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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 341

religious obsession of the New England colonists is also kept in mind by the persistence of Biblical names: Ezra, Hiram, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Elijah, Elihu, and so on. These names excite the derision of the English; an American comic character, in an English play or novel, always bears one of them. Again, the fashion of using surnames as given names is far more widespread in America than in England. In this country, indeed, it takes on the character of a national habit; fully three out of four eldest sons, in families of any consideration, bear their mothers’ surnames as middle names. This fashion arose in England during the seventeenth century, and one of its fruits was the adoption of such well-known surnames as Stanley, Cecil, Howard, Douglas and Duncan as common given names. 46 It died out over there during the eighteenth century, and today the great majority of Englishmen bear such simple given names as John, Charles and William—often four or five of them— but in America it has persisted. A glance at a roster of the presidents of the United States will show how firmly it has taken root. Of the eleven that have had middle names at all, six have had middle names that were family surnames, and two of the six have dropped their other given names and used these surnames. This custom, perhaps, has paved the way for another: that of making given names of any proper nouns that happen to strike the fancy. Thus General Sherman was named after an Indian chief, Tecumseh, and a Chicago judge was baptized Kenesaw Mountain 47 in memory of the battle that General Sherman fought there. A late candidate for governor of New York had the curious given name of D-Cady, and a late American ethnologist, McGee, always insisted that his first name was simply W J, and that these letters were not initials and should not be followed by periods. 48 Various familiar American given names, originally surnames, are almost unknown in England, among them, Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Columbus and Lee. Chauncey forms a curious addition to the list. It was