05/12/2013 10:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why We Use Our Middle Names

Daniel Arrigg Ko/Margaret Wheeler Johnson

Earlier this year, Dan, Arianna's chief of staff, and Margaret, HuffPost's women's editor, realized they have something unusual in common. Not only do they both use their middle names professionally, they do it for the same reason. This Mother's Day, they decided to share why it's so important to them to have everyone know them by their full names.

"Arrigg" is a confusing middle name to have. It's unusual, hard to pronounce, and I've never once been able to say it without having to repeat myself. Even after spelling it out, I'm used to puzzled reactions. I always have the same line in response, with pride: "Arrigg. It's Lebanese, and it's my Mom's last name."

I was fortunate to grow up in a happy household with two parents who were and continue to be incredibly and utterly in love. They're the kind of couple that complements one another, where one's weakness is the other's strength. They were both incredibly attentive parents -- too attentive, I felt at times -- but now I realize it's exactly the reason I stayed out of trouble. Yet despite the equal and healthy nature of their relationship, our family would unanimously agree that it's my mother who is the soul of the family.

Claudia Arrigg is the most generous, caring, and giving person you've ever met (yes, I realize I'm biased). She's the kind of lady who makes you well up in tears when thinking about her, who makes you wonder how on earth you were so lucky as to have been born into the care of this amazing woman. And the most beautiful part is that if you ever asked her, she'd have no idea what you are talking about. To her, to give all for her kids and for her family is all she knows. It's natural. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

She's also an incredibly accomplished ophthalmologist, a legendary doctor in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. She's earned her money and reputation, one patient at a time. But despite her success, she always prioritized her children. Many days I came home from school to find that my mother had left work early after 90+ patients to prepare a snack and make sure I started my homework on time. She made so many little sacrifices to give me the discipline that I surely didn't have naturally.

My mom kept her name when she married my Dad. That meant that despite her incredible effort as a parent, throughout my life people tended not to immediately associate her with me. So I'm extraordinarily grateful that my parents decided to give me and my two siblings my mother's maiden name as our middle names. As a deeply personal homage to my mother, I use my middle name as much as I can. It's the least I can do to honor such a humble, driven, and passionate woman -- the person to whom I literally owe my life but also a person whom I appreciate a leader, a fighter, and a ruthless champion of family. By using my middle name, I ensure that in small ways -- my e-mail signature, the way I sign credit card receipts -- and large -- the way my name appears one day on my wedding invitation, my mom is and will always be on shining display as a fundamental part of me.

"Arrigg." The name is confusing, unpronounceable...and incredible. Nothing fills me with more love, happiness and pride than to say, "My name is Daniel Arrigg Koh."

daniel arrigg koh

I have a friend who likes to host dinner parties that bring together a bunch of people who don't know each other. It's great for networking, and over the course of the evening, the guests usually exchange business cards. Things are generally pretty cordial.

So I was stunned when an attorney at the table one night, a guy who looked to be in his early 40s, took a look at my card, smirked and asked me, "Does everyone at HuffPost Women use her middle name?"

It was a ridiculous comment. Though I'm sure he was mocking my feminism, I'm not sure how he thought using my full name on my business card -- the name that's on my birth certificate -- indicated a feminist stance. It's not like I was married and insisting on using my maiden name as well as my married name -- though there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that.

This guy didn't realize a lot of things. He didn't realize that I was used to that kind of mockery, and that one of the reasons I live in New York is that I rarely have to hear this sort of thing here. He didn't realize that I grew up around men who ridicule any remotely feminist behavior, who think NOW is an organization dedicated to man-hating rather than equality, who don't recognize that saying things like, "Does everyone at HuffPost Women use her middle name?" mainly conveys a monumental insecurity around the opposite sex. (I wanted to say, "You don't have much success with women, do you?" I so, so wish I had.)

But the most important thing he didn't understand was that I use my middle name because it's my mother's maiden name and that he was messing with something so much bigger than me.

When I was about 13, my mother revealed to me that she had wanted to be a doctor but instead became a middle school science teacher. I didn't understand. It's not that there was anything wrong with being a middle-school science teacher -- I had one and liked her very much. I just couldn't see what had kept my mother from pursuing her true goal. Hadn't I'd always been told I could do whatever I wanted to do? Did the same rules not apply to her?

When I asked her why she hadn't followed her dream, she answered, "I didn't think I was smart enough."

I've never forgotten that statement or stopped thinking about its origins. Part of it had to be that she hadn't known any female doctors growing up. She hadn't known that many women who worked. Part of it probably had to do with her specific upbringing, and experiences I will never know about that made her doubt her abilities.

It didn't end when I was 13. In the years after, I heard my mother deny her intelligence again and again. She claimed mine, which she extolled to an embarrassing degree, was "all your father." She said things to me like, "You're already everything I ever wanted to be."

I've often wondered what my mother would have done had someone told her that she is as capable and intelligent as she is. By that, I don't mean to suggest that she hasn't made a tremendous impact on many people's lives. Her former students still approach her at restaurants and events to tell her how much they enjoyed her classes. She has made an incalculable difference for the new mothers she visits through the worst of postpartum depression and the inner-city girls who participate in the summer sports camp she volunteers with every year. And of course her friends and family have benefitted from her humor, her support and constant love. But I wish that it had been possible for her to have a sense, just once, that she had exactly what it took to do the thing she aspired to do.

What the guy who sneered at my business card didn't know is that I am making a point with my name, one that is feminist, yes, but in a way that I'm sure never occurred to him. I use my middle name because my mother didn't have the opportunities I do or someone telling her consistently that she was equipped to take advantage of them. I use it because I want to acknowledge her role in getting me where I am. I use her name so that whatever small victories I have, they're hers, too. It's my way of saying to her, every day, If I am smart enough, Mom, you are smart enough.

margaret wheeler johnson