The nameless Mr. Tifft

Tifft (b. 1878)

Alanson H. Tifft (1843-1903) and his wife Esther (1848-1922) of Brooklyn, New York, had three children. Their first, a baby girl born in 1868, was named Kittie. Their second, a baby girl born in 1873, was named Mary. Their third and last was a baby boy, born in 1878.

What was he named?

He wasn’t. He didn’t get a first name.

He was simply known as “Tifft” or “Mr. Tifft” throughout his life.

Said Tifft: “My father, Alanson Herbert Tifft, never liked his first name. Most people called him Herbert. When I was born, he and my mother couldn’t agree on a name for me. So father suggested that the matter of choosing a name be left up to me.”

But he never did choose a first name for himself. “I grew up without a first name, and I’ve never felt like appropriating one. Seems to me that I’ve gotten along just as well without one.”

His lack of a first name made headlines periodically. For instance, his second marriage was announced in TIME:

Married. Mr. Tifft, paper box manufacturer of Brooklyn, N. Y., and one Ruth Esther Petersonn [sic], of Fryburg, Me.; in South Berwick, Maine. A parental tiff over names left Mr. Tifft first nameless; he remains so, is listed in the telephone book as TIFFT.

His mononym sometimes gave him trouble — when it came time to vote, for instance — but overall he was pleased with it. “You can sum it up this way: I’ve never been miffed at just being Tifft.”

He even managed to acquire a nickname; his wife called him “Tiff-it.”

But he didn’t carry on the tradition with his two sons, Robert Lincoln and Alanson Herbert. “I rather regret that now. We could have just called him Tifft II.” All of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were given first and middle names as well.


  • The Man Who Has No Name.” Pittsburgh Press 19 Nov. 1911: 46.
  • “Man with no given name declares he is quite satisfied.” Niagara Falls Gazette 20 Jul. 1939: 27.
  • Milestones.” TIME Magazine 21 Jan. 1929.
  • “Retired Lumber Dealer Lives 78 Years Without First Name.” Tonawanda News 12 Dec. 1956: 6.
  • “Tifft Is Only Name He Has, But It Goes Well on Checks; He Never Had a First Name.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 Dec. 1923: 16 D.
  • Tifft, Maria E. A partial record of the descendants of John Tefft, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and the nearly complete record of the descendants of John Tifft, of Nassau, New York. Buffalo, NY: The Peter Paul Book Company, 1896.

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