The prospect of naming a baby makes some parents-to-be feel excited and others feel dread. Perhaps less fraught than the first name is the middle name, but where did the practice of giving baby a second name come from? Even though some important Romans had three names, our current tradition of giving most children a first name and a middle name can be traced back to the middle ages. During this time, Europeans gave their babies three names: the first or given name, followed by a second, baptismal name—usually shared with a saint—and then the family or surname. When Europeans began to move across the Atlantic to North America and needed more names to distinguish one another, the practice stuck. [1, 2, 3]
Today, most babies do receive middle names, but how parents choose them is all over the board. What follows are some things to consider when deciding on a middle name for your baby, as well as some suggestions for the best places to look.
Using your baby’s middle name—or not
You might plan to call your baby solely by his or her middle name. Parents-to-be might choose this naming scheme if they feel drawn to name a child for a living relative or friend, but do not want to have the confusion of having two people named Mary or Michael around. In this case they might also choose the middle name of the naming inspiration or perhaps settle on a completely different middle name.
Some parents want to use both first and middle names when addressing their baby, a practice that is common especially in the Southern United States. If this naming convention appeals to you, consider how long you want the two names you choose to be. It might make sense to keep both names on the shorter side: Ella Mae or James Henry, for instance. But longer double names can be beautiful and fitting as well, as in the case of Sophia Margaret and Charles Morgan.
Even if you do not plan to use a middle name regularly, something else to keep in mind is the middle initial. Middle initials can give weight and seriousness to a name, or could serve as another way to distinguish family members with similar names—such as father and son pair John and John B. Middle initials can also be a problem if they combine with first and last initials to spell something unfortunate. For example, poor little Patricia Olive O’Connor may never live down the initials P-O-O.
How to choose a middle name
Once you and your partner have decided how the middle name will feature in your child’s life, it is time to pick one. There are several directions you can go here, and none of them are wrong. Great places to look for middle name ideas are the United States Social Security Administration website, which lists the top 1000 names American parents choose each year, as well as Pregistry’s Facebook page, where we announce babies’ births every day.
Some parents decide to honor a loved one with the middle name. Perhaps your dear great aunt has a challenging name that might not fit as a first name for your infant daughter, but by choosing that name as a middle name, you pay homage to someone very special in your life. It is also somewhat common to choose a surname as middle name, and here you have a variety of options. If you are the baby’s mother and she or he will have their father’s surname, you might like to give your child your surname as middle name. Or maybe you have a family surname that has died out, but does not sound suitable to you as a first name and would make a great middle name. If you have a beloved relative or friend you would like to honor, but that person is not the same sex as your baby, consider variations on the name. For example, a baby girl could receive the middle name Laura for her grandfather, Laurence, or a baby boy might be middle named Jack for his aunt Jacqueline.
The middle name is also the place where you can go a little bit wild, if you want to. Maybe you are worried about the repercussions of give your child the first name of something in nature, a place you love, or a favorite literary character, but you love the sound of William Boston Smith, Isabelle Glacier Johnson, or Ella Hermione Brown. As with the first name, you can also choose a name completely unrelated to anything else, just because you love it. And finally, there is no rule that says you have to give your baby a middle name at all.