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Middle Names

middle namesYou might not be able to find your ancestor’s middle name because they never had one. Recall the first US President, George Washington – he had no middle name. It was not common practice in the 1700s and into the 1800s for the use of middle names. Then there was President Harry S. Truman. He had only a middle initial which did not stand for a middle name.

Then many times those with a middle name really used it as they given first name and you might not know the actual first name. Or they may have used just the initial. For example, John Franklin Smith could be only known as ‘Frank’ or as J. Frank Smith.

For the ladies, many were given two names that went together and that relative was always referred to by both names. There can be Mary Ann, Bobbie Jo, Mary Beth, Mary Jane or Sue Ann.

Middle names do tend to be repeated on a family tree, especially a popular or favorite name. Traditional names such as David, Richard, Walter are used frequently. What can be a bit confusing but also of a great help in research is if a middle name seems to be a surname family or a family name. By giving the baby a family name, especially one from the mother’s side of the family was a method of carrying on that name. One example is Nan Musselman Everhart. The Nan was a traditional favorite name in the family. Musselman was the mother’s maiden name and the Everhart, the father’s surname. Check further in your research and see if that middle name can be in the family.

Another possible answer for an unusual surname as a middle name, is that the family was friends with an individual with that surname and wanted to honor them. Also, parents might name a baby for a famous or celebrated person of the times. After the sudden early death on April 4, 1841 of US President William Henry Harrison, it is amazing how many baby boys were given that full set of names along with the birth surname. Try researching that with the same names and born all about the same time.

One last possibly to look at is that a baby may not have a middle name at birth but rather selected a middle name years later to add to their full name. Many times, this happened to those who immigrated to America, they added a second or middle name.

Finally, who doesn’t recall their full name being called out by their mother and you knew you were in trouble then?

Related genealogy blogs:

Surnames and More

Abbreviations for Given Names

Inappropriate Baby Names


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