"What's in a Name?"

Women, their names, and the stories they tell

The Psychology of Double Names

What is it with double given names? Read More

This topic sounded so

This topic sounded so interesting form the introduction but you barely spoke on all the points...it was hard to follow and sbruptly ended.

This topic sounded so

Dear Anonymous, You could further the conversation, rather than simply being negative; but that would require some effort on your part. What are "all the points" in your opinion? I based my article on 1) the historical. social, and religious origins of double names and 2) on what women actually said to me about their names—on their personal stories and experiences.

Interesting. My southern

Interesting. My southern mother's 3 syllable name was double but spelled as one and my name has three syllables in the first and second name but I have always been called by my middle name - when called by my first name I often do not realize someone is talking to me nor do I consider myself that person who would belong to my first name.


Some double names have been spelled as one for so long that we no longer recognize that originally they were two names—e.g., Marilyn (Mary+Lynn), Marilou (Mary+Louise). Not recognizing your first name as your name and not considering yourself to be someone who would have that name indicate that we do, indeed, create personal identities for names. These identities provide for interesting, and sometimes startling comments that people make—"You don't look like a Marguerite to me," for example. Names can become so dominated by associations that they are dropped, at least for awhile, until the name becomes more neural, with fewer associations. Most probably because of the star Marilyn Monroe, the name Marilyn had dropped and continues to drop in popularity. Once her name fades into history, the name Marilyn may regain its past popularity. Your name story is interesting in that you adopted your middle name to be your name. In the essays women wrote to me, most of them picked their first name as opposed to their second name.

That's an interesting perspactive

I'm from Romania (living in Canada) and I have a double name. It is hyphenated, but I never thought of that as having any importance. Spelling and legal rules probably dictated that back in the day. However, both my brother and I insist on including our full names on legal documents such as diplomas but nevertheless are not using our second name in real life. He is using his first name followed by a middle initial and I'm simply using the first name. The reason we have middle names and so does my mother is that we have all been baptized and our names of foreign origins are not in the Orthodox Christian calendar, so the priest would not baptize us under those name. My father only has one name since he is from a different social background where fancy foreign names were not an issue. Although I no longer confess to a priest, I did so as a child under my middle name, which seemed kind of strange.

Censorship of Given Names

Hi, Monica, You bring up a very important point about given names. As you indicate, the Catholic Church controlled what given names were acceptable (for centuries). If the Catholic Church did not accept a given name, it could not be used for baptism. European countries still control what given names can be used—but much less so than the church did. Today restrictions on given names in Europe are basically there to protect the child from offensive or demeaning names—at least that is the rational. Here in the U.S. we have no rules and some children get unfortunate names. We just had a ruling against a family that named their son Hitler.
One of Napoleon's edicts had to do with the regulation of last names—everybody had to have one and first names could not be used as family names, which presented a problem for Jews from tribes like Benjamin, which was a first name. As a result, many Jews had to change their last names.
Using your first and middle name on official documents is a good idea because it makes identity less of a problem. Your memories of confession as feeling strange because you were addressed by your middle name rather than by your familiar first name would have been very disconcerting for a child—even for an adult. Thank you for bringing up the historic Catholic Church censorship of given names.

That was not the Catholic Church

That was the Eastern Orthodox church. And it did not censor names within the society at large, only within the church, although church members could perfectly well have unapproved legal names. Birth and marriage certificates were issued by the state, not by the church. All legally recognized marriages were civil marriages and baptism (and, presumably, the church's own records) did not have any legal value. If I got married in church, which I did not, I would have had to have a civil marriage under my full legal name and a separate but not legally binding ceremony where I would have been called by my middle name. The church or some priests were rather capricious. For instance, the approved feminine variation of Nicholas (Nicolae in Romanian) was Niculina, which had connotations as being from the countryside. The modern, imported, city name of Nicoleta was not accepted even though there is probably nothing special about it in its language of origin (Italian). Someone actually had to be named Nicoleta Niculina (well, not really, baptism and church membership were not compulsory).

You may notice that under the communist regime, we cared more, not less, about class distinctions (although my parents were born before and that attitude had already started). People from the city and from the elite wanted to show it in their names. They didn't want the "peasant" names, although some interesting names were lesser-known old names (think of Donca Mizil, as few normal people are called Donca). FIY, Monica used to be one of the "elite" names, although I'm sure there are enough Monicas by now, and not only in the original social class.

Another interesting observation is that some of the families of the old elite stuck to one first name and a traditional one at that whereas the "parvenu" families (and sometimes the old families too in subsequent generations or when married to those newcomers) would be those who would insist on fancy names. My father was the son of a priest from an old "good" family and had one name. My mother was the daughter of a first-generation merchant born in some village and she and her siblings had fancy names.

That was not....

Hi, Monica, Thanks again for posting all this great information. My comments were based on medieval European Catholic practices. I think European state given name censorship grew out of church practices. It's interesting to know the Eastern Orthodox Church does the same thing. I know the state still censors given names in France and Germany. (I don't know about the other European countries, but I would imagine most of them still do as you ave informed me they do in Romania.). The story about Niculina vs Nicoleta is fascinating. I knew Romania was part of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Middle Ages, but I didn't know that it joined the Roman Catholic Church formally in 1700 as a result go the Hapsburg conquest. I'm guessing the prejudice against Nicoleta might possibly have something to do with Romania's Eastern Orthodox heritage?. Monica is a great name with lots of history—possibly going all the way back to Carthage (or perhaps even to to Phoenicia).

Another thought-provoking piece

You opened an interesting topic, Elisabeth, with good examples from your previous research. Lots more to say about it: I'm waiting for someone to add on the male side of your story. As always, I'll include your piece in Potpourri…stay well…w

Origins of American Double Name Tradition

Thank you for your post, Walter. I've been thinking some more about the Southern double naming tradition and realized that in addition to Scots, Irish, German, and French double naming traditions, Southern landed gentry, who considered themselves to be "aristocrats," may also have been influenced by European aristocratic naming traditions, which would have included multiple given names. I also wonder if Spanish naming traditions may played a role.

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Elisabeth Pearson Waugaman, Ph.D., teaches in the New Directions writing program of the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis. more...

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