We’ve grown so used to giving babies middle names that it’s hard to realize that it hasn’t always been a common practice. Some genealogists think, however, that the practice wasn’t customary in the United States until the mid 1800s.
According to Rhonda McClure on genealogy.com, it was around the 1840s that the practice became more usual. She mentions that genealogists often find middle names helpful in assisting people in their search for family roots. That’s because traditionally, many people have used middle names as an opportunity to honor relatives, particularly grandparents.
These days, parents sometimes choose the mother’s surname as a middle name. This can be a way to respect the mother’s lineage and keep the name going for another generation, even if a couple decides not to hyphenate last names. A middle name can also be a way to honor family names important in previous generations that haven’t been used in a long time.
A middle name can provide parents with the opportunity of giving a baby a more traditional name to go along with a more creative, unusual first name, or vice versa. Some of the recent middle name trends cited by disneybaby.com show that parents are leaning toward creative name choices for middle names. Names related to nature and places, such as Rain, Rose, Skye, River and West are becoming more common. Pairing an unusual middle with a more common first name gives the child a choice between conservative and quirky names when they grow older.
Although using middle names is a typical practice in modern western culture, it’s not necessary. Middle names are customary, but there’s no legal reason or obligation to use one if you prefer not to. Even in the past hundred years, when the practice has become regular, there have been well-known people without middle names. President Harry S. Truman had no middle name. His parents gave him the initial S. to honor both of his grandfathers. Author J.K. Rowling, whose first name is Joanne, also had no middle name. When she first began publishing, she chose the middle initial K. in honor of her grandmother.
So using or not using a middle name is entirely up to you. Even if you decide to follow the common custom of using one, you can always go the creative route with the name itself.