Famous middle initials

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.


I have no middle name, no middle initial, nothing. :-(

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

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

Of course, Harry S Truman stands alone.

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.)

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.?

The S in Ulysses S Grant stands for Simpson.

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

Ursula K. Le Guin

samuel l jackson.

G. L. S. Shackle

J B S Haldane

....3 initial people. Tougher game.

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

M. Night Shalamanayam

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

homer j simpson

You bastard! Beat me to it!

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

Michael J. Fox's middle name? Andrew.

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

Tyler N.M.I Cowen

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

Rosco P Coltrane .... JD Hogg

Bullwinkle J. Moose. Rocket J. Squirrel.

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

robert s. mcnamara

Alice B. Tolkas, Johnny B. Goode.

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

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.)

George R. R. Martin.

Tyler NA Cowen

Adam Carolla has no middle initial.

Adam Lakers Carolla


Stimpson J. Cat.

Ulysses S. Grant
John Q. Public

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

H.L. Mencken.

Jesus H. Christ

Oh man, I was too late :(

It is rumoured that the 'H' stands for 'Hermione'.



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

N. Gregory Mankiw

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

Exactly my thought.

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

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?

W. E. B. Du Bois

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.

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".

B. H. Liddell Hart

G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt.


Or as this video eventually reminds you, HR Haldeman.

Booker T. Washington

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

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

Susan B. Anthony

Arthur C. Clarke

Bukka White, AKA Booker T. Washington White

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

Lysander Spooner didn't need a middle initial.

P. T. Barnum
(Phineas Taylor)

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

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

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


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).

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."

G. K. Chesterton and Maynard G. Krebs

William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson

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

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

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.

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

Must be asleep today.

P J Hoff, witty Chicago weatherman

Sorry for the duplicate post.

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.

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").

I am not Michael Heller.


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.

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.

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.

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

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.

I am pleased to have no middle initial.

That's very prol, you know.


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

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.

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

"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.

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)

N. Greg Mankiw (a.k.a. "n-dot")

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.

Gilbert Gottfried offers a (an?) hysterical take on this issue:

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!"

W.V.O. Quine

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

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.

Oops, that's supposed to be "In the US military".

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