Friday, December 5, 2008

What's in the Middle?

My professional name is Jason M. Rubin. Whenever possible, I insist that my middle initial be used. It's not that I love my middle name (Mark) so much, but without the initial, my name is too sing-songy. Jason and Rubin rhyme a little and are so metrical and symmetrical that they need the M. to serve as a kind of fulcrum.

This gets me to thinking why we even have middle names. Most people don't use them, and I've noticed that a lot of women who take their husband's surnames, tend to use their maiden name as a middle name. For Jews, naming is very important; we give first and middle names that reference and honor deceased relatives. For my oldest daughter, for example, her first name, Hannah (a Hebrew name meaning grace), was named for my grandfather Harry. Her middle name, Dovit (a Hebrew name meaning little bear), was named for my sister, Donna. If she were to get married, take her husband's name, and lose Dovit, it would sadden me. Even though I know she's not thrilled with an unusual name like Dovit, it's important to me because it's a way for me to keep my sister's memory alive.

I seem to remember some comedian years ago noting that assassins are almost always known by all three names. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Mark David Chapman come immediately to mind. It seems that failed assassins don't get the same honor: Arthur Bremer (George Wallace), Squeaky Fromme (Gerald Ford), and John Hinckley (Ronald Reagan), for example. I always liked the fact that if you count the letters in Ronald Wilson Reagan, you get 6-6-6 (666).

Of course, a middle name or initial is also a literary convention. After all, who would read anything by e. cummings or Edgar Poe? Or Jason Rubin, for that matter? Ray Davies of the Kinks is known as such on album covers, except on his composing credits, when he is known by his full name, Raymond Douglas Davies.

I've also always been intrigued by people who use their middle name as their first name, or initialize their first name, as in T. Boone Pickens and R. Buckminster Fuller. I went to college with a couple of guys who did that; of course, one's given first name was Winslow, so it's understandable that he wanted to be known as Peter, his middle name. J. Mark Rubin doesn't do it for me.

Folk legend Odetta died the other day. Years before Madonna and Prince (though a long time after Moses; and BTW, "H" was not actually Jesus' middle initial), she successfully went by a single name, her first.

Harry Truman's middle initial, S, doesn't stand for anything, and is sometimes written without a period. According to Wikipedia, "[Truman's] parents chose "S" as his middle name, in [an] attempt to please both of Harry's grandfathers, Anderson Shippe Truman and Solomon Young; the initial did not actually stand for anything, as was a common practice among Scots-Irish."

Of course, this post doesn't really stand for anything, either. I was just bored and looking to keep the blog fresh. But thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Tom Storer said...

Interestingly, the American and British practice of using a family name from the family tree as a middle name seems to be unknown elsewhere. For example, my middle name is Wyman, because the Wymans were a branch of the family that my parents for some reason wanted to honor. In Catholic countries, the "middle name" is called the confirmation name, which children acquire when they are confirmed. My wife, who is Irish, was concerned that her mother's maiden name, O'Clery, had hit a dead end with her generation. I suggested we use it as our son's middle name, which we did. My Irish in-laws were flattered but didn't understand how you could do that. It was an odd custom, as far as they were concerned.