Multiple Middle Names

Many babies born into the British upper class are bestowed with a string of given names.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Centuries ago, multiple middles were unheard of. They began creeping in only when “two names had ceased to be a distinction.” The trend started at the very top:

The court again set the example, and in 1738, George III was baptized by the names George William Frederic. But for many years this fashion was regarded as too absurd for Englishmen to follow.

This explains why, when John Dawnay, 4th Viscount Downe, gave his firstborn two middles in 1764 he was ridiculed by fellow society member George “Gilly” Williams:

Downe’s child is to be christened this evening. The sponsors I know not, but his three names made me laugh not a little, John Christopher Burton. I wish to God, when he arrives at the years of puberty, he may marry Mary Josephina Antonietta Bentley.

Oliver Goldsmith mocked the fad as well with the character Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs in his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766).

But, as we all know, the fad stuck. Despite the detractors.

I’ve posted about British WWI officers with names like Berkeley George Andrew and Frederick Charles Doveton.

And Prince William, married just the other day, has three middle names: Arthur, Philip and Louis. So does his brother, Prince Harry: Charles, Albert and David.

Do you know anyone with more than one middle name? (No problem if the person isn’t British and/or a member of the upper class.)

Sources:

  • Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. London: Chatto & Windus, 1897.
  • Jesse, John Heneage. George Selwyn and His Contemporaries. Vol. 1. London: John C. Nimmo, 1901.

14 thoughts on “Multiple Middle Names

  1. Interesting! I assumed royals had multiple middles for longer than that …

    My daughter has two middles. The second one honors her aunt. (It’s Wren; my sister’s childhood nickname was Bird.) In an era of much smaller families, I think it feels more appropriate to tuck in extra names.

  2. “In an era of much smaller families, I think it feels more appropriate to tuck in extra names.” — Ditto this.

    My aunt was named N@ncy Eliz@beth Lorett@ after her paternal grandmothers, N@ncy Eliz@beth and Lorett@. She gave her maiden name to her son as a second middle name. Likewise, my cousin gave his two daughters their mother’s last name as second middle names [though their oldest, a son, only has one].

    We plan on giving all of our children two middle names. I just love too many names to only use two when I could just as easily use three.

  3. My brother is Ian Paul James B—. My son is Edward Leo Cassidy W–. My daughters just have the one middle name, though I have kept my full name and added on my married last name, so although I was given only the one middle before, I now have first, middle, maiden, last.

    I taught a little girl named Sophia Ann Antoinique L. I never understood the double Ann sound in the middle names! And my parish just baptized an Amelia Regina Marie H.

    So yeah, I know quite a few. My brother was because they were all such short names; my son was because my husband demanded Edward (he’s from a long line of Edwards who do not use their first names), we both loved Leo, and I wanted a son with Cassidy as a middle name (from the grateful dead song). We had a hunch he’d be our only boy. And so it was.

  4. I have two Allison Kate Drummey, my brother is Liam James Drummey, my children, except for my oldest two, all have two middle names. I like it.

  5. My grandmother! Maria Augusta Sophia ….but everyone called her Mary. Her sisters and brothers all had at least 2 middle names. They were children of German immigrants.

  6. My niece has two middles and my brother’s Fiancé has two middles. Neither of them have had any trouble with it (which was my main concern for my own children) so I am considering giving my (near future) children two middles as well. :)

  7. @Paula – Interesting that they happened to be German. Reminds me of something…

    The English very likely stole the concept of multiple baptismal names from the French, but one book I read (Jack and Jill: A Study in Our Christian Names by British philologist Ernest Weekley) mentioned that the German aristocracy had been using middles for generations longer than the English, so the Germans may have been an influence as well. Especially under the Georges.

  8. I used to have two middle names (my mother’s middle name + my paternal grandmother’s given name.) We recently adopted a daughter and I was sick of our multiple surname household, so I “took” my husband’s surname, dropped my middle names and became Julie Maiden Surname.

    Our younger daughter has multiple names, depending on which form you’re reading, but when we finalize her adoption it will be Maria Sigrid Maiden Surname.

  9. I’m British – but not a member of the upper-class – and I have two middle names. Interestingly, my younger sister doesn’t and wishes she did. When I was growing up I knew a handful of other children with two middle names. These days it’s a lot more common here in Britain, especially with the use of hyphenated names.

  10. @Elea – Double middles could be picking up steam in the U.S. as well — at least in some regions. I spotted this in an article the other day:

    The hospital is also seeing an increase in babies being given two middle names, “which is very uncommon,” Wilde said. “It’s very popular in the Hispanic population, but now we’re seeing it with the (entire population).”

    The hospital is St. Elizabeth Healthcare in northern Kentucky.

  11. I came across your website while looking for names (just for fun) for a *possible* third baby. When it comes to giving your children two middle names, I did it. Twice. my oldest is Xavier Brian Lorac and my youngest is Quinn Mary-Grace. My son got his middle names after my (late) parents Brian and Carol (spelled in reverse) and my daughter got her middle names from both of my grandmothers. (notice they are named after my family? – my husband gets to give them his last name – so I get the middle names)

    If my son had been a girl we would have named him Lorac-Enna (pronounced Laura Kennah- which I love) after my mother Carol Anne. So he would have had two first names (if he had been a girl).

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