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What’s in a (Middle) Name?

PUBLISHED: January 30, 2010

Run your finger along any bookshelf (or scroll through your electronic reading device, as the case may be) and you will notice a preponderance of well-known authors with three names. There are a number of reasons why a writer might choose to use a trio of names instead of a pair. Some, particularly Latin American authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges, are merely adhering to cultural convention. There are also a number of female authors, such as Doris Kearns Goodwin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who use their maiden name as their middle name (à la Hillary Rodham Clinton). There are those who took on new names to honor a distant relative. Katherine Anne Porter and Ford Maddox Ford both took on additional names (she the Katherine, he the second Ford) to honor an influential grandparent. You might be able to argue that Emerson’s Waldo prompted Thoreau to tack on the David, or that John Stuart Mill’s use of his middle name induced John Keynes to add the Maynard. But I would guess that for the majority of three-named authors, it was an aesthetic decision. A triumvirate of names gives the author a certain unassailability and gravitas. Consider the difference between James Cooper and James Fenimore Cooper; David Wallace and David Foster Wallace; or Jorge Luis Borges and Jorge Borges. Who would want to go down in history as Jorge Borges?

I was compelled towards this subject not because I have any epiphanies about the hermeneutics of author names. Rather, I got to thinking about three-named authors because I have myself decided to join the ranks of William Butler Yeats, Louisa May Alcott, and Arthur Conan Doyle. I could probably construct a convincing (and mostly true) story attesting that my decision was driven by a desire to honor my great-grandfather, Moshe David, for whom I am named. The truth, however, is rather more base. I decided to add the David, in part, because I think it sounds good, because it will help me stand out from the crowd if my name ever gets on the side of a book. The second, and admittedly more important, reason is a certain very well known gay porn producer by the name of Michael Lucas.

In days past, before the advent of Google, I might have been able to ignore the exploits of Michael Lucas. I would not have known about his controversial appearance at Stanford University, his trouble with the Israeli Defense Forces, or his flap with The New York Times. (You got to give it to him, Michael Lucas picks his adversaries well). But in the age of the interweb, and Google’s usually helpful propensity to correct misspellings, I have a hard time getting away from him. Even if I could refrain from self-googling, I would still have to contend with the endless jokes of those people who searched for my name and came up with a suggestion for Michael Lucas, “The Porn King of New York.” (The New York magazine profile that comes up second when you search for “Michael Lukas” on Google begins “Michael Lucas has built an erotic empire for himself—but it’s not always easy being on top.”) With the addition of my middle name, I just have to contend with Michael D Lucas of Big O Tires in Cloverport, KY and the Michael David Lukas who was picked up in Missoula, MT on a warrant for a traffic charge, then released after posting a $377 bond. It wasn’t me, I swear.


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Robert & Alexis Mendocino's picture
Robert & Al... · 13 years ago
It’s funny, we’ve been following your work for some time. At a dinner party last night, someone mentioned your upcoming Ottoman novel. As bibliophiles, we attempted to Google you this morning only to learn of your exploits in New York City. It’s not always easy being on top, Michael.
Sarang's picture
I seem to remember reading some critical discussion of this issue in connection w/ Auden’s lines “Earth, receive an honoured guest / William Yeats is laid to rest.” Btw I think a name like “Conan Doyle” is best thought of as a compound last name (at least that’s how it seems to have been interpreted at the time, though Wikipedia says Arthur made up the Conan for aesthetic reasons). There are other examples of this, mostly Victorian-Celtic, like D. Lloyd George, the critic G. Gregory Smith, etc. And of course there are those, largely regrettable, names of the type “J. Alfred Prufrock” where the middle name is for all purposes the first name. Other than gravitas I think there’s also euphony; “Jorge Borges” is a good example of where you need the middle name to avoid sounding silly; besides, I think there’s something of a tendency to beef up names that are overly short like “John Keynes” or “James Jones.”
Michael Lucas's picture
Sweat heart! I am sorry to cause you so many troubles! And I must admit I don’t suffer the same problem you do, so probably will not ad anything to my name:) Michael Lucas.
Michael David Lukas's picture
Thank you Robert and Alexis for your interest in the novel. Thanks to Sarang for the extra examples. And a massive thanks to Michael Lucas for your sympathies. Not to worry, I kinda like the ring of Michael David Lukas. And in any case, I wouldn’t want to horn in on your territory.
Rafael Alencar's picture
Uhh, actually there are some advantages in being associated with other people. In your case, if you are so good looking as Michael Lucas, I totally wanna know more about you.

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