Opinion: Who’s sane?


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I’ve known New York Times columnist John Tierney since a sixth-grade classmate and I taught John, then a fourth-grader, to serve Mass according to the rigorous rubrics of Sacred Heart Church in Pittsburgh. But I didn’t know until I picked up the other Times this morning that John’s middle name was Marion. He kept his secret, at least from me, for 45 years! Today, however, I and the rest of the world learned the truth in a column carrying the byline J. Marion Tierney.

Tierney’s self-outing as A Boy Named Something Almost As Embarrassing As Sue reminded me of my decision decades ago to omit my middle name — Patrick — from my byline. I tried it a few times in my college paper, to the delight of my mother, but eventually decided that “Michael Patrick McGough” amounted to ethnic overkill. It also would have made me a citizen of what the Gilbert Gottfried once called the Land of the Three-Named People — a mythical realm occupied largely by actors (Mary Tyler Moore, James Earl Jones) and asassins (Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman).


A three-name byline is also pretty pretentious. I think you have to earn the right to inflict three names on friends and journalists. Ironically, in Hollywood it’s the child stars who tend to have triple names — but there’s a reason for that.

Years ago I interviewed Neil Patrick Harris — then best known as the former “Doogie Howser, M.D.” — and the topic turned to why he used our mutual middle name in his TV credits. Harris told me that he had happily answered to plain Neil Harris before he was discovered by Hollywood and cast as a poor little rich boy in the movie ‘Clara’s Heart.’ But there was already a Neil Harris in the Screen Actors Guild, so Harris had to add his middle name, resulting in a haughty handle for a child actor.

The middle name most in the news, of course, is Hussein — as in Barack Hussein Obama. A blowhard Republican congressman from Iowa, Steve King, warned last week that if Obama were elected president, “the radical Islamists, the, the al-Qaeda, and the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11.” Part of King’s case against Obama was the H-name: ‘Additionally, his middle name does matter. It matters because they read a meaning into that in the rest of the world. That has a special meaning to them. They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name.”

King said that the Hussein moniker might not be a liability if a President Obama were committed to keeping U.S. forces in Iraq. So presumably he would have no problem if the W in George W. Bush stood for Wahhabi.