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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Relatively speaking

Parents are funny. I don't have a middle name, and neither do my brother and sister. My father didn't believe in them -- don't ask me why -- and put his foot down. This caused no end of consternation when I was growing up, in a part of the country where it's practically illegal to have only two names. And filling out forms remains a chore to this day -- do I use NMI (no middle initial) or NMN (no middle name)? Nine times out of 10, if I leave it blank, somebody in charge of form collecting will get back to me, assuming I have merely forgotten, and I have to explain that I don't have a middle name, and they usually write in NMI or NMN themselves. Can't leave anything out of those forms, you know -- it would throw the whole form system into utter chaos.

I was moved to tell this recently to Emma Downs, who works across the hall at the Evil Empire, as a kind of counter-whine to her complaint that she has two middle names. In fact, all the children in her family do, and there seems to have some kind of rule that all the names had to come from Jane Austen novels. "It's awkward having two middle names," she said. "So you can have one of mine, if you like." What are they? I aksed. "Elizabeth and Elliot." (I forgot to ask her if it has one "l" or two, but two look better.)

Clearly, Elizabeth won't do. But Elliot has possibilities. It wouldn't work with Leo -- "Leo Elliot" has too many competing vowel sounds -- but it could fit with my autonym, Leonard. In fact, Leonard Elliot Morris has rather a nice ring to it. I could even go by LEM, which even sounds like a name that would fit in where I grew up, at least as a middle name, as in "Billy Lem Johnson, you get in here right this minute!"

With as much trouble as parents have coming up with a first name, I don't know why they bother with middle ones, but there are even Web sites to help people out with the task. A lot of people seem to appease pushy relatives with middle names. Uncle Bob or Grandma Rose thinks it would be swell to have a new generation carry on the name, so it gets stuck in the middle. If the kid is lucky, he or she will never get called that, but it keeps peace in the family.

Come to think of it, all relatives are funny.