Nine times out of 10, when I write out or sign my name, I sign it Janet M. Kincaid.
As a result, I get asked a lot what the "M" stands for.
I use to make people guess.
More times than not, they'd say, "Marie?" Mary was also a common answer.
But no. My middle name is Marlene.
When I lived in Austria, people would also ask. When I'd tell them, without fail to a person they'd say, "Oh. Wie Marlene Dietrich?" (In German, Marlene is pronounced Mar-lane-aa. And for those who are too young to know this, Marlene Dietrich was Germany's most famous actress in the 1920s and 30s. She was rather famous in the U.S. as well, particularly during and after World War II. During WWII for opposing the Nazi Party, which made her infamous in Germany, but loved in America. And after WWII for just being Marlene. If you want to see her in a good film, see Witness for the Prosecution.)
I started signing my name Janet M. Kincaid as a kid. I think I was mimicking Mom and Dad, who both signed their names with a middle initial. My mother's for her maiden name, my dad whose middle name is his mother's only brother.
Oddly enough, though, middle initials seem to be di rigeur if you grew up Mormon. Mormon culture is riddled with middle initials. Here's a sample of middle initials in the ranks of current and past Mormon church leaders.
Gordon B. Hinckley
Spencer J. Kimball
Heber J. Grant
Joseph F. Smith
David O. McKay
Boyd K. Packer
Thomas S. Monson
James E. Faust
Even the women haven't escaped this phenomena.
Bonnie D. Parkin
Barbara K. Smith
Sheri L. Dew
Mary Ellen W. Smoot
I'm not sure where the use of a middle initial started in Mormondom, but I have a sneaking hunch it happened when descendents of Joseph Smith, also named Joseph Smith, were called to be presidents of the church. There had to be a way to distinguish Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder from Joseph Smith, the nephew from Joseph Smith the son of the nephew. As a result, you have this:
Joseph Smith, Jr.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Sr.
Joseph F. Smith, Jr.
Is it just me or is this just a weird thing in Mormondom? I mean, I doubt there's a Mormon--active or inactive--among us who would refer to Gordon B. Hinckley as Gordon Hinckley. It's just wrong without the initial. And it isn't said Gordon B. Hinckley. It's GordonB.Hinckley, as one word. And nine times out of 10, most of us don't know what the middle initial in the person's name stands for.
So why do we bother? And why does this seem like such a Mormon thing?
And why do I care?
Oh, yeah. I remember. Because the other day someone asked me what the "M" stands for in Janet M. Kincaid.
Right now, I'm thinking it means "Moron."