Watch CBS News

Good Question: Why Do We Have Middle Names?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On Monday morning, Buckingham Palace announced the baby princess will be called Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Tradition tells us the Royals generally give two, sometimes three, middle names, but those extra names haven't been around forever.

So, why do we have middle names? Good Question.

It's not entirely clear, but the tradition probably started back in the Middle Ages when parents wanted to give a first name and a saint's name, in addition to the last name. The extra name didn't really start to become popular in the U.S. until the mid-1800s as waves of immigrants entered the country. By World War I, they were official and the U.S. enlistment form was the first government document to ask for middle names.

Sheila Northrop, a genealogist with Midwest Ancestor Research, says she can think of three reasons why so many of us now have middle names. The first is to honor someone you love or respect, like the Princess Diana or Queen Elizabeth with the new Royal baby. Second, she believes it's a way for parents to place upon their children some traits or attributes they admire. Third, she says middle names are a way for people to differentiate themselves, especially as our population grows.

"A lot of French Canadians used to give their daughters the name Marie, so if you had six daughters named Marie, you could tell them apart," she said.

In 2010, the most popular middle names for U.S. girls were Rose and Grace. For boys, it was James and John.

But, not everyone has a middle name.

"We didn't even know what a middle name was until we came to America," said Dymanh Chhoun of Burnsville, who was born in Cambodia and gave his American-born daughter a middle name. "She was born an American and we thought a middle name was interesting, so we thought why not give her more names."

The top middle names in the U.S. are Rose and Grace for girls, James and John for boys.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.