Please don't add middle names to profiles if you haven't found them in the records.

+43 votes
291 views
When John Jones is listed on the 1850 census with a wife named Mary, and in 1860 with a wife named Elizabeth, don't assume it's the same woman and name her "Mary Elizabeth."  Never add a middle name as a way of reconciling two contradictory records!

 Just because a man was named Charles Griswold Austin (as in my family), that doesn't mean his grandson Charles Austin had the same middle name.

 Inappropriate middle names can mislead other researchers.  One of my ancestors had sons named John and William (among others).  I was surprised yesterday when I found a cousin calling John "John William."  I reviewed all my sources--two censuses, marriage record, military record, death record, and will, and found only the name John.  Not even a middle initial.  Then I looked at FindAGrave and there he was called John William (no sources, as usual), even though the grave stone photo showed only John.  Multiple Ancestry trees had picked up the name John William, and because of that had mixed up many of the records for John with records for his brother William.

So, please--just use what the records say, and resist adding undocumented middle names to profiles!

Edited to add minor clarification.
in The Tree House by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (432k points)
edited by Julie Kelts
Also, please don't guess at middles name where there is just an initial.  Don't assume John W was John William just because his grandfather was.  He might be John Wilberforce, named for his father's best friend.  Likewise don't assume Mary E is Mary Elizabeth.  She might just be Mary Elspeth, or Mary Eliza.  (Likewise don't assume all Eliza's were actually Elizabeth.  They weren't.)
Right, Melanie.  If all I find in the records is Eliza, or Betsey, that is what I call her.

P.S.  On a related note:  My mother named me Julie.  I don't particularly like it when people address me as "Julia," somehow thinking perhaps they are being more formal and correct.  So if someone calls himself Bill, I don't call him "William"!
I have same problem with some of my ancestors.  I believe people did the middle name as a way to keep some of the Rueben and Conrad's and  other name that are numerous in my family from being confused.  Like Conrad Wilhite, I have never seen a document that his middle name was Reuben, yet someone added it as his middle name , because his son was one of several Reuben's.
Sandra, I can sympathize with the difficulty of telling one ancestor from another when they all have the same name.  I find it less of a problem on WT, because each profile has a unique ID.  On my Ancestry tree, for example, I have ten John Cissells (though some have actual middle names), and it can be very hard to tell them apart in a tree search.  One thing I've done occasionally is add a parenthetical description to the first name such as "(son of Arthur)."  I still think that's preferable to adding a name that didn't really exist.

6 Answers

+23 votes
Amen to that. And even when you have a secondary source that conflates two names, be wary.

My ancestor [https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ricker-891  Daniel Ricker] married a woman named Dolly Caldwell. It is well documented that she died a year later. He later married a woman named Hannah, whose last name was unknown until I found it (as Hatch) a few years ago in an original marriage record. He recorded seven children with Hannah, with their birth records giving only their mother's first name. When the Ricker family genealogy was published, the authors, apparently unaware of Dolly's death, named the mother of the children as Dolly Hannah Caldwell, an error that now appears on dozens of online genealogies.
by Stu Bloom G2G6 Mach 7 (75.1k points)
I have a great uncle who is recorded in actual records, marriage, census, death as Guy James and as James Guy. All other info is the same and I knew him so I am sure it is the same man.

We really do need to be careful and to question the sources other trees use.
+20 votes
And if the profile is not located in a area/country that uses middle names, then also do not put any names in the middle names field, even if there are multiple first names present.
by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (223k points)
Don't assume that the person has a single use name (call name), either, so don't just pick one for the "preferred name".  Some cultures use all forenames, such as Willem Alexander being Willem Alexander, not Willem, nor Alexander.
To add to Michael's and Melanie's excellent points: Please don't assume that a person who lived in what is now the USA had a middle name. Until 1803 Louisiana was French and Spanish, and had a large number of Germanic settlers as well. French women did not take their husband's last names. Naming customs in south Louisiana didn't change until close to 1900. If you see a prenom such as Jean Baptiste or Marie Magdeleine with the radio button indicating 'No middle name' please don't change it, and don't change a French woman's 'current last name' to her husband's.
+11 votes
This brings to mind the Smith families of early Long Island. Among them were Richard Bull Smith, John Blue Smith, John Rock Smith, and William Tangiers Smith. In all of these cases these are NOT middle names. These guys went by these nicknames to differentiate the different Smith families. They used these nicknames for generations. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of the Rock Smiths had no idea that their ancestor purposely built his house around a rock that he especially liked - hence the nickname he chose.
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (540k points)
+10 votes

There's an interesting 2016 Time magazine article called “Now You Know: Why Do We Have Middle Names?” by Merrill Fabry. Citing Stephen Wilson’s book ''The Means of Naming: A Social History'', Fabry says that “only about 10% of the British population had a middle name in 1800”. That 10% may have been mainly upper class. Fabry also refers to work by Alice Crook, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, who found that in Scotland “middle names [were] rare until about 1780 when their popularity began to rise dramatically”. In addition the article gives some history for Italy and statistics for France.

This adds further weight to Julie's point. In particular, for people born in England and Scotland before about 1800 who weren't aristocrats, middle names should be regarded cautiously.

by Jim Richardson G2G6 Pilot (225k points)
Thank you, Jim.
+6 votes
Julie; I couldn't agree with you more. A 4x GGM was named Jane Thompson she married John McClellan, we have the marriage record-though a transcript not the original, a census record and grave information. The family was very well known in the area they lived. The name given on these records is Jane Thompson, no other names of any sort.

She is included on 183 Ancestry trees most of which give her name as Louisa Jane or occasionally Jane Louisa, or some times just Jane, of these trees about 15 have records, mostly the census and grave record. Almost all have no sources, many have other trees as sources, and they all lead to One World Tree.

IM very HO, I believe that if the only first name on her marriage and burial records is Jane that was her name.

We will never know who added Louisa as an additional name or why. None of her children or grandchildren are named Louisa.

edit, typo
by M Ross G2G6 Pilot (192k points)
edited by M Ross
+7 votes
And for all those cultures that do not know  the concept of "Middle Name" there is a setting (bottom one under My WikiTree --> Settings) that enables you to suppress the warning messages for having multiple names in the Proper First Name.

For Dutch profiles (we don't know the concept of Middle Name, only have Given Names) there even is a suggestion (749) saying they should not have Middle Names.
by Jan Terink G2G6 Pilot (256k points)
Jan; A question about Dutch naming traditions, is the no middle name tradition historic or continuing?

I'm asking because a friend was very proud that he was conceived in Holland, post WW2 and then born in Canada, as the oldest child of the family he was the only one conceived in Holland and felt it made him more Dutch. His opinion, I know nothing more about it.  

That's the background. He had 2 middle names Gerardus Marion and of course a first name and a last name.

The family was Roman Catholic, I think what I am asking is; the second names were/are they religious names that were not recorded on official records or was this an anomaly?

Thanks
M,

The concept of Middle Name is simply unknown. At birth all given names are registered in the civil register and then all are official, and specified in official documents like passports, marriage certificates, death certificates, notarial deeds, etc.

Pre1811 when there was no civil registration but only church books, all given names were registered at baptism, also with no recognition or implication of "Middle Name".
Okay thanks, perhaps it makes more sense as his birth and baptism would have been recorded in Canada. Perhaps it was suggested by the church.

No worries you answered my question.

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