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What is it about middle names?


Many of us hide our middle names until we are outed. I’m not sure why, exactly, this is. I am starting to suspect, or at least confirm my suspicion of, the main reasons.





I was thinking about this phenomenon just a little bit throughout the day, after a fairly non-descript incident at my son’s pre-school. After taking Benny to school, the classroom usually remains closed for a few minutes, leaving some play time in the corridor for some of the kids who arrive early.


Earlier in the school year, this was fairly quiet time, but now that the kids are showing their true personalities, it’s a little more fun. Today, a few of the kids, including Benny, were playing some kind of game that had them literally bouncing off the walls, which aroused the anger of one of the parents. She was trying to get her little one to stop the bouncing and yelling and was met with some four-and-a-half year-old resistance. Not defiance, just resistance.


Mom played her trump card. “OLIVIA GRACE!” Olivia, whom she often calls Livvy, stopped playing immediately.


I should add that in my limited pre-and-post-class experience that Olivia seems like one of the greatest kids in the known universe. Bright, cute, happy, fun—older than her chronological age in all good ways. Hey, they’re all great at this age, but she seems to really shine. The only one who outshines her in my eyes is…well, you know who…and he kept playing for a little while with a couple others. I wasn’t tempted to out his middle name. Not my style.


I teased the Mom, who is a pretty friendly, outgoing sort—in my pre-and-post-class experience, of course. “Wow, you went and invoked her middle name, huh?” She gave me enough of a laugh for the situation and I started to think about this a little more.


It seems as if we only know the middle names of the notorious.


Lee Harvey Oswald.

John Wayne Gacy.

Richard Milhous Nixon.


I used to wonder whether having a pronounced middle name…and does George W Bush qualify(?)…influences one’s life in a negative kind of way. I guess that’s food for thought. Maybe not a buffet, but an appetizer or two.


Perhaps, this question is about as profound as: Does wearing an orange jumpsuit make a man, or woman, more likely to commit crimes?

I can still picture the first time I heard the middle name invoked by an angry parent, even if it was more amusing than chilling to me.  I was about ten when I suddenly heard JEFFREY ALAN G… No, I wasn’t the recipient; that’s why I found it amusing. And, I still do whenever I hear that tactic employed. I can’t remember what Jeff’s offense was, but I felt embarrassed for him. Not enough to forego teasing him a bit over it, which wasn’t exactly appreciated.


A slightly deeper question: Does invoking the middle name attempt to lay more shame and/or guilt on the child? My instant theory, which I shared with Olivia’s mom, was that the middle name attempts to do this, and even implies that the kid is casting shame on the whole family tree. A slight exaggeration, but…


My parents never did the middle name thing, although being used to “Matt”, receiving a “MATTHEW” with the right intonation usually got me to stop whatever criminal activity I was engaging in.


One more deep-ish question: Did John Wayne Gacy’s parents simply admonish him with, “Hey, John, will you knock it off?” Did they go JOHN WAYNE GACY on him? How about the Nixons? Did they simply ask Dick to stop his sneaky little tricks or really spell it out for him?


If only they had said, RICHARD MILHOUS NIXON!


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