Two Further Explanations for Romney's 'That's Also My First Name'

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 After the Republican debate on Tuesday, I noted the oddity of Mitt Romney (full name Willard Mitt Romney) going out of his way to tell Wolf Blitzer that Mitt was his real first name. On the one hand, it doesn't matter; on the other hand, it's not true, so why would he say it? Readers posit answers.

First, from a well-known writer:

To me it seems completely logical. It's a form of Freudian slip. He is trying to say, "That's also my real name." But a part of his brain is warning him that there's a problem. "Mitt" is not totally his real name; his real name also involves "Willard," which he is trying to keep hidden; Willard being his real FIRST name. Danger! Embarrassment! He wants to say "real" but "first" slips in.

Now, from a reader, who like Willard Mitt Romney, goes in real life by a different name from the one he was born with. His original name was on the model of "Hamilton Alexander Jones" [not the real name] but he goes by "Alexander":

There is something going on here that may not be apparent to those who are named "normally" in our modern society. It's about the inability of modern databases to handle older naming conventions, where people are given first and second names, but are referred to by their family using the second name.

My father was named (first name, second name), but always referred to by family and friends using the second name. Carrying on the tradition, I was named the same way. I went through school in the 1960's where none of my teachers had any trouble calling me by my second name, since that's what my parents and I said my name was.

All well and good, until the digital era arrived. Database forms aren't able to cope with people who use their middle names as their "real" first name. It's a nightmare. I witnessed my father, in his last dying days in hospital, being confused when all the nurses referred to him by his first name instead of his "real" name. Because that's how his insurance forms had been entered into the computer system. Middle names don't exist in this modern era.

I decided I never wanted to end up on my death bed being called by a name I don't use. So a few years ago, I filed the forms and went up before a judge to have my first name dropped, and replaced by my middle name that everyone knows me by. The judge asked why; I explained, and she understood perfectly.

Now I have just two "normal" names, first and second, the names our modern database-driven society recognizes.

I feel sorry for anyone who was named this way, including Mitt Romney who I have absolutely no other sympathy for as a human being. Yes, "Willard" is a name that's easy to make fun of, but there are deeper implications in not wanting to be called by your first name. Those who have "normal" names will never understand this.

And, as a bonus, one more hypothesis:

With regard to his first name, it does show how immune he's gotten to being truthful.  My guess is that he was just trying to be clever, but to say something so conspicuously false shows he didn't really think about it at all; it just popped out.  That's ok, but a bit troubling when the first thing that 'pops out' is not true.

I'll just think of him as "Mitt" and will assume he'll put it differently the next time.

Update. On the "being thankful at Thanksgiving time" front, here is a note from a reader who sees the bright side in different naming conventions:

As one of those who has always been known by his middle name - because my father and I shared first names and so he was First Name and I was Middle Name, I must point out a modern advantage I have. Because as your correspondent pointed out there is great difficulty in electronic databases dealing with this situation, it is oh-so-easy to rapidly discern a telemarketer or other un-wanted contacter: "Hello, may I speak to 'First Name'?"

Makes all those years of confusion worth while!

And, from a reader whose first name is Richard:

The messages about people going by their middle names resonated - I think there may be a "Southern" (ish) component to it. 

In my family, on my father's side the first born son has been named "Richard" - those who's father was Richard were referred to that way, those who's mother was the daughter of a Richard have been named Richard <middle> and referred to by <middle>.  That includes my oldest cousin and my nephew.   One of my former supervisors goes by his middle name. 

As for the digital age, and confusion over what to call people, I can understand for say 30 years ago, but since then there has been more than enough "capacity" that someone designing a database could easily add a "goes by" field.  That would serve to accommodate both those who go by a middle name, and those who go by a "nickname" of their first name - for example, those who go by Rick rather than Richard (and who have to deal with people, upon seeing "Richard" out of an enterprise database call him "Rich" instead :)
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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