead I have blogged just twice (ok, now (BrE) thrice/ (AmE) three times)".

Is my (US) intuition off on this?

lynneguist said...

It may be your experience rather than your intuition. Thrice is not a common word in either dialect, but I don't believe it's dialectally marked. I used it long before I moved to the UK.

Emmet said...

Ooh! Very interesting post. Three hopefully not-too-lengthy thoughts:

-My (Irish immigrants to the US) parents gave my brother and I two middle names, one after a family member and another after a saint; my American friends tease that having three first names is pretentious, but my parents insist that this is normal in IRL.

Personal experience sorta confirms this; my US passport and driver's license confine me to one initial, but the Irish passport and driving licence have two. But is the "Firstname A.B. Lastname" pattern used in Britain at all?

-The president was actually born Hiram Ulysses Grant; at some point (he himself didn't know when/why) it became Ulysses "S" Grant. My favo(u)rite alleged explanation is that people teased him about the initials "HUG".

-Regarding Junior/Senior--are these used less restrictively in the UK than elsewhere? I was always told that one can only be a "Junior" if one has the same middle names--thus, Joe A. Schmoe's kid Joe B. Schmoe can't use the postnominal. But British publications often refer to George Herbert Walker Bush's son George Walker Bush as "Jnr"...

lynneguist said...

@Emmet: Junior and Senior aren't used much at all in the UK, so I think that any British mis-use of 'Jr' is done in attempting to use it in the American way.

mollymooly said...

It's my impression that women are much less likely than men to use initials.

George Bernard Shaw went by his middle name. One may speak of "G.B. Shaw" or "Bernard Shaw", but never of "G. Bernard Shaw". My father generally goes by Joe, but formally he is "Andrew J." not "A. Joseph".

Middle initials are more commonly used in Ireland than England, perhaps to disambiguate people with the same common Catholic names. I guess even in England a lot of John Smiths will cite their middle initial. Leading 20th century Irish politicians include W.T. Cosgrave, John A. Costelloe, Sean T. O'Kelly, Charles J. Haughey.

Mary's non-answer worked fine for this Irish person.

I dispute Emmet's parents' claim that three names is normal in Ireland. It's unusual, though it doesn't have the middle-class connotations that it does in England, where too using players' initials is common in lineups in match programs for the gentlemanly sports of cricket and rugby union.

It seems to me that Scotland is the place where having no middle name is most common.

"John NMI Doe" is used in US police procedurals where NMI is "no middle initial"; though I don't know how Mr Doe can fit NMI into the single-character "middle initial" field on application forms.

I remember reading a list of famous US ambassadors on which I was surprised not to see "Shirley Temple Black". She was there: I was looking under T instead of B.

Is that same-middle-name Junior thing really established in America? So William Gates III has the same middle name as his father and grandfather? How unimaginative.

Solo said...

Well I'm a Brit and it's a family tradition to have two middle names and wherever possible I sign myself as Solo. X.Y. Surname. I always write that on forms etc where they only want initials and it annoys the dewberry out of me when they only use the 'X' beacuse if I'm only allowed one, I'd much rather have the 'Y'.

I have plenty of friends who have two middle names and just as many who have none, so I'm not sure the same connotations are still attached [as mentioned in previous comments]. Generally though, boys have their father or granadad's name and girls have Jane or Anne.

I've heard of plenty of men off the island being known by their middle name, especially by their family, but in my experience the practice is restricted to Northerners and those over forty. [N.B. Why is there no 'u' in 'forty'? That's always bugged me.]

As an anecdotal aside, I had a friend at college who had three brothers and all four boys had no middle name, but a different double barrelled surname. So he was Ian (actually Iain, but he thought that was stupid and didn't bother with the second 'i')Courtney-Gilbert and his brothers were called things like Fergus Stanley-Gilbert and Clarence Bottomley-Gilbert and Norman Astley-Gilbert.

I think they were a special case though. We just called him Gilb.

Incidentally Lynneguist- I'd always secretly hoped the M stood for Mildred.

Doug Sundseth said...

I'm a four-named American. I assume from the context of this post that this means that I have three forenames. (Which should not be confused with having three four* names - what, you can't count?)

When younger, I briefly considered using one of my middle names as an ekename, but the one I might have used was the second name. This would have required** me to write "D. Michael Q. Sundseth", which would have been too absurd even for a pedant like me.

When younger, I hated the awkwardness of computer forms and two middle initials (maybe I should have used "T" for "Two Middle Initials"?), so, of course, my son has two as well. But we did consider the effect when choosing the order of the names. One of his many choices is now "AJ", which is common enough to be unremarkable.

BTW, I now have some credit cards that only allow one middle initial, some that allow both, and at least one that has both full middle names. At least a few companies are starting to solve the problem for those of us who don't fit quite so conveniently in the usual bins. (You can choose either the BrE or AmE sense of "bins" for that last bit.)

* My idiolect allows "three four" (or possible "three, four"; I'm not sure how to transcribe that) to indicate something like "3.5 with a standard deviation of .5". That is, quite probably either three or four, but two or five wouldn't be completely impossible. I don't know whether this is a regionalism or common to most English dialects.

** At least I thought at the time that it would have been, in some sense, required. (BTW, my middle initials are not MQ.)

Bill said...

On a point that both related to the Irish Catholic Naming convention, as well as number of names:
I was always under the impression that previous generations would include their Confirmation names as part of their "real" names.

So if you were Michael Sean O'Connor before your confirmation, you would be Michael Sean Patrick O'Connor afterwards.

Cameron said...

I am Scottish and my signature has my first name, middle initial and surname. I have recently relaxed my previous insistence on including my middle inital at all times, but will continue to do so anywhere I have writing published.

I am pretty sure the most famous British middle name user must be James Paul McCartney, although he has never, as far as I know, used the given first initial. John Winston Lennon, on the other hand, substituted Ono for Winston as his middle name when he married the great Love of his life; at least I hve never seen or heard any reference to John Winston Ono Lennon. Yoko became Yoko Lennon Ono, which seems to me a neat solution.

Quiz question "give an Irish girls' name", obvious answer "Mary". I sometimes think ALL Irish girls are called Mary, and am pretty damn certain it's a constitutional requirement for the president to be called Mary!

Cameron said...

Oh, and as an Atheist I always score out "Christian" and substitute "first" where that form appears on... um, forms; although my impression is that it has become pretty uncommon in Britain.

notfromaroundhere said...

I wonder if the Brits are more likely to use just initials because of the obsession with titles? "Doctor" is spelled out on my cash card, followed by my initials and surname (and it drives me CRAZY!)

mollymooly said...

@Solo: "N.B. Why is there no 'u' in 'forty'? That's always bugged me."

(1) I think you mean PS, not NB

(2) The answer is that the vowels in "four" and "forty" are different, except in accents with the horse-hoarse merger. Which is to say, most British and American accents, but not Irish accents.

Elizabeth said...

My mother, from upstate NY, was given a double barreled Mary name too though as far as she's concerned her first name is Mary Margaret, not Mary and not Margaret. Believe me she will fight about it. She wasn't given a full middle name at birth, just a middle initial, but as Bill mentioned she incorporated her Confirmation name as a second middle name. So now she's Mary Margaret A Elizabeth Elevenletterfrenchsurname. Unsurprisingly with that mouthful, she often abbreviates her first name to MM on documents that just can't accommodate it.

Is that same-middle-name Junior thing really established in America? So William Gates III has the same middle name as his father and grandfather? How unimaginative.

Could be worse. He could be the now teenaged scion of the famous Illinois political dynasty, Adlai Ewing Stevenson V.

tomroper said...

"Why do all you Americans use your middle names?"
I thought this was an English habit. I am Christopher Thomas, but known throughout my life as Tom, and there are any number of similar examples in my family. At the most extreme end my father, christened William George, was called Tim throughout his life

Amanda P. said...

As a mid-western American, I chose First Middle NewLast when getting married. My mother-in-law (Northeast American) is First OriginalLast NewLast, and occasionally First Confirmation OriginalLast NewLast. My given Middle name has a family history to it and I was more interested in keeping that than my OriginalLast name. Now, I live in the South and most married women (those who actually change their names, which is becoming less common) become First OriginalLast NewLast.

My husband is officially First Middle Confirmation Last, but never uses his Confirmation name. Both of us sign formal documents First MiddleInitial Last, unless required to sign a full (spelled/spelt out middle) name.

For President Grant, the version I heard was that he was originally Hiram Ulysses Grant, but when he was packing his trunk to go to West Point he had to label it with his initials and he did not want to be HUG - he would much rather be US Grant, so he added the S and dropped the H.

Finally, if I hear someone who goes by multiple last names (Shirley Temple Black), I assume the last Last name is the official last name, unless hyphenated. I never realized that was regional thing.

Martinus said...

British. I have three forenames and have always been known by the last. Similarly my father had three forenames and was known by the first at work but the third at home. I'm doing everything I can to lose the surplus names.

Ken Brown said...

A Brit here as well, but I have three given names, as does my brother and many other relatives. Also my Dad and his father before him, and other relatives of previous generations

And not at all from the Jennings & Darbyshire class - riveters and ironworkers and soldiers and so on.

Paul Danon said...

I've come across several Welsh folk who've been known invariably by their middle name. Initials in names can (wrongly) seem pretentious to BrE speakers. I've heard them mocked like they were part of the name of a Groucho Marx character. Also unkindly mocked are AmE post-nominal uses of "Junior" and of Roman numerals when the person plainly isn't a king or queen.

J.T. Patton said...

The use of initials as name is very much alive in the American South. I have several uncles- J.D., J.W., I.J., etc., (no J.R., though) and have been called J.T. all my adult life. Folks from other places think it's a) quaint, b) too formal and/or c) pretentious, but it's just an old tradition, is all.
-J.T. Patton

Anonymous said...

It would never occur to me to refer to my middle names as forenames/ first names. I have one first name and two middle names. But if someone asked for my given names I would respond "X Y Z" not just "X".

Iain Mac Eochagáin said...

Americans love the first name - middle initial - surname paradigm so much they use it for Russian names: thus the New York Times refers to "Vladimir V. Putin" and "Dmitry A. Medvedev". I find this quite ridiculous as the initials stand for patronymics which cannot be chosen or altered.

David Crosbie said...

In Britain we do use junior and senior — but almost always as descriptions (hence my lower case) or when referring to Americans who use Junior and Senior (with upper case) in their names.

Last week there were many opportunities to hear the whole I have a Dream speech on its fiftieth anniversary. I was struck to hear the speaker introduced as Martin Luther King Jay Ahr.

David Crosbie said...

In (BrE) public schools (i.e. fee-paying boarding schools), and perhaps in some imitators, it was customary to use another pair of Latin adjectives tagged on to the name: Major and Minor.

These were for brothers. For father and sons we have odd examples like Pitt the Elder vs Pitt the Younger and Amis Père (Kingsley) vs Amis Fils (Martin).