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.

Gabriel E March 4, 2012 at 11:23 am

Arthur C. Clarke

jfeit March 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

Bukka White, AKA Booker T. Washington White

Rob March 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm

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

Bill Stepp March 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Lysander Spooner didn’t need a middle initial.

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

P. T. Barnum
(Phineas Taylor)

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.

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.

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

L. Frank Baum

zbicyclist March 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm

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


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).

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.”

Tony March 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm

G. K. Chesterton and Maynard G. Krebs

Bradley Gardner March 4, 2012 at 1:46 pm

William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson

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

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

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.

Willitts March 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm

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

Must be asleep today.

Igor Bivor March 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm

P J Hoff, witty Chicago weatherman

Igor Bivor March 4, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Sorry for the duplicate post.

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.

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”).

Michael G Heller March 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm
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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

DK March 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I am pleased to have no middle initial.

That’s very prol, you know.


VRT March 4, 2012 at 7:41 pm

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

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.

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.

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.

Bernardo March 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

Arthur C Clarke

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)

jimi March 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

N. Greg Mankiw (a.k.a. “n-dot”)

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.

Spock March 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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!”

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?

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.

Darron March 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm

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

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: