The importance of Middle Names

+12 votes
Just a note and a helpful hint.

I've found over time, the importance of Middle names.   A lot of the time, I don't see them here in wikitree.  Granted in many cases they aren't simply known and that can't be helped.  But if the name is known, it should be used.

The primary reason, in my book at least, is that I've discovered, that in census records, that for some reason, the middle name is sometimes switched with the first name and in a few cases, the first name is omitted and the middle name is used.   I find it actually quite frequently in 1800's US Census records.

Just today, I was entering in a distant cousin.   In most of the census records he's listed as Kenneth Peckham.

But if you look at his WWI & WWII draft cards you see his full name as Bishop Kenneth Peckham.  His death record lists Bishop as his name as well.  Even in his obit, he's listed as Kenneth Peckham, with his full name only noted further down the article.

But between the census records and the other records, one could easy confuse them and think they are separate people.

So, middle names are important.  As we see, the same person has records, with two different first names, one of which is actually his middle name.

That and middle names are sometimes give clues to the names of grandparents, aunts, uncles etc...

Probably old hat for a lot of people, but I figure it doesn't hurt.
in The Tree House by Craig Albrechtson G2G6 Mach 8 (86.2k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
Thanks for these excellent comments.

One caveat: People should be aware that middle names are not used by all countries and cultures, and in English-speaking countries they were rare before about 1800, when they exploded in popularity.
Just keep in mind that many cultures don't use the concept of a middle name and as a consequence we have numerous German profiles whose given names are put in the middle name field. Don't use this field if the culture of the people you are entering don't use middle names!

Addendum: Sorry, Ellen, your comment wasn't up yet when I began mine.
Thanks for providing the additional (illustrative) detail, Helmut!
I thoroughly agree with the importance of middle names and that WikITree's handling of them leaves something to be desired. Many of my ancestors had a middle name denoting the mother's maiden name. My father was Paul Stauffer Tyson, but we would not refer to him as Paul Stauffer which WikiTree does in the text writeup. Also my name is Elizabeth Ann Tyson, and I would prefer that my preferred name be Betty Ann, not just Betty.  I think I must be missing something here.
Betty, it looks like the profiles you created have both the first name and the middle name in the First Name data field. I edited a profile for your grandfather to put the middle name in the Middle Name data field. You can do the same sot of thing for other family members.

As for the text that refers to your father as "Paul Stauffer," that's the  text that WikiTree's software generates for us when we don't put any text in the Biography section of a new profile. We are not required to allow a computer to write our family members' biographies. PLEASE replace that computer-generated text with a nice biography of your family member. (Also note that this text section is where you should identify and describe the sources for your information.)

3 Answers

+9 votes
Best answer
I agree! In many traditions sometimes the middle name was actually the maiden name of the mother, so if you have a few children with the same middle name and you don't know the mother's maiden name.. it's a good place to start.

Also, they would use middle names as the first names, at least in cases that I've seen, because they already have a living relative by that name and they don't want to get confused.

I love finding out middle names!
by Sarah Callis G2G6 Pilot (114k points)
selected by Craig Albrechtson
I didn't realise taking the maiden name of the mother as a middle name was quite so common until I really got stuck in to researching, but it can be useful in identifying the correct marriage of the parents!

I'll always put in the middle name or initial if I know there is one, but if there doesn't appear to be one I'll set it to no middle name to keep the profile tidy.  a middle name can certainly help in deciding if two profiles are a potential match - John Edwin Hopkins is a lot easier that just plain John Hopkins (to choose an example from my own family!).
It can also be the grandmother's maiden name. I have cousins with the same surname marrying. Many trees have the children's middle name as the mother's LNAB. It was not till I came across a death certificate that this was clarified.
+1 vote
Yes, let's not forget that in slavic countries the middle name is the patronymic of the father and the last name is that of the grandfather. Example with my own dad Yanko Dobrev Mitev and his father Dobrev Mitev Vanchev, and it continues up the line. Some countries have had recent name reforms and have not.
by Dina Grozev G2G6 Pilot (104k points)
+1 vote
I agree the middle name is important, but I was getting too many data
errors calling them as unique when they were included with the first name. Now I have been moving them to the middle name section as I source the profiles in the orphaned GEDCOM I'm doing.   How do others handle this situation?  I know false error can be used and leave the two names together
but I'm trying to head off the error classification before I have to deal with
by Beulah Cramer G2G6 Pilot (306k points)

Here is an example where the middle name field just doesn't work: Richard Wagner. His given names are Wilhelm Richard, if you use first, middle , and last name you get Wilhelm Wagner or Wilhelm R. Wagner - and whoever heard of a composer with that name? The only option in my opinion is to put both names in the first name field and use Richard for the preferred name.

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