Tracey L Spicer reflects on the rise of the middle initial
I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but there’s a dangerous outbreak of M.I.S. in Australia at the moment.
It first struck the upper echelons of the business community, but has since trickled down to middling players in the showbiz, media and legal fraternities. Like many trends it began in North America, where its sufferers include actor William H. Macy and former President George W. Bush.
It’s Middle Initial Syndrome. And it’s coming to a business card near you.
For years, post-nominal titles have been propagating.
You know – PhD, AO, AC.
Then people started adding the acronyms of member organisations: Jane Smith ASFB (Australian Society for Fish Biology).
Now, in a world where too many letters is barely enough, those seeking to impress – let’s call them W.A.N.K.E.R.S. – are adding their middle initials to this alphabet soup.
One well-known Sydney lawyer has added a W (fittingly) to the middle of his name to differentiate himself from a famous astrophysicist.
I guess it must get confusing, with people calling all the time asking him to recite Pi to 22514 places.
Then there’s the Aussie cameraman who added an L. to his name to emulate American cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, the genius behind American Beauty.
I’m sure that must come in handy while filming Brand Power commercials.
The etymology of middle initials is actually quite fascinating (if you have nothing else meaningful to contemplate today.)
In the US, Canada and Australia there is usually only one middle name, which is abbreviated when personal records are stored on computer databases.
M.I.S. spread through Hollywood via a convention in the Screen Actor’s Guild that each active member must have a unique name for the credits.
Michael Fox decided to add the J. because there was already an actor with the same name holding a union card.
(In Family Ties he even played a character with M.I.S., Alex P Keaton.)
Former US President Ulysses S. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant, but a Congressman mistakenly added the S. and it stuck.
Harry S Truman didn’t actually have a middle name, but was christened with the S to represent the names of both of his grandparents.
There’s no period after the S because it isn’t an abbreviation.
Across the Atlantic, the Brits prefer to use their full middle name rather than an initial. This is considered to be a class issue.
But what of the practice of using the full middle name and abbreviating the Christian name, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald or J. Edgar Hoover?
Apparently this trend began in America’s deep south, where they thought it sounded affluent.
(Of course in the case of L. Ron Hubbard, it might have been the fact that his parents christened him Lafayette. That explains an awful lot of things.)
While the business community in Australia is afflicted with M.I.S., politicians are largely immune.
This might be due to fear of mockery.
Take Julia Eileen Gillard, for example.
What does the E. really stand for? Egregious? Or simply empty?
Anthony John Abbot could be pilloried for being a jackboot or a jester.
And so it goes.
Even our saviour didn’t escape the syndrome.
Incidentally what does the H stand for in Jesus H. Christ…?
- Tracey L. Spicer is a 2UE broadcaster, Sky newsreader, Daily Telegraph columnist, MC and keynote speaker. The L does not stand for louche, loose or lascivious.
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