Middle Naming: How to Choose a Useful Middle Name for Your Baby

A middle name can be a lot of things. During the naming process, it can be a “trophy” awarded to the partner whose choice came in second, or a “gift” to honor a relative whose name didn’t merit a first pick. And once your child is born, a middle name can be a great “safety pick” for your child, especially if the first name you chose turned out to be a dud.

Unfortunately, if you make compromises or trade-offs when choosing the  middle name, you and your child may have a poor fallback option, and you may regret not choosing something more appropriate.

Here are some typical problems that can arise when picking a middle name:

  • If you pick a “family” name, it might be old-fashioned or ill-fitting. For example, if you choose your father’s name and it’s “Carroll,” which was once primarily a boy name and is now almost exclusively a girl name, your son may not appreciate having a middle name that sounds like a “girl’s name.” Or if you choose your spouse’s last name and it’s “Pierpont,” your child may be teased as “Richie Rich.”
  • If the second-choice name doesn’t work well with the first name, your child won’t be a happy camper, either—unless you point out that it could be worse, by reading the four seemingly unrelated middle names that Uma Thurman chose for her daughter: Arusha, Arkadina, Altalune and Florence.

As you can see, it’s a lot easier to pick a good first and middle name combination if the middle name isn’t a “political choice.” It helps to think about how the names work together with your last name. Here are some ideas that can help you create a charming and euphonious combination:

  • Vary the rhythm of all three names by choosing first and middle names with different syllable counts. Alison Beth Anderson sounds better than Alison Jennifer Anderson.
  • If the first name comes across as traditional, consider an untraditional middle name, like Sophia Saffron Smith. If the first name isn’t traditional, consider a traditional middle name, like Sage Samuel Smith.
  • If the first name is fairly common, pick a middle name that’s more unique. For example: Michael Marcellus Smith or Catherine Chiara Smith.
  • If you want (or need) to include a name that reflects an ethnic tradition, Irish names like Sean or Kevin will blend more easily with non-Irish names than Irish names like Seamus or Padraig.
  • If you want (or need) to include a name that reflects a religious tradition, try to search for names that won’t create the impression your son is destined to wind up as a priest or rabbi: Joshua or Daniel might work better for the child than Moshe or Yitzchak.
  • If the first name is gender-neutral, pick a middle name that clarifies the gender of the child, such as Ariel Oliver Smith or Jordan Olivia Smith.
  • Why not have some fun and pick a middle name that conveys some personal taste, like a favorite color, location, personal quality you value, or performer? If you love Hawaii, you could try Matthew Maui Smith. If you’re a fan of Cher, you could name your daughter Monica Cher Smith.

Should you follow the current British trend of picking two middle names? The benefit is that you can do more “political” favors. On the other hand, a second middle name can distract your focus from what should be most important—choosing the best first name you can. And it can create the problem of finding four names that sound good together. Compare the sound of Emma Olivia Smith with Emma Olivia Isabella Smith. Does the latter combination sound like it contains too much of a good thing?

I’d like to close by providing examples of celebrity baby names from a few years ago, along with some comments which illustrate some of the practical points I made above:

Keelee Breeze (daughter of Rob “Vanilla Ice” and Laura Van Winkle)
*Comment: There’s something cooling about Keelee Breeze—the feeling you get when you wipe your forehead with a frozen popsicle on a hot summer day. The first and middle names go together brilliantly.

Nana Kwadjo (son of Isaac and Adoa Hayes)
*Comment: A boy named Nana? Unfortunately, he can’t fall back on his middle name, Kwadjo.

Nakoa-Wolf Manakaupo Namakeaha (son of Lisa Bonet and Jason Momoa)
*Comment: Unfortunately, there’s not one child-friendly, simple, easy-to-spell or easy-to-pronounce name in the whole bunch (except perhaps for Wolf).

Ocean Alexander (son of Forest Whitaker)
*Comment: Ocean doesn’t work quite as well for a first name as Forest does. Thank goodness for Alexander.

Homer James Jigme (son of Richard Gere and Carey Lowell)
*Comment: Homer isn’t coming back any time soon—and what’s up with Jigme? Luckily, the child has James to fall back on.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

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