Middle names as used in America weren’t shared across cultures. 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?
The Portuguese Didn’t Use Middle Names
We know that middle names were not widely given to Portuguese males who came to Hawaii or those who were born there in the first couple of decades. 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?
World War I And The Need For Middle Initials
It all starts with World War I. Running a war requires a tremendous amount of paperwork. It starts with the draft card and ends with the discharge papers. 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 regulation. The form asked for a middle name. But, these men didn’t have middles names.
To accommodate more persistent officials, some Portuguese thought up a middle name on the spot. The names had no bearing on reality. They appeared nowhere else in records.
How Did They Choose Their Middle Names
It’s not easy coming up with a name spontaneously. Go ahead, give it a try.
A few men used their mother’s maiden name. Some who were born with compound surnames, shifted the first one to their middle name.
Others plucked middle names out of thin air. My cousin told me his stepfather chose Victory since they hoped to win the war. From that day on Anthony Correia became Anthony V. Correia.
If your Portuguese ancestor filled out a draft card or was in the military and used middle initial V, chances are their middle name was Victory and not Victor, just like Anthony.
Complications For Genealogists Sorting People Out
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 just be initials. As more business was done on paper and without a handshake, the need for middle initials grew.
It isn’t going to help you one iota if you’re trying to find a birth or other record prior to the draft registration. The middle name just didn’t exist before that time.
© 2004-2021 Melody Lassalle