Why do some people use middle name for their first name like attorneys? And is this ok in the academic venue?

  • 3
    I do not think this practice is more common among attorneys than among many other professions.
    – GEdgar
    Jun 6, 2017 at 21:41
  • 4
    @GEdgar - I'm not so sure. From what I've seen (anecdotal, sure), it mainly is men with the same first name as their father (for family reasons). Then, to distinguish the father from son the son's second name is used within the family. One of my brother-in-laws is different - as a child the family used his middle name, and he went to his first name once in college when there was no reason to distinguish (in general).
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 6, 2017 at 23:15
  • 2
    I didn't know this was more common among attorneys! Jun 8, 2017 at 3:13
  • To take one prominent example, I think Tim Gowers, the Fields medalist also known as W. T. Gowers, would agree that it's acceptable to use your middle name in academia. Jun 8, 2017 at 22:19
  • 3
    This has nothing to do with academia. Feb 11, 2020 at 1:53

2 Answers 2


Why do some people use middle name for their first name like attorneys?

Perhaps they don't like their first name, or maybe there's already a well-known person in their field with the same name, so they need to distinguish themselves.

And is this ok in the academic venue?


  • 16
    Or perhaps they've been called by their middle name their entire lives.
    – JeffE
    Jun 6, 2017 at 21:36

Believe it or not, there's some ambiguity in the question because of "middle name" and "use".

Example 1: I've been known as "Andreas" all my life. For the first eight years of my life, that was my middle name. My baptismal certificate says "Raphael Andreas Blass". But when I became a U.S. citizen, the idea that I'm called by my middle name didn't fit with the forms that needed to be filled out and/or with the mind-set of the official filling them out. So I became "Andreas Raphael Blass". Am I therefore using my middle name as a first name?

Example 2: Donald A. Martin, professor emeritus of math and philosophy at UCLA, writes his name just as I wrote it here on his academic publications. But everybody calls him "Tony", even in academic contexts like introducing him when he lectures at conferences. So which name is he "using"?

As long as I'm writing this answer anyway, let me give a few examples to indicate how common the use of middle names is. Just among my own past Ph.D. students, there are R. Michael Canjar and E. Todd Eisworth (about 7% of the total). Emeritus colleagues in my department include B. Alan Taylor and G. Peter Scott. Other mathematicians whose work is close enough to mine that I've cited it in my papers: C. A. R. Hoare (called "Tony"), F. William Lawvere, W. Hugh Woodin. And I'm probably forgetting a few here.

  • 1
    Without hardly thinking about it (due to my interests, and my associations with several of his Ph.D. students), R. Daniel Mauldin comes to mind. Feb 11, 2020 at 7:19

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