Hi, My name is Karen NMN

I just found out that one of my best friends is a closet revolutionary.  I like her even more now.

It all started when I got an email from my HR department addressed to Karen NMN.   Wha?  I was very confused.  It sounded like a candy bar, or a Detroit-based rapper, but not staid boring regular old Karen H.  I read a little further and realized that I was actually being referred to as Karen No Middle Name.  Apparently my Mormon roots had blown the mind of our government IT system, and it had to assign me the middle initials that my parents didn’t give me.  I was part of that mid-century crop of girls that were destined for marriage and mommy-hood.  I was born in the height of the ERA debate, and my lack of a middle name was like an anthem to my mind.  “You won’t get caught up in this silliness.  You’re getting married, and you’re taking your husband’s name, and then your last name can become your middle name, and all will be well in Zion and your HR records should you choose to have a part time job before you start raising your children.”

Now I have to admit here that I’m being totally unfair to my parents.  They have never been anything but supportive of my education and my career.  They are smart and loving and kind.  And I think they just wanted me to avoid name confusion.  It was pretty common in the Mormon-belt for girls to be without middle names.  In an informal straw poll among friends, about 1/2 of them, or sisters, or wives, or mothers were without middle names.

But the bottom line is that it feels like a bit of a slap in the face.  It feels like alone I do not have a complete identity.  It feels like I’m not a whole person without a husband.  And let’s make no mistake here, friends, I am without a husband.  I may be without one for the rest of my life.  And even if I’m not, I’m not sure I would want to change my name if I were to get married.  I’m really settled professionally, with hundreds of work contacts.  I have a mortgage, a car, bills, passports and id cards, not to mention all of the work documents and school diplomas all in my name.  The name of me.  Whole person me.

So I was expressing my disgruntlement to my awesome revolutionary friend who, as part of her day-disguise poses as a Relief Society president, Beehive teacher, or Cub Scout leader.  She agreed with me, and said that she hated not having a middle name.  “What?” I said incredulously, “You do have a middle name, it’s Elizabeth.”  “Ha!” She smugly replied.  “You bet I do, I took myself down to the courthouse and legally changed it.  It’s a family name, and I love Elizabeth Bennett, so it was the perfect choice.”  She rocks.  Were her parents upset?  Nope.  They bought her monogrammed towels to celebrate.

That got me thinking.  I could give myself a middle name too!  I would be like that skier, Picabo Street who chose her own name when she was two years old, only I wouldn’t choose a name like Picabo.  But what kind of name would I choose?  A few sassy thoughts passed through my head:  Svetlana, Bathsheba, Vivienne.  Ultimately, I think I would choose a family name too.  My favorite family name is Astrid–my very beloved grandma who passed away at age 101 a couple of years ago.  Karen A.  Karen A.  It sounds nice.

So should I do it?  Is symbolically declaring myself whole worth the bureaucratic hassle that would surely follow?  Is this brilliance or folly?


  1. Stephanie says:

    I added a middle name when I got married and completely dropped my maiden name.

  2. Astrid is beautiful. I changed my name after my divorce- and not back to my maiden name- I chose the name of my favorite grandmother. You know where I stand.

  3. I changed my middle name to my last name when I got married because I felt like dropping my last name made me lose part of my identity. My last name meant much more to me than my middle name ever did. If I ever have a daughter, I completely intend on not giving her a middle name for the aforementioned reason. I never thought of the inclusion of a middle name as a statement of feminism for some people…Interesting. I like how in Latin America, a “de” is added before the husband’s last name, while women retain their full name…Much better for genealogical purposes too.

  4. It’s a brilliant solution, Karen. I wonder why we haven’t heard of this more often.

  5. It’s nice to be able to choose our names. I kept my married name (Smith) after my divorce because, at the time, I didn’t want to deal with the confusion of having a different name than my four kids. I now use my middle name rather than my maiden name — not much logic to it all, just my choice.The one name that I don’t answer to, however, is “Sister Smith.” That is someone else, not me.

  6. Our youngest daughter has a hyphenated middle name.

    Does that make her some kind of super girl?

  7. Brilliance. It’s a beautiful name, and worth the hassle. I’ve always felt inexplicably offended by the way maiden names become ‘middle’ names. (Then again, I’d love to bring back the patronymic system, women always keeping their own names and everything, so ignore me.)

  8. I’ve never understood the idea that you switch your maiden name for a married name. This is the way my husband’s family had done it. I always viewed it as you added your new last name at the end, and then since it is easier to just use three names your middle name is “silent.” I view myself as having four names but I just legally wanted to use First, Maiden, Last.
    In this facebook era, it is wonderful to see so many women and their maiden names as part of their names First, Maiden, Last. I prefer it to the First, Middle, Last (Maiden) format.
    I legally changed my middle name from middle to maiden after I had been married for years. In my state it only cost me $25 and an hour at the courthouse. I had “caved” to my husband’s wishes when we married, but resented it. Eventually he one day said he regretted being a jerk about it. So I simply went to the courthouse and got it done to what it should have been all along. I liked taking charge of my name. I have a few places where 10 years later it is the wrong middle initial, but I have never been hassled about it. Just keep copies of the paperwork handy in case you every have legal documents (like when I sold my house) and need to add that along with the documents. I imagine going from no middle to a middle will rarely cause any drama, but be prepared.

  9. “So should I do it? Is symbolically declaring myself whole worth the bureaucratic hassle that would surely follow? Is this brilliance or folly?”

    Go for it. Sounds meaningful and also fun. Since when are brilliance and folly mutually exclusive?

  10. I have a middle name, but grew up with several mormon girlfriends who did not and thought that it was awful. Just like you, I thought it implied that they were somehow not complete until they were married. I say make the change. I have never heard the name Astrid before and I think it is just beautiful.

  11. I never knew why my three sisters, all Utah Mormon raised, never has middle names when I did, until now. I thought it was just a parental oversight and not a part of Mormon culture.
    All three sisters chose middle names and had them legally added as teenagers.
    And it so happens that our three boys have one middle name each while our two daughters have two.

  12. Most of my female LDS cousins were not given middle names and I always thought it was sad.

    I had a middle name, and when I got married I didn’t drop anything, so now I have two middle names.

  13. Yes give yourself a middle name because your name is what defines you…I’m a no middlenamer (and so are my girls) and I LOVE IT. Besides, most middle names are lame! Lee, Ray, mae. The only reason you really need one is to get in trouble by your mother and to be called as a general authority. I have no desire for either…so I’m good.

  14. Both my daughters have two middle names. I can let you have one theirs; but you might not want them. ‘Marie Coleman’ and ‘Chell Coleman’

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s the etymology of Astrid:

    fem. proper name, from Norse, related to O.H.G. Ansitruda, from ansi “god” + trut “beloved, dear.”

    I approve.

  16. I always suspected this was a mormon mid-century (I was born in the 60s) thing, my mom claimed it wasn’t and that she just thought middle names for girls were “unneeded”. It always bugged me growing up. I also noticed most of my girlfriends who did have middle names were “Ann” or “Lynne” or “Lee”. No family names or names of real significance or meaning so they would be easier to ‘drop’ once they got married or incorporate into the first name if someone had become “Kristy Lee” rather than just Kristy. I happily kept my last name as my middle name once I got married. Though it is a little unweildy. I was okay with this arrangement and came to think that maybe in some ways my parents were right, at least this way I could keep my former surname as my middle name and that’s a family name.

    I got divorced this year after 22 years of marriage and suddenly I am back to being a little disgruntled with my names. I’m keeping the married name because it’s the name my children have, and also because I feel like I earned it somehow and it sounds nice when joined with my first name. But lately I’ve been wondering if I’m always going to feel that way. Do I want to be tied to this name for the rest of my life? If I had a middle name, I think I would more readily go back to my family surname.

    Maybe. The whole issue of naming and girls is annoying. I know some people opt for hyphenated surnames for their children and I appreciate that in terms of what it says about a couple . But of course, that can get super unweildy quickly too.

    But at the very least I think a girl should have a middle name. I wonder if there are mormon women who still opt to omit them on their daughters?

  17. Never met a girl that didn’t have a middle name. Grew up in the Midwest though, so it might be dependent on where you’re at. This does explain the absence found in some directory entries…

    I dropped my maiden named when I got married but I have no plans on changing the name listed on my scriptures. My mom still has her set from childhood and I plan on doing the same.

  18. Yeah I’ve never heard of not giving a girl a middle name. I did wonder though why all the Mormon women used their maiden name as their middle name after they got married.

    I always told my parents I wouldn’t change my last name when I got married if I didn’t like the new name as much as my maiden name. But I do like it way more, so I did.

    My youngest son doesn’t have a middle name. It’s a bit of a hassle for him, I think. But there’s a reason we didn’t give him one.

  19. @Susan M.: You don’t want him to grow up to be a GA?

  20. Exactly.

  21. I never met a Japanese person, male or female, who had a middle name. And they seem to get along perfectly well without one.

    If your HR folks had known their history, you’d have got “NMI” rather than “NMN”–NMI is what the army used for the poor schmucks without middle initials.

    Of course, I’d prefer that we get rid of middle names altogether–and especially middle initials. Why on earth should we have to refer to our church leaders as “Thomasess, Henrybee, and Dietereff”? Are they less august if they’re simply “Thomas, Henry and Dieter”?

    Or do we need to give Jesus a middle initial? If we do, I suppose that “H” would be the popular choice.

  22. “Besides, most middle names are lame! Lee, Ray, mae.”

    That whole comment is a joke…right?

    The middle name is the most expressive in naming, and my favorite to work on for my kids. The first name has certain constraints–it needs to be easy to spell so you don’t over-burden your kindergartener, common so it’s not a lifelong burden to spell to everybody over the phone, but not so common that your kid has 3 in their class, etc. But the middle name is nearly free of such considerations. That’s where you can go with a beloved character, a beloved family name, that kind of thing.

  23. #15 – So, “Astrid” means “Dear God!” That could be a great inside joke in and of itself.

    #13 – Thanks a lot. Nothing like having one’s middle name (and the name by which one chooses to be called) ridiculed as lame.

    #22 – Amen, Cynthia. Our children love their middle names. It means a lot to them, mostly because we explained to tehm why it meant so much to us to give it to them. Even with that, our older children actually envy the youngest one, whose middle name is the most unique.

  24. Dale Farnsworth says:

    My three sisters were given no middle names, but neither were my two brothers and I. Same for my 5 daughters and 3 sons. No naming gender inequality in my family; we’re all equally deprived!

  25. Astrid is a great name, but am I the only one who thinks immediately of “The Office” upon hearing the name?

    Angela: Per your instructions, we have the personalized M&Ms with the baby names. This is your boy bowl, with the name “Chevy.” And this is the girl bowl, with M&Ms with the name “Astird.”
    Phyllis: That can’t be right.
    Angela: Michael wrote down “Astird.”
    Michael: She said it is the name of a Viking princess. So…
    Meredith: Ass…turd.
    Michael: I know. I know. It is beautiful. No. Thank you.

  26. Well SISTERS__ I am a Swede from generations in the Sanpete Valley. If I am the first born of my father, my middle name is his first name. If I am second born male, my middle name is my is the first name of my mother’s father. And so on for generations.
    It use to be, your maiden name was your father’s name. Your married name was your husband’s name.
    But feel free to call your self whatever you wish.

  27. Once we got married, my wife dropped her very common first name and went almost exclusively by her unusual middle name. It was only because of the hassle that legally changing it would be that she never went through that last step.

  28. I never had a middle name, and it never really bothered me.

    But we’ve loved giving our girls middle names. They have all been family names.

    My only regret is not doing what my friend did and giving our son two (I wanted to get my maiden name in there somewhere for my dad’s sake. He only had girls. ;) )

  29. Yeah, I know people think of the office, which is really unfortunate! It seriously is a beautiful name. (It’s pronounced Ah-stree in Norwegian, but I think Astrid pronounced the american way is pretty too.)

    I like the office, but there’s nothing like having Michael Scott infect your favorite name! Gack.

  30. Funny. I always thought of not giving the middle name as a way to give options to make it easier for a woman’s original name to be honored and kept so she didn’t give up her family identity when married. She could always hyphenate of course but I can see how some might feel that might get unwieldy depending on the parties involved (Ledinowski-Hershelman or Busselburg-Bytheway). I also assumed it was done often in the Mormon world because of the desire to retain a tangible link to the woman’s family – especially for those that came from “pioneer” or other “notable” stock. I stand corrected I guess and apologize to my second daughter for not giving her full personhood. On the other hand my first daugther’s middle name is her mother first name, to honor her the way it is often done with fathers.

  31. Bob,
    That’s not true across cultures.

  32. Maybe not all of them, but more than just the one. Korea, for example, comes to mind where the women don’t adopt their husband’s name when they marry but do carry their father’s name till kingdom come.

  33. #31:mmiles, do Mormon genealogy in the Sanpete Valley and see what I mean.

  34. #23 – I know it hurts doesn’t it? Sorry, if I knew you, maybe you could take it personally but I don’t so…will you forgive me?

    #22 – I thought we were ALL joking (to some degree) but now I’m not so sure….

    Are there really people out there who think they are better than someone else because they have or do not have a few extra letters squished between some other letters that make up their name?

  35. #34: “squished between some other letters that make up their name?”
    No__GAs and attorneys like the letter in front of the name.

  36. Jenny in NC says:

    I don’t have a middle name. I never realized it was because my parents were trying to marry me off and squelch my individuality. Darn, that’s a downer.

    When I got married, I meant to make my maiden name my middle name, but something went wrong and I still only have a first name and a last name. Oh well.

  37. I think this is a fabulous idea! I have a middle name, like it enough, but wanted my children to have names they could admire. So they were given their grandparent’s first and last names. Strong names.

  38. #34 – I should have added a smiley, but I didn’t want to invoke the bannination stick.

  39. Lots of professionals never change their names to avoid all the licensing and other update hassles. With facebook, many people are going back to their old names. ;)

    But I’m all in favor of people having as many names as they want. Especially if they scan and balance properly.

  40. Mostimportantly says:

    I have a middle name which I love, and my mother has one as well. I never realized that others did not until I was pregnant with my first, a girl. When I told my MIL our daughter’s full name, middle included, she was actually shocked and offended that I was breaking Mormon tradition. I now go by my first, middle, and married name. The interesting thing about this is that I never legally changed my name. My driver’s license has my married name but SSA still knows me by my maiden name. I don’t know if this will ever be a problem. It’s been 7 years and it has never come up. So, you may not have to jump through any hoops. If you want to be Karen Astrid, just start using it.

  41. Mostimportantly says:

    #23- I declare “Ray” to be the Mormonest, and therefore most correct of all names.

  42. Researcher says:

    That’s funny, Mostimportantly! Breaking Mormon tradition? I knew one family while I was growing up that didn’t give their girls middle names, and my husband’s mother and sisters don’t have middle names, but other than that, I’ve never seen the practice, so based on my experience the practice is statistically insignificant. Is it possible that your mother in law is a bit sheltered?

    In order to balance out the daughters with their middle, maiden, and eventual married names, a couple could give their sons two middle names like some relatives of mine did. I see that michelle has mentioned this practice as well.

    My grandpa and all his thirteen brothers and sisters had their mother’s maiden name for their middle names. I thought it was very elegant.

    And, finally, Astrid is a lovely name. Go for it, Karen!

  43. I wonder how many of you are doing your genealogy? :):)
    This kind of stuff can drive you nuts! I am not even sure of my Grandfather’s name.
    My wife’s family is worse. They all have the same names, only in different orders. If I ask my wife_”who’s this?” “It’s Namom” or something.

  44. Adam K. K. Figueira says:

    I’m not a whole person without my wife. Is there shame in that? After all, “Neither is the man without the woman…”

    In my family, we all have 2 middle names: one given by our parents and another by the grandparents. I cherish both of mine, and use the initials professionally, although I go by my first name. Most of my siblings also use their 2 middle initials in professional or formal settings. We are proud of our names that link us to past generations and represent our parents’ feelings about us at the time of our birth.

    In the same spirit, when a person marries into our family, he or she (that’s right, men too) is given a Polynesian name by the new in-laws. It’s a generations-old tradition. My wife had no middle name before we married, but now she does, and loves it. She normally uses first-middle-married, and drops her maiden name, but sometimes includes it. It depends entirely on how she is feeling at the moment.

    All 5 of my daughters also have four names, the third chosen by my parents.

    Names are a big deal to us, and the more, the merrier.

  45. Perhaps I should note, just for the record, that my wife’s not having a middle name prior to our marriage has nothing to do with some Mormon tradition. This is actually the first time I’ve heard of it, and I’ve been an active Utah Mormon for more than 20 years. Her parents simply didn’t have two meaningful names to give her. They discussed it (my wife tells me this story periodically) and just felt her name was complete without one.

  46. Astrid sounds like a great name. You should go for it.

    I had the opposite “problem”. My mother named me one long name, which everyone took as two names. I even wrote the first part on my school papers. When my mother told me it was one name, not two, I took to that like a duck to water. My mother, however, had no “marriage” in mind when she named me or my sisters. She named us what she wanted. End of story. I had never even heard of such a dumb thing (sorry) until I was 29 and a friend told me that was why she didn’t have a middle name. AND I didn’t have a clue that it was a Mormon cultural thing until just now (and I’m 54 and was born and raised in Mormondom)!!

    Since no one can, apparently, pronounce my name, I began going by “Toni” in high school, so I really do have more than one name. Even some of my legal papers say “Toni” (like jobs and such) :)

    5. Karmen Says: “It’s nice to be able to choose our names. I kept my married name (Smith) after my divorce because, at the time, I didn’t want to deal with the confusion of having a different name than my four kids.”

    I did this, Karmen. When I got divorced the second time, I would have gone back to Smith because no one mispronounces it, but I didn’t think I had that option. I didn’t want the 2nd last name, so I reverted to my maiden name, and now I have to specify that my kids last name is “Smith”. Unlike you, I would answer to “Smith”, out of habit. If I did get married again, I’m not sure what I’d do. It really is a hassle to change names on so many things.

    Some of my brother’s daughters have three names, not counting their original last name. lol

    21. MarkB – Jesus has a whole slew of names.

    Y’all are making me want to add a name. I think it would be great to live in a culture that let/encouraged a child to choose another name (either instead of or in addition to their original name) when they were ten, again when they were twenty, and again whenever they felt the desire.

    I agree with #40 “Mostimportantly” – It used to be perfectly legal in some states to change one’s name that way. Just start using it.

    #44 Adam. That’s awesome!

  47. Jeannine L. says:

    Where I work, when the e-mail account and such was set up it wanted a middle initial and I don’t have one. So it added an “X” to the field. I think it’s edgy. Kinda like Malcom X or something. Do they have White Panthers?

  48. And, Toni, (46) I suspect that he had more of a sense of humor than you seem to have.

  49. Funny. I always thought of not giving the middle name as a way to give options to make it easier for a woman’s original name to be honored and kept so she didn’t give up her family identity when married.

    That was the intention in my very old (but in some respects very liberal) Mormon family. Additionally, the boys were given their mothers’ maiden names as middle names. It does help with genealogy, but I can sure understand feminist objections to the practice.

  50. I don’t know about this maiden name as the middle name thing.. I traded my maiden name for my husbands last name when we got married (trust me! It’s a really cool name; otherwise, I never would have!). And I have a middle name but Byu thinks my name is: firstname maidenname(as middle name) lastname. Lame!

  51. esodhiambo says:

    The school I was at for 6-7 grades added NMN to my name, and it followed be all the way through high school. I think my HS diploma even as N as a middle initial!

  52. My family follows this tradition on both sides. My mom comes from Southern Alberta and my Dad comes from SE Idaho. It goes back around 80 years.
    No one in my generation is following it. I understand different countries and cultures do it differently. I just don’t understand why we need to be different from the general American culture in this regards.

  53. My husband and I *both* altered our names as young adults. My experience with it was very nice!

    I added my mother’s maiden name as a second middle name (I don’t use my first given name, and have always gone by my first middle name), and answered to that as a surname for quite a few years before I met my husband. When we married, I dropped my maiden name, changed the unused first name to an initial, and kept my middle names entirely, adding my husband’s surname to the mix. I ended up saving about 13 letters, so that was nice for form-filling.

    DH added his father’s middle name to his own (creating a used first, unused middle, and new second middle, plus surname).

    Our oldest daughter has a double-first name, my second middle name, and father’s surname. Our son has two family names for first and middle, plus father’s surname. Our little girls each have first and middle, plus surname. I only know one family that doesn’t give middle names, and they’re Canadian LDS living in the Mormon Corridor.

    For me, altering my name finally made it a name that FIT me. I had always struggled to “hear” my original surname, which sounds weird, but it just didn’t fit me. My married surname suits, and my mother’s maiden name suits, so those are the ones I use.

    Add the middle name. It’s a defining personal thing, and won’t stretch out of shape as you age, like a tattoo might. (Which I also have. And love. But one got stretched beyond aid by the aforementioned son.)

  54. I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with adding a middle name to your name, but….really? The middle part of this post seems to suggest that you like your name as it is, and wouldn’t want to change it (for marriage or anything, for that matter). But then you decide that to feel “complete” you need a middle name? That just seems weird to me. How would a middle name complete you? Personally, I don’t even get the point of a middle name (other than parents can’t decide between two names so they give their kid both); it just seems like a cultural tradition that has no social/cultural/and sometimes even personal weight to it.

    But like I said, if it’s that big of a deal, then go for it.

  55. For a man, I don’t think you are complete until you have a business card with your name on it.

  56. I forgot to mention that I have seven brothers and sisters, born and raised in Utah County. I have sisters with middle names, sisters with no middle names, a brother with a middle initial only and a brother with no middle name – and I have a middle name.

  57. I know it’s well after the thread, but this is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately, with my wedding fast approaching. My given name ends with the same letter as my middle name begins, and my middle name ends in the same letter as my last name begins; since I noticed it as a young child, I’ve been in the habit of writing (and signing) my name “givenmiddlemaiden”, dropping the duplicate letters, and I’m experiencing a lot of reluctance regarding that no longer being the case. What I’ll probably do is go with “given middlemaiden married” legally and use “givenmidd married” as my signature, but I don’t think I’ll know for sure until the day arrives.

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