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Old 05-23-2020, 09:18 AM
solost is offline
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“Never trust a person with two first names” phrase origin and meaning?


So my wife and I were watching the news, and a local newscaster who has two first names was talking, and my wife jokingly said this phrase. I asked her where she got that phrase from since I’ve used it in the past and actually thought I had made it up. She said naw, you’re not clever enough to make anything up on your own— that phrase has been around for awhile.

So I googled it, and though the question has been asked in several forums, there are only a few vague speculative answers on origin and meaning. As for origin, a few people said they first heard the phrase on an episode of Mystery Science Theater. But I’ve used the phrase before that show existed.

As for meaning, you’d think since I thought I came up with the phrase myself that I’d have a strong opinion what it means, but I really don’t, I just thought it was an amusing little absurdity. If you pressed me on it, i’d probably say someone with two first names (defined as someone who’s last name is a first name, like ‘Dave Thomas’) sounds like a phony, made up name. The best online guess I found defined it as someone who goes by two first names and a last name, and the reason for the phrase is that people with those names always seem to be killers— like ‘James Earl Ray’.
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Old 05-23-2020, 10:13 AM
Little Nemo is offline
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Originally Posted by solost View Post
The best online guess I found defined it as someone who goes by two first names and a last name, and the reason for the phrase is that people with those names always seem to be killers— like ‘James Earl Ray’.
That's a myth. The people that knew James Earl Ray called him Jimmy Ray; nobody used his full name. Same thing with Lee Harvey Oswald or Mark David Chapman; they were known by just their first names.

The reason their middle names became common knowledge is because they committed a serious crime and the police identified them publicly by their full name, which is standard procedure. If Tom Hanks, for example (it's always the ones you least expect), was arrested for a string of murders, the official statement would identify him as Thomas Jeffrey Hanks and suddenly he'd be another "three name" killer.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 05-23-2020 at 10:14 AM.
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Old 05-23-2020, 11:31 AM
Steve McQwark is offline
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There was a "letter to the editor" in National Lampoon saying not to trust a person with a last name that could also be a first name. So they had two first names but it was their first and last names. Lee Oswald or James Ray or Sirhan Sirhan. The writer concluded by suggesting that someone investigate Woody Allen. This would have been in the late 70s or early 80s.
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Old 05-23-2020, 11:34 AM
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It still seems more or less random though. Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh (just to name two that come to mind) didn't get the "three name" treatment.
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Old 05-23-2020, 11:55 AM
Bill Door is online now
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
That's a myth. The people that knew James Earl Ray called him Jimmy Ray; nobody used his full name. Same thing with Lee Harvey Oswald or Mark David Chapman; they were known by just their first names.

The reason their middle names became common knowledge is because they committed a serious crime and the police identified them publicly by their full name, which is standard procedure. If Tom Hanks, for example (it's always the ones you least expect), was arrested for a string of murders, the official statement would identify him as Thomas Jeffrey Hanks and suddenly he'd be another "three name" killer.
I think it's because in the case of common names you need a distinguishing middle name to set them apart from all the other Mark Chapmans and Lee Oswalds out there. Does anyone remember that Leon Czołgosz's middle name was Frank?
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Old 05-23-2020, 12:01 PM
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I've assumed it was talking about 2 first names and a last one, and the reasoning behind the saying is it's harder to find such a person who could go my multiple variations of their name. Are you looking for Bob Roy, Billy Roy or Billy Bob Roy? I guess along those lines if someone was only giving 2 (obviously) first names it may be a attempt to conceal their identity.
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Old 05-23-2020, 12:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve McQwark View Post
There was a "letter to the editor" in National Lampoon saying not to trust a person with a last name that could also be a first name. So they had two first names but it was their first and last names. Lee Oswald or James Ray or Sirhan Sirhan. The writer concluded by suggesting that someone investigate Woody Allen. This would have been in the late 70s or early 80s.
I remember seeing it in a comic book, with the gag being why those secretive guys are constantly acting so suspicious — since, as it happens, she’s of course talking about men like Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent and Alan Scott and Ted Grant...
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Old 05-23-2020, 12:24 PM
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I always understood the "two first names" to refer to someone whose surname is also a common given name, like Larry David or Frank Drake.
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Old 05-23-2020, 12:25 PM
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I would think they were referring to people with last names that are also in common use as a first name, like Ray or Oswald- and not the fact that the people used their middle names.

I remember a guy in high school making some snarky comment calling a classmate named Donna Wilma “the girl with two first names instead of a first and last name like normal people”. I remember it because the guy making the comment was named Myron Douglas.

ETA ninjaed

Last edited by Ann Hedonia; 05-23-2020 at 12:26 PM.
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Old 05-23-2020, 01:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve McQwark View Post
There was a "letter to the editor" in National Lampoon saying not to trust a person with a last name that could also be a first name. So they had two first names but it was their first and last names. Lee Oswald or James Ray or Sirhan Sirhan. The writer concluded by suggesting that someone investigate Woody Allen. This would have been in the late 70s or early 80s.
Sometime in the late 90's I saw a woman perform her song about men who weren't jerks. (It might have been Gorka Lavin, opening for Bob Brozman.)
The lyrics included a hyphenated last name as one of the characteristics of a "New Age Sensitive Guy".
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Old 05-23-2020, 02:55 PM
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Sometime in the late 90's I saw a woman perform her song about men who weren't jerks. (It might have been Gorka Lavin, opening for Bob Brozman.)
Wow. It wouldn't have been apparent until years later, there is some big time irony there!
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Old 05-23-2020, 05:09 PM
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If Tom Hanks, for example (it's always the ones you least expect), was arrested for a string of murders,
In that case, it'd be exactly who I suspect.
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Old 05-24-2020, 08:49 AM
solost is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
That's a myth. The people that knew James Earl Ray called him Jimmy Ray; nobody used his full name. Same thing with Lee Harvey Oswald or Mark David Chapman; they were known by just their first names.

The reason their middle names became common knowledge is because they committed a serious crime and the police identified them publicly by their full name, which is standard procedure. If Tom Hanks, for example (it's always the ones you least expect), was arrested for a string of murders, the official statement would identify him as Thomas Jeffrey Hanks and suddenly he'd be another "three name" killer.
This may be true, and it’s an interesting piece of info, but if they were known by three names (2 first and a last) to the general public it could still be the origin of the phrase.
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Old 05-24-2020, 08:19 PM
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"Negative differentiation". People like to pull out some difference when describing something bad: We tend to be more general about good things.

John is a good person.
Tomas Sawyer is in trouble: "Tom knew that when his name was pronounced in full, it meant trouble"
James Earl Ray is a serial killer.
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