From choosing a family name to matching sounds–we’ve got you

Baby middle names are just as important as first names. In fact, there is a lot to consider when choosing the perfect middle name for your little one. There’s blending and flow, combined name meaning, family history, and your baby’s initials to consider. Before getting overwhelmed with possibilities or choosing something that can go very wrong–read this guide on choosing the perfect middle name for your baby.

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Why do we give our babies middle names?

Middle names date back to ancient Rome. In fact, many Romans had three names– a first name called the praenomen, a middle name called the nomen which was a family name, and a cognomen which indicated the branch of family you were from.

The more names a person had was actually an indicator of status and respectability. Women, however, often had only 2 names and slaves only had one. The tradition of middle-naming spread to aristocrats in other countries who wanted to give their children status by their names. In European countries the tradition settled into giving a “given name” followed by a baptismal name and then the surname. When people migrated over to America, the tradition was carried on there.

Today the practice of a middle name is common across countries, partially due to higher population. It’s helpful to be able to tell people apart when so many people can share the same names. Though the tradition of including some kind of family name does continue today, the middle name also offers a chance to make the baby’s name unique, appealing, and to make a statement of individuality or interest.

Since there are so many options in today’s culture, and we aren’t really bound to a strict tradition, giving your child a middle name can be a lot of fun–but also challenging.

We want to make it special. Unique. We want our children to have a name that serves them well throughout their lives. Though the middle name isn’t used on a daily basis–it is still an important part of their identity.

The Complete Guide to Choosing a Middle Name

Check the SSA for trends

The Social Security Administration posts data each year on the trends of baby names. You can look back over a hundred years of data on what the most popular baby names for each year. Here is the current chart for the Top 5 Names in Each of the Last 100 Years. As you can see,

some of the names over the last 10 years, for example, are repeated for a season of a few years in regards to their popularity. The SSA does not report middle names.

Take a look at the most common middle names for  2010-2015

Top 10 Middle Names of the Decade and Occurrences:

  1. Marie (82)
  2. Grace (71)
  3. Rose (53)
  4. Ann (51)
  5. Elizabeth (36)
  6. Faith (32)
  7. Mae (32)
  8. Lynn (27)
  9. Renee (19)
  10. Jane (16)

Top 10 Middle Names of the Decade and Occurrences:

  1. James (95)
  2. Lee (53)
  3. Michael (52)
  4. Joseph (36)
  5. Alexander (27)
  6. David (27)
  7. William (26)
  8. Andrew (24)
  9. Matthew (22)
  10. Robert (22)

As reported by: source

As of 2019, these are some of the most common middle names according to The Active Times:

Boys

  • James
  • John
  • William
  • Thomas
  • David
  • Robert
  • Edward
  • Peter
  • Christopher
  • Alexander
  • Michael
  • Daniel

Girls

  • Mae/May
  • Louise
  • Rose
  • Grace
  • Marie
  • Elizabeth
  • Jane
  • Ann/Anne/Anna
  • Mary
  • Amy
  • Catherine
  • Kate
  • Victoria

Unisex

  • Lee

As you can see in these lists, the girls’ middle names are not on the SSA list of most popular girl names so one can assume that parents are naming their middle names less on the current trends and more on family history on other influences. For the boys, however, there are a few names such as William, Matthew, and James which are on both lists, further showing their popularity as both first and middle names.

Looking at the SSA trends can help you to know how popular the names are that you are considering for your baby. It’s possible you don’t want to choose a name that is super popular at the time of your baby’s birth. Whatever your wishes, these data can be helpful information to have while you are making your choices.

Look for a name in your family tree

One of the most popular choices for middle names is to use another name within the family ancestry to “carry on” that name through your baby’s middle name. The middle name is often used to honor a loved family member or friend, to honor a loved one who has passed on, or to honor a name that has been in the family for generations. A namesake is one of the most honorable ways to pay respects to another family member or the memory of a loved grandmother.

Why a family name?

Giving your child a “family name” for a middle name gives your child a sense of belonging and place within the family. For example(s), my oldest son is named after my Uncle Mark’s Middle name, Wesley. My Youngest son is named after his father’s middle name. My mother and I as well as my granddaughter all share the same middle name, Marie. Family names are special. They carry memories of family members, bond others, and welcome your child into the family with belonging. It is a very special tribute–which explains the longevity of this custom.

You can find family names in Biblical records–some families record births in the Bible or other record book. You can call aunts and uncles and cousins and ask what family and middle names there are to select from. You can certainly ask the older members of the family who have memory of the family history. Ask a lot of questions so that you can get to know some of the family stories as well. You don’t want to pick a name that inadvertently opens a Pandora’s Box of pain for other family members. Asking these questions ahead of time and really listening to your family members can help to avoid a greater pain later on.

Consider all variations of the name

While you are on your family history research mission, don’t forget to find out about variations of names and nicknames. If you love the name James but every other James in the family has been nicknamed Bubba-J and this does not appeal to you, then you may want to choose another name.

Many names are commonly shortened as well so these variations of the name you have chosen should be considered. You may request that no one do this but you cannot control the actions of others in your family or the kids at their school. Those shortened versions of their name are likely to catch on and there won’t be much you can do to stop that. Be sure the shortened name isn’t one you just detest.

Look for a name with meaning

Another popular naming trend for choosing a middle name is to look for a meaningful name. It’s important to know the meaning of the first name as well and consider what the meanings of both look like together. Sometimes the meanings of names, when combined, make for a weird combination.

Nameberry has listed some of the worst names (with regards to meaning):

Deirdre – sorrowful

Emily – rival

Sloane — raider

Kennedy – misshapen head

Leah — weary

Lola – lady of sorrows

Mallory – unlucky

Mara — bitter

Portia – pig

Persephone – bringing death

Blaise — lisp, stutter

Byron — barn for cows

Calvin — bald

Cameron – crooked nose

Campbell – crooked mouth

Cessair – sorrow, affliction

Gideon – having a stump for a hand

Huxley – inhospitable place

Jabez – borne in pain

Jacob and James — supplanter

Consider the meaning of the first and middle names together

You’ll want to know the meaning of the first name you have chosen and put it together with the meaning of the middle name.

My first name is Christina, meaning Follower of Christ

My middle name is Marie, which has the following description on Baby name Wizard: “French cognate of Mary, which is derived from the Hebrew Miryām, a name of debated meaning. Many believe it to mean “sea of bitterness” or “sea of sorrow.” However, some sources cite the alternative definitions of “rebellion,” “wished-for child,” and “mistress or lady of the sea.” The name is borne in the Bible by the mother of Jesus, the son of God.”

You do have a bit of wiggle room here. Putting the “chosen” meaning from a list of several meanings or choosing the one that most fits your culture or country. My name would then mean “Follower of Christ–sea of sorrow” (This does not really word well, clearly. Likewise, “rebellion” makes no sense here.)
“Follower of Christ–wished-for child” (Much better.)

But, what if my middle name were Giselle which means “hostage.” That would have not-so-funny implications, ruining the Christian name my parents wanted me to have.

 My youngest son’s name is very cool when you put the meanings together: Michael: Who is like God?–Alexander: One who assists men.

The bottom line here is that one day your child will Google the meaning of their name and you’ll want to avoid any strange surprises here. Imagine discovering your name means “ugly head.” (Kennedy).

Making sure the middle name works with the first name

Pay attention to the flow

A name should have a good sound to it. No matter how personally meaningful or literally meaningful a name is, if the sound of it just doesn’t work together. This explains why certain middle names are popular across generations–they just sound good with a wide variety of names.

There are certain “rules” of sound that will help.

  • Make sure the first name and middle name together do not make a combination with unintended consequences.
    • Anna Diana–These may both be family names but together they sound like a children’s song. Think of the school teasing and jokes that would follow this child.
    • Naming your son Christopher along with grandpa Tull’s name may sound ok as Christopher Tull–until his name is later shortened to Chris Tull which sounds like Crystal, a common girls name that he may not appreciate.
  • Avoid vowel run-on
    • Anna Elise (Sounds like one name Annalise)
    • Cora Amy (Again, the two vowels run together making the awkward Co-ramy)
  • Avoid duplicate consonant sounds at the end of the first name and beginning of the middle name
    • Jack Corben
    • Bryan Nathan (These names are just difficult to enunciate. Try switching the names? Corben Jackson or Nathaniel Bryan?)
  • Avoid using the same syllable counts or using two names that are too similar
    • Eliza Amelia
    • Jack John
    • William Wilson

If you repeat the names together and ask other people to say or read the names out loud for you it will be clear whether or not the name sounds pleasing, and also how others will be saying the  name.

Write out the monogram

The initials will often be used by your child. Just think of when your child’s first teacher requires first-middle-and last initials on all items of clothing and backpacks–and you have named your child Anderson Samuel Smith. Always, always check the initials.  Here’s a few initial combinations you may run into:

  • First, middle, last initials (ex.– P.U.S)
  • First initial, last name (ex.– D. Range)
  • Last name, first initial (ex.– Crisp, P.)

Combinations that work well

Try combining a classic name with an unusual one:

Classic girls:

Abigail

Elizabeth

Brittany

Caroline

Jennifer
Sophia
Charlotte

Olivia

Lynn

Trendy girls

Joelle
Arabella
Porter
Mia
Ava
Amethyst
Winter

Pleasing examples: Abigail Winter, Amethyst Lynn, Ava Elizabeth

Try mixing up the syllable count to use a longer name paired with a shorter one

Long boys names:

Willoughby

Jonathon
Frederick

Shorter boys names:

Michael

Noah
James

If you combine Frederick, for example with other longer names you get Frederick Jonathon or Frederick Willoughby–both give you two strong, syllable-heavy names that compete against each other for strength and attention. Most people opt for the longer name to come first, but that is not always the case. Place Frederick with James or Noah and it sounds much better. If you’re not crazy about “Fred” but can’t let go of the name Frederick, try to reverse the names: Noah Frederick.

My first name having 3 syllables, for example (Christina) would have sounded like too much if my middle name had been longer, but paired with the softer name of Marie, the flow was much nicer. There’s no need to shy away from longer names as long as you are aware of the effort it takes to say the name and whether or not it is a mouthful of syllables when combined with another name you just love.

When it comes to choosing a baby name, above all choose a name you absolutely love. Consider all of the truncated possibilities of the name to make sure that shortened versions and nicknames will be tolerable. You can even name your baby with the nickname already in mind. My son Michael Alexander has been called Alex all of his life and this is something we decided on the day of his birth. Consider the initials of the name as well to be sure it is a pleasing combination as well.

Whether you opt for something classic (as many popular middle names seem to be, according to the trends) or whether you choose something a bit more trendy and interesting, the name you choose as a middle name will be a part of your child’s legacy, potentially a part of their belonging in the family. Choose wisely and choose with love.

For further reading:

Top 5 Names in Each of the Last 100 Years

25 Popular Baby Girl Names for 2020 | Babienet Blog

Here are 20 Popular Baby Boy Names for 2020 | Babienet Blog

Popular Baby Names of 2020 | Keep Up with Trends at Babienet | Babienet Blog

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How to Choose the Perfect Middle Name