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The Top 10: People with invented middle initials

From Harry S Truman to JK Rowling and

John Rentoul
Saturday 11 June 2016 16:08 BST
JK Rowling, who was born Joanne Rowling: Getty
JK Rowling, who was born Joanne Rowling: Getty

I know all names are invented, but this is a list of people who have a middle initial that doesn’t stand for a name they were born with. Tom Harris suggested it after Ulysses S (US) Grant was nominated for last weeks Top 10 leaders with the name of their country in their name. Harris also nominated Harry S Truman.

1. Ulysses S Grant. Union Army general and 18th President of the US. Acquired the S in error when a congressman wrote in support of his application to West Point military academy.

2. Harry S Truman. Thirty-third President of the US. Given the S on his birth certificate by his parents as a compromise between two grandparents, Shipp and Solomon.

3. JK Rowling. She was born Joanne Rowling. Bloomsbury wanted two initials on her book rather than her first name, so as not to put off boy readers (see also KA Applegate). She chose K for Kathleen, from her grandmother, the name she now uses for formal purposes. Nominated by Lee “Budgie” Burnett.

4. Iain M Banks. Published The Wasp Factory and two more books without the initial, then used the M for his science fiction titles. His parents intended Menzies to be his middle name but made a mistake registering him. Thanks to Oliver Cooper and Adam West.

5. Grant V Shapps. In addition to the name he used for his web marketing business, Michael Green, he was elected as MP for Welwyn Hatfield with a middle initial he wasn’t born with. From Nick Timothy. ‏

6. There is always one, and this week it is Gregusmeus.

7. Benoit B Mandelbrot. And sometimes there are two or three. In this case Marie Le Conte and Ted Hosking. The B stands for Benoit B Mandelbrot, which is a maths joke, because Mandelbrot invented the word fractal to describe patterns that repeat themselves infinitely.

8. ‏Michael J Fox. There was already a Michael Fox registered with the Screen Actors Guild and Fox didn’t like his real middle initial, A for Andrew. Back to the future with Adam Lloyd-Binding, Neil Matthews and David Herdson.

9. Russell T Davies. The re-inventor of Doctor Who was born Stephen Russell Davies. The T was chosen at random to distinguish him from the Radio 4 presenter.‏ Nominated by Gareth Roberts and ‏John Nor.

10. Harry H Corbett. Played Steptoe, the son, and added the H, which he said stood for “Hennyfink”, to avoid confusion with the other one, creator of the glove puppet Sooty. From David Mills and Chi The Cynic. ‏

Honourable mentions for David Mapstone, who nominated David O Selznick, the ‏Hollywood mogul; Guy Cudmore, for pointing out that the Z in Jay Z (formerly Jay-Z) presumably stands for something other than Shawn Corey Carter; and Paul T Horgan, for nominating Groucho Marx’s various characters, Rufus T Firefly, Otis B Driftwood, Dr Hugo Z Hackenbush and Wolf J Flywheel.

Next week: Shakespeare rewrites, such as West Side Story

Coming soon: Compound Names in Which Every Word is Untrue, such Socialist Workers Party and Holy Roman Empire

Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop, is available as an e-book for £3.79

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