Here's What Joe Biden's Middle Name Really Means

When Barack Obama was in the White House, he caught a lot of flak for something that, for many of us, is just about the most innocuous part of our identities: his middle name. Still, as Michelle Obama once told CNN, "I didn't believe that America was ready for a black president, let alone a black president named Barack Hussein Obama." And she was just about half-right, too, since her husband certainly had (and still has) his share of critics.


Obama's former VP, Joe Biden, also has a few middle name issues of his own. As New York Magazine pointed out, his middle name, Robinette, sounds like a name more suited for "some kind of miniature bird," or maybe even "a doo-wop backup singer." So how did Biden, a man with a regular Joe first name, wind up with such a frilly middle moniker? As Biden explained it on C-SPAN, it's a long story. Like, 200-plus years long.

Robinette is a family name

The Robinette story, as told by Biden to C-SPAN, is: "It's my grandmother Biden's maiden name." It's also, as the "ette" would imply, French in origin. Surname DB explains that the last name Robinette can be either English (Norman) or French, and was originally a nickname for Robert, a name with the meaning of "fame bright." Well, that certainly fits our Joe, since you can't get much more famous than assuming the presidency — and as of today, Biden's own Twitter account has nearly twice as many followers (25.1 million) as Chrissy Teigen's (13.5 million).


Biden family lore has it that their Robinette ancestors "came over with Lafayette and never went home," but Biden himself qualified that statement by saying "I don't know that. We can't guarantee that," so there's no fake news there. He's just a guy with a slightly unconventional middle name, a hinderance that may, in fact, be an asset. As Hubert Horatio Humphrey once said of a critic who'd poked fun at his "Horatio" (via Slate), "I must warn him of the hidden middle name vote — all those youngsters blessed with a middle name they choose to convert to a middle initial ... [he] should beware of the midlash."