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V Stands For...
By Melody Lassalle

Portuguese males rarely used middle names. You might find one or two ancestors with a middle name, but was not the norm. Those who migrated to Hawaii continued this practice. So, how is it that after 1917 or so, many Portuguese Hawaiian males acquired a middle initial even though they weren't given a middle name at birth?

We know that middle names were not widely given to Portuguese males who came to Hawaii or those who were born there. Up until about 1915-1917, you see no appearance of a middle name except on rare occasion. Yet those same individuals born from 1880-1900 had middle names by the time they died. What changed? Why would you add a middle name or initial if you weren't born with one?

It all starts with World War I. The military draft started in 1917. At that time, Hawaii was a US territory and those born in Hawaii were subjected to draft registration. As they gave their information to the recorder tradition hit military formality. The form asked for a middle name. Dang it! They would have a middle name!

To accommodate the officials, the Portuguese gave them middle names. The names had no bearing on reality. A few men used their mother's maiden name or part of their compound surname. Others plucked middle names out of thin air. Some, being quite witty, picked middle names like Victory.

This creates a frustrating situation for genealogists who are trying to find one little detail that might reveal their ancestor in records. They may need that extra help to sort through hundreds of Manuel Souza's born at the same time on the same island. They may also feel that knowing the middle name of their ancestor brings them closer together.

The truth of the matter is that those initials you see in death indexes may not mean anything. The B, D, or X may not stand for anything at all. The person got so used to signing their name that way that they kept on doing it. It isn't going to help you one iota if you're trying to find a birth or other record prior to registration. The middle name just didn't exist before that time.

© 2004 Melody Lassalle

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