Famous middle initials

by on March 4, 2012 at 7:17 am in Data Source | Permalink

John F. Kennedy, Michael J. Fox, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Philip K. Dick, Cecil B. DeMille, George W. Bush, George C. Scott, William F. Buckley, John D. Rockefeller, Johnny B. Goode, James Q. Wilson, and who else?

Why is it so popular with Presidents?

A whole other line of obsession is to start with J. Edgar Hoover, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so on, and see how many others you can come up with.

Then there is J.R.R. Tolkien, H.L.A. Hart, and their successors.

I am pleased to have no middle initial.

Addendum: Angus comments.

1 Andreas Moser March 4, 2012 at 7:21 am

I have no middle name, no middle initial, nothing. 🙁

2 anon March 4, 2012 at 9:11 am

In some official records, people without middle names or initials ger NMN, and show up like this:

Andreas NMN Moser

And Tyler’s name could be something like
Tyler MR Cowen or Tyler EDG Cowen

3 Careless March 4, 2012 at 2:35 pm

the feds list people with only one name as FNU, first name unknown. My wife did not appreciate that.

4 Eapen Thampy March 4, 2012 at 7:22 am

Of course, Harry S Truman stands alone.

5 Kat March 4, 2012 at 9:41 am

It is one thing I have in common with Truman: officially my middle name is only the initial “M”. (Which came as a surprise to me when I tried to get a passport with the name my parents eventually settled on.)

6 Mike Kenny March 4, 2012 at 10:55 am

IIRC, Ulysses S Grant’s “S” didn’t stand for anything either, oddly enough.

How about the oddities Louis C.K. and Andrew W.K.?

7 Erik Hultgren March 4, 2012 at 11:56 am

The S in Ulysses S Grant stands for Simpson.

8 Joe March 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Wrt Louis C.K., C.K. is easier to pronounce than Szekely.

9 Hmmmmmm March 4, 2012 at 7:22 am

Ursula K. Le Guin

10 stuart March 4, 2012 at 7:26 am

samuel l jackson.

11 Gary Leff March 4, 2012 at 7:29 am

G. L. S. Shackle

12 Rahul March 4, 2012 at 8:25 am

J B S Haldane

….3 initial people. Tougher game.

13 Nick March 5, 2012 at 2:32 am

G.W.F. Hegel.

14 bob March 4, 2012 at 7:35 am

D.W. Griffith, L.L. Cool J., F. Lee Bailey, O.J. Simpson, H. Ross Perot, e.e. cummings, Lyndon B. Johnson,

15 nostril earlobe March 4, 2012 at 7:47 am

M. Night Shalamanayam

16 bob March 4, 2012 at 7:56 am

M.C. Hammer, P.D.Q. Bach, Jennifer 8 Lee,

17 SKY March 4, 2012 at 9:37 am

“shalamanayam” ?

18 DW March 4, 2012 at 7:38 am


19 jakesvk March 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

homer j simpson

20 Yancey Ward March 4, 2012 at 11:37 am

You bastard! Beat me to it!

21 Dan Brady March 4, 2012 at 7:46 am

Edward R. Murrow, James T. Kirk, Heywood U. Cuddleme.

22 pmp March 4, 2012 at 7:54 am

P.D.Q. Bach

23 Finley March 4, 2012 at 8:02 am

Michael J. Fox’s middle name? Andrew.

24 J Storrs Hall March 4, 2012 at 8:06 am


25 Bill March 4, 2012 at 8:08 am

Yes you do have a middle initial. Several of them.

Tyler N.M.I Cowen

26 Dave March 4, 2012 at 8:23 am

B.F. Skinner

27 bob March 4, 2012 at 8:44 am

kd lang

28 PeterI March 4, 2012 at 8:47 am

In Economics: F.A. Hayek, J.R. Hicks, W. Allen Wallis

And a few other politicians: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arthur J. Balfour, Andrew B. Law, William H. Taft, Warren G. Harding

29 Nathan March 4, 2012 at 8:48 am

Rosco P Coltrane …. JD Hogg

30 maguro March 4, 2012 at 8:50 am

Bullwinkle J. Moose. Rocket J. Squirrel.

31 David Gerard March 4, 2012 at 11:51 am

Phineas J. Whoopee

Ignatius J. Reilly

Elmer J. Fudd

Michigan J. Frog


Wile E. Coyote

Guess that last one doesn’t fit the pattern, but “genius” rarely does

32 ricardo March 4, 2012 at 8:52 am

J.R. Hartley.

33 kaganovich March 4, 2012 at 9:16 am

robert s. mcnamara

34 J M Swersky March 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

Alice B. Tolkas, Johnny B. Goode.

35 Chris March 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

R.A. Fisher

36 Johan March 4, 2012 at 9:29 am

G.E.M. Anscombe

37 dearieme March 4, 2012 at 9:31 am

Robert T Bruce. William T Conqueror. Alexander T Great. Joanna T Mad. Philip T Fair. eTc.

38 jc March 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

Re: why it’s so popular w/ presidents…

Is it actually more popular w/ upper classes, period? I get the impression that numbered names, e.g., Thurston Howell III, are. Is old money more conformist – in some ways at least – relative to lower classes? In this case, do they tend to stick w/ traditional names, and sometimes even family names, rather than experimenting?

If so, then one might expect a norm to develop whereby initials are added in order to distinguish one similarly named fellow from another. (And then at some point, signalling – of quality and pedigree – might begin to motivate, as opposed to merely distinguishing b/w two chaps within the same social class or family.)

39 Doug March 4, 2012 at 9:41 am

George R. R. Martin.

40 Andrew' March 4, 2012 at 9:41 am

Tyler NA Cowen

41 Andrew' March 4, 2012 at 9:42 am

Adam Carolla has no middle initial.

42 Dave March 4, 2012 at 11:05 am

Adam Lakers Carolla

43 zz March 4, 2012 at 11:12 am
44 Eric H March 4, 2012 at 9:48 am

Stimpson J. Cat.

45 Chris March 4, 2012 at 9:52 am

Ulysses S. Grant
John Q. Public

46 John B. Chilton March 4, 2012 at 9:55 am

I’m pleased to have a middle initial.

As to presidents I hazard the guess that many of them come from families where the same names are recycled (so the initial is an identifier), or the memory of ancestors accomplishment lives on, or pride is attached to the middle name. Delano?

U. S. Grant, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee.

47 Bill March 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Named after his mother’s favorite uncle, Franklin Delano.

48 Brett Keller March 4, 2012 at 10:02 am

Jeffrey D. Sachs…It’s right there in his Twitter handle.

Then again, in the online era I find myself using mine more often to differentiate myself, to get a domain name that isn’t taken, etc.

49 Anon March 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

Jeezus H. Christ

50 Brian March 5, 2012 at 1:52 am


51 Steven E Landsburg March 4, 2012 at 10:09 am

Except for Cecil DeMille, every one of your examples has first and last names sufficiently common that it’s easy to see why they’d have wanted to add a distinguishing middle initial.

52 joshua March 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Whereas in other cases it may be that the name is so uncommon that you severely dislike it: C(live) S(taples) Lewis.

53 J Storrs Hall March 5, 2012 at 8:26 am

… Or L(ucius) Q(uintus) C(incinnatus) Lamar.

54 Bill Stepp March 4, 2012 at 10:12 am

H.L. Mencken.

55 Gabriel E March 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

Jesus H. Christ

56 Gabriel E March 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

Oh man, I was too late 🙁

57 Carnifex Bloggs March 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm

It is rumoured that the ‘H’ stands for ‘Hermione’.


58 doctorpat March 6, 2012 at 12:35 am


Our father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name…

59 Ugo March 4, 2012 at 10:22 am

N. Gregory Mankiw

60 test March 4, 2012 at 10:56 am

I was quite surprise not seeing this within the first 10 posts.

61 Brian March 5, 2012 at 1:53 am

Exactly my thought.

62 Christine March 4, 2012 at 10:34 am

It’s to distinguish you from others with the same first and last name. Duh.

63 Millian March 4, 2012 at 10:34 am

J.R. Cash

64 Brian March 4, 2012 at 10:39 am

I think it’s because it makes pronouncing your name more rhythmic and forceful. (the same way that inserting “fucking” into okla-fucking-homa makes it sound more forceful).

Also, wasn’t there some paper recently about how more pronounceable names are perceived as more friendly?

65 Peter H March 4, 2012 at 10:46 am

W. E. B. Du Bois

66 Jim March 4, 2012 at 10:53 am

Actress CCH Pounder. She doesn’t use periods after the initials.

Actors often use middle initials because the actors guild doesn’t allow two people to use the same name. As mentioned above, Michael J. Fox’s middle initial is actually “A,” but he thought Michael “A. Fox” sounded a little presumptuous.

67 mike n March 4, 2012 at 10:54 am


68 Peter G March 4, 2012 at 10:55 am

I once saw a guide on “How to be Pretentious”, and one of the hints was to use your first initial and middle name; another was to refer to yourself in letters as “the undersigned”.

69 Aaron March 4, 2012 at 10:56 am

R. C. Cola

70 Roger Sweeny March 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Me and my R C

71 Aaron March 4, 2012 at 10:56 am

B. H. Liddell Hart

72 Mike Kenny March 4, 2012 at 10:58 am

G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt.

73 anon/portly March 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm


Or as this video eventually reminds you, HR Haldeman.

74 Matt March 4, 2012 at 11:03 am

Booker T. Washington

75 JSK March 4, 2012 at 11:05 am

Middle initiales tend to become famous, if the name is already “occupied” means there is already someone with the same name.

76 Bill Harshaw March 4, 2012 at 11:06 am

George H.W. Bush, Hubert H. Humphrey, JK Rowling, George C. Wallace

77 Gabriel E March 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

Susan B. Anthony

78 Gabriel E March 4, 2012 at 11:23 am

Arthur C. Clarke

79 jfeit March 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

Bukka White, AKA Booker T. Washington White

80 Rob March 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm

L. Paul Bremer III (or “Jerry” to his friends).

81 Bill Stepp March 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Lysander Spooner didn’t need a middle initial.

82 Bob M Brown March 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm

P. T. Barnum
(Phineas Taylor)

83 Igor Bivor March 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm

P J Hoff was a witty Chicago weatherman starting back in the mid 50s on WBBM-TV.

84 jim March 4, 2012 at 12:57 pm

My old Headmaster was L. John Stroud. It was our belief that the L. stood for Leslie.

85 r.d. March 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

L. Frank Baum

86 zbicyclist March 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Andrew S.C. Ehrenberg, well-known British statistician (who died in 2010)


87 Duncan March 4, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Scottish TV presenter Donny B. MacLeod had no middle name, but was one of three Donny MacLeods in his class at school. (The teacher called them Donny A, Donny B and Donny C).

88 apollon March 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm

My choice for best middle name, Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest with dialog

Eve Kendall: “What does the O stand for?”
Roger O. Thornhill: “Nothing.”

89 Tony March 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm

G. K. Chesterton and Maynard G. Krebs

90 Bradley Gardner March 4, 2012 at 1:46 pm

William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson

91 Bill March 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm

And, to think of this a DIFFERENT way, there are names that make you wonder who the person is when you hear the name without the full middle name, and only the initial:

Barrack H. Obama

92 Bill March 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Or, a first name that you wouldn’t want your kid to have so you use the middle name as use the first name as the initial, or otherwise forget it:

Willard Mitt Romney

93 Willitts March 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Why popular with presidents? They usually recite their full name in their oath of office.

It might be because the upper crust in Ye olden days had middle names that were matronyms to signify the joining of two powerful families. It might have been a mark of distinction between a parent or grandparent with a different middle name but the same first and last name. The initial might confer relative status or distinction as does Jr., II, III.

Wikipedia has an entry on the history of middle names.

The practice seems much more common among authors, probably for attribution of intellectual property.

T.S. Elliott

J.E.B. Stuart

J.K. Rowling

A.A. Milne

W.C. Fields

Roger O. Thornhill or David O. Selznick – the O stands for nothing.

This also reminds me of the movie Conspiracy Theory where all the famous assassins went by three names.

94 Willitts March 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm

God, how could I forget J.P. Morgan.

Must be asleep today.

95 Igor Bivor March 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm

P J Hoff, witty Chicago weatherman

96 Igor Bivor March 4, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Sorry for the duplicate post.

97 Henry March 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm

H. Norman Schwarzkopf

The H does not stand for anything. His father was Hebert Norman Schwarzkopf. But hated the “Hebert”, so he dropped it for the son leaving only the initial.

98 anon/portly March 4, 2012 at 3:20 pm

It seems like there are a lot of F Murray Abrahams but I’m wondering if S Epatha Merkerson is more or less unique. (Surprisingly, at least for some reason to me, the S is for “Sharon”).

99 Michael G Heller March 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm
100 kiwi dave March 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm

The form “Firstname M. Lastname” is an American phenomenon — like the use of “Jr.” “III” etc. — that you never encounter in the UK/Aus/NZ. By contrast, F.M. Lastname used to be common in the UK (such as the examples in the post). The only British figure I can think off offhand who used Firstname M. Lastname was Winston S. Churchill — in his early years, he used the middle initial S. in his writings to distinguish himself from the American novelist Winston Churchill, who was more famous at the turn of the century. Of course, he was half American.

101 G. March 4, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Things have changed since Winston S. Churchill’s day. You may have heard of a legendary Australian punk rocker called Rowland S. Howard who, like Roberto Bolaño Á., died of liver failure aged 50. The middle initial was innovatory for a punk.

102 kiwi dave March 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Having thought of it, I can think of two New Zealand figures (well known locally, not internationally) who did the middle initial thing: hippy poet James K. Baxter and socialist writer/politician John A. Lee. Still pretty uncommon — I think the point stands.

I didn’t know about Rowland S. Howard. Thanks.

103 John F. Williams March 4, 2012 at 6:28 pm

S.L.A. Marshall (full name, Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall), a.k.a SLAM.

104 J Storrs Hall March 4, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Knuth, D. E. Surreal numbers. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1974.

In the beginning, everything was void, and J. H. W. H. Conway began to create numbers. … And the first number was created from the void left set and the void right set. Conway called this number “zero,” and said that it shall be a sign to separate positive numbers from negative numbers. Conway proved that zero was less than or equal to zero, and he saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the day of zero.

105 DK March 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I am pleased to have no middle initial.

That’s very prol, you know.


106 VRT March 4, 2012 at 7:41 pm

M.F.K. Fisher
H.G.J.M. Kuypers

107 Gil March 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Hunter S. Thompson and G.K. Chesterton. Were initials a requirement for membership in the Inklings? Besides Tolkien, there were at least two more: C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden.

108 Gil March 4, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Damn, really should have read the rest of the comments – at least the seond two are new.

109 Oliver March 5, 2012 at 6:51 am

“John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray, Lee Harvey Oswald… why do these red-necks always have three names?” — Struck the association from Sondheim’s musical ‘Assassins’… perhaps a sense of self-importance from having several names that lends itself to presidents and murderers.

110 Bernardo March 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

Arthur C Clarke

111 edel March 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

I have a problem in the US when asked for last name.

In Spain we value equally the middle name (usually inherited from your father) and the last name (from your mother). So for instance my name would have been, lets say; “Jose Ruiz Soto”.

However in the US I am forced to choose one so I have the option of Jose Ruiz-Soto or choose Jose R Soto (dropping the R or Ruiz would be disregarding my dad). But them when authorities see that my hypothetical father is called Juan Ruiz… they say I am lying for saying Soto, so I have to reverse the order; Jose S. Ruiz…. I doubt Hispanic people will decide to drop one of their parents names either. For non hispanic people, the middle initial makes sense to me; claiming uniquness (while keeping their parent´s choice secret)

112 jimi March 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

N. Greg Mankiw (a.k.a. “n-dot”)

113 Chris Durnell March 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Isn’t the obvious answer is that most of these people needed to distinguish themselves from others with similar names?

Actors need to have unique names for the Screen Actors Guild. If someone else already is registered with that name, then they have to modify their name. That’s why Michael Fox became Michael J. Fox, Larry Fishburne became Laurence Fishburne, and why Michael Douglas changed his name to Michael Keaton.

Authors are ssimilar.

The patrician clans may also have a need. How many John Rockefellers or Franklin Roosevelts were there at one time? Since they came from famous or at least noteworthy families, people used their initials to distinguish individuals from others in the clan who might share their name (and who all might be initially noteworthy in high society). Otherwise, they’d spend too much correcting the other person who they really talked about. Since that is how the media would report them, that’s how they’re called in popular culture.

Similarly this might also be a result of family naming habits which may give all sons the same first name, but distinguish them by their middle name. Or because the family continues to use the same first names in honor of certain relatives (because of so many “Johns” in my family, my cousins are known by several variants which can include their middle names). Obviously you then need to either use the fist name and middle initial, first initial and middle name, or some other combination (2 initials, 2 names, nickname, etc.). In that case, since you’re already known by that growing up, it is carried over even when you move out on your own.

In some cases, it’s done to hide a name that is obviously of foreign origin and may either hinder acceptance or complicate things because Americans won’t pronounce it right (I assume this is the case with M. Night Shyamalan and various Jews or other ethnics earlier in US history).

Of course, eventually it becomes an affectation as others adopt the usage for themselves when there is no reason to do so.

114 Spock March 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm
115 David March 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm

I have two middle names (and thus two middle initials): David Gordon Dahlgren Hecht. Like some others in this enumeration, I come from a naming tradition where family names are recycled (David Hackett Fischer discusses this in his excellent Albion’s Seed): my mother’s maiden name was Anne Huntly Gordon Dahlgren, Gordon being her mother’s maiden name and Dahlgen being hers. My father’s first name, like mine, was David: so my name is composed of equal parts of my parents’ names.

Having two middle names or initials is…interesting. Most forms–especially online ones–are designed to restrict you to a single letter for your middle initial. Accordingly, I’ve received correspondence and other things addressed to David G Hecht, David D Hecht, and David G D’hecht.

The only time I was really happy with the situation was during the administration of Bush Senior (technically incorrect, since–as with me and my father–George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have different middle names). Having spent my life hearing people ask, “You have two middle names?!?” I got four glorious years of retorting, “Yes…just like the President!”

116 John March 5, 2012 at 10:26 pm

W.V.O. Quine

How often do you get to leave that comment twice in one week?

117 Darron March 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm

In the use military those with only initials are denoted with an “(only)”. There is a (possibly apocryphal) story about an unfortunate receiving his first paycheck written to Ronly Bonly Jones.

My uncle, Wilmer J Allman, can testify to the use of “(only)” on official papers but not to the other story.

118 Darron March 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Oops, that’s supposed to be “In the US military”.

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