Imagine two people. One of them is named Betsy Kaplan, the other, Betsy F.P.R. Academic studies suggest people, on average, would infer a higher intellectual capacity for Betsy F.P.R. Kaplan and be more likely to admire her and think she made more money than plain old Betsy Kaplan. A middle initial, says the scholarly literature, is basically a free ticket to higher status.
Which makes it odd that each successive generation is less likely, overall, to use them.
This hour, we go deep into middle initials and the middle names behind them. Would people feel the same about a person named Samuel Jackson, Philip Dick, William Buckley or Johnny Goode, and how did Abraham Lincoln amount to anything with no middle name?
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- Bruce Feiler is a columnist for the New York Times, and the author of many books, including “The Secrets of Happy Families,” and the host of "Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler" coming to PBS this fall.
- Frank Nuessel is a professor at the University of Louisville and the editor of “Names: A Journal of Onomastics”
- Wijnand A.P. van Tilburg is a research fellow in Psychology at the University of Southampton and the co-author with Eric R. Igou, of the University of Limerick, of the study, "The Impact of Middle Names: Middle Name Initials Enhance Evaluations of Intellectual Performance."