What’s in a (Middle) Name?


Here is some groundbreaking, how-did-I-live-before-I-knew-this information: March 6 is Middle Name Pride Day.

When I was little I did not like my middle name. Growing up in Philadelphia, Mercedes was not a name, it was a car. When we moved back to Puerto Rico, it was a name, but not a child’s name. Anyone named Mercedes was old. But now, maybe because I’m so old, I love it. I appreciate it for what it is – a gift. It’s my mother’s middle name, and my grandmother’s middle name, and my great grandmother’s first name. It’s a link through generations that I also passed on to my own daughter.

We all struggle to find the perfect name when naming a child. Hopefully we’ve all asked ourselves the following:

Can you see this name on an adult as well as a child? Can you see this name on a resume? 

A 3-year-old named Pumpernickel is one thing. A 33-year-old professional named Pumpernickel is another.

Can you picture introducing your child by this name? Would you like to live with this name? 

Go to Starbucks, order a drink, and when they ask your name, tell them it’s Coyote. Now imagine that’s your entire life before bestowing the name on your child.

Is your child going to have to spell or explain her name every time she meets someone?

My name is Nevaehh-it’s-heaven-spelled-backwards-but-with-a-double-H.”

So yes, lots to think about.

But the middle name…

Things to Consider when Selecting a Middle Name

There, tucked away between the frequently used first name and last name is a little pocket of relative freedom. A name to be proud of if you love it, hidden away like a secret if you don’t. Think about the kind of name that might be better suited as a middle name:

A name from your own personal form of geekery

Are you a music lover, but maybe don’t want it front and center in case your child is not? Perhaps Wolfgang, Amadeus, or Mozart would make a great middle name. What about Hermione, Katniss, Anakin, Uhura? Sure, you could use it as a first name (Shakespeare used Hermione first, you know) but if you can’t see making an appointment with Dr. Uhura Lastname, M.D., the middle might be a better place for it.

Hello, my name is Katniss, and I will grow up to hate The Hunger Games.
Hello, my name is Katniss, and I will grow up to hate The Hunger Games.

The family member you love whose name you don’t

If you want to honor your favorite Uncle Martin or Grandpa Arthur or Aunt Esther or Grandma Ruth but don’t think those names are ready for a comeback (P.S. they totally are, all of them), consider using them as middle names.

Names that are hard to spell or pronounce

Now listen, I live in South Carolina and have sons named Guillermo and Ignacio, and while yes, people trip over them, anyone who cares enough to say them properly will learn how to. And there’s a big difference between a name that is difficult to spell because it’s unfamiliar and a name that’s difficult to spell because you took a common name and added secret random letters to it (I’ll get to those too). So I say bring on the Saoirses, Caoimhes, or Fionnbharrs, but if you’d rather an easier first name, use them in the middle.

Don't be afraid to honor your culture or background!
Don’t be afraid to honor your culture or background – whether it’s Guillermo or Caoimhe.

Names everyone seems to dislike

Yes, I know … your baby, your name. But I’m not talking about “my sister hates Julie because there was a mean Julie in her second grade class 18 years ago.” I’m talking about names that elicit a strong reaction from everyone you mention it to.

Some people advise not to share your names if you don’t want opinions, and that’s fine if you really don’t care what anyone thinks; but I say try out your choices on a few people. Consider it a litmus test of what your child will have to live with forever. A name, especially a first name, is a big part of your child’s identity, so if even strangers are telling you that Huck has too much teasing potential, or that Jezebel is actually a word in the dictionary with a less-then-awesome definition, or that no one will ever learn to spell Ehmmehleigh (that’s Emily in disguise, btw), or that Adolph has too terrible of an association, at least consider what they’re saying and maybe relegate the name to the middle if you love it too much to not use it at all.

Creative spellings

This is where I do my best to convince you not to mess with the traditional spelling of a name. First, consider what you are setting yourself up for – constantly spelling your child’s name every time you meet someone who needs to get it down on paper. Later this burden will be transferred to your child.

Yes, it’s A-l-y-v-v-i-y-a pronounced “Olivia.”

Second, while you might want a unique name for your child, a creative spelling won’t necessarily make him stand out. Unique doesn’t equal original. Creative spellings are a trend, so while Brayydenn may be unique in that no one else spells it quite that way, who is going to stand out in a classroom full of Aidens, Braydens, Cadens, Jadens, and Haydens? Brayydenn, or George?

Also, a uniquely spelled name is still going to sound the same as a traditionally spelled name, so if you call for Maddisynn on the playground, Madison, Mhaddison, and Maddysonnne are all going to look up, too. If you still love “your” spelling, but want to avoid some of the above, try it as middle name, which others will have to spell much less often.

The obvious or cheesy

When our youngest was unexpectedly born on Valentine’s Day, we briefly considered the name Valentina. But we realized that might get old quickly for her and ended up going with the name we’d put more thought into. Month names or season names can work, but if you fear November will turn into “November-yes-like-the-month-I-was-born-in,” maybe it’s middle-name territory.

A name you think is too far from the mainstream

People are so intent on creating an original name, that many awesome, uncommon names that already exist are being ignored. Personally, I think the world is ready for an Aphrodite, Minerva, Malachi, Esmeralda, Patience, Primrose, Andromeda, Ezequiel, Matthias, Lorelei, Melisande or Thaddeus. If you don’t agree, but love it anyway, use it as a middle name.

What was your choice?

I love hearing the names people chose for their children and the reasons behind them. My husband and I went heavy on the family names, so now my oldest daughter and I share the middle name that I grew to love. Maybe she doesn’t like it now, but perhaps by March 6, 2030, she’ll be ready to celebrate Middle Name Pride Day.

How did you choose your children’s names?


  1. My name is Jeanette Miranda, I was named after the nurse that my mother had during labor and my middle name is after a movie called, “Having Miranda” I think or something like that. And I have a Henley Ray, Henley after the Henley regatta Ray is the name his great grandfather picked. Denver Lee, Denver after his great grandfather on his dad’s side and Lee after my dad.

  2. That’s KC spelled Cassie! All my life! It wasn’t intentional but there it is. I absolutely hated it when I was younger and had to correct people or not. In fact I still don’t corrct people, my OBGYN didn’t know it until a friend told her. Which made me happy I didn’t have to let it slip when I was in labor. After going through every name out there we settled in Evelyn June. Nice and easy but still not a name you hear all the time. June is my sisters and grandmas middle name so family all the way!

  3. My son is Jesse the 5th, so we went with the middle name being Michael…which isn’t unusual, but his family was horrified we broke with the traditional Daniel or Nathaniel alternating generations

  4. I just had twins in December. Let me tell you, naming two at a time is tough! My son’s name is Langston Noah and my daughter’s name is Laila Grace. We are African-American and we wanted names that invoked a sense of “blackness” but that were not “urban” and could hold their own as adults. Middle names came from the bible. We love their names!

  5. My 2 oldest children go by their middle names, Remington and Huxley, respectively. We gave them both “normal” first names in case they ever decided to go more main stream or for job applications, etc. Our youngest we broke with tradition and he goes by an unusual first name, Gunnar, with a more normal middle name. Oddly enough, all 3 of our children had their middle names picked first and their first names were not chosen until after they were born.


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