Choosing a Middle Name
Follow these steps for choosing the perfect middle name for your new baby.
Updated July 14, 2023
Choosing a Middle Name
What's in a Name
The use of three names is customary in some countries. The traditional naming fashion in Russia, for example, is to give a first name and a patronymic middle name. The middle name is considered an honorific, so the Russians don't use it when signing their names. However, they do use it when addressing each other. For boys, the patronymic ending is -ovich, -evich as in Nicholaevich, or sometimes -ich. For girls, its -ovna, as in Alexandrovna, or -evna.
The process for selecting a middle name for your baby is very similar to the one you followed in choosing a first name. Many of the same considerations that apply to that process also come into play here, such as the specific name styles and fashions that you prefer, how the name fits with the first and last name, the meaning of the name, etc.
Like first names, middle names are sometimes preordained by religious or family customs, but you're probably like most parents and have free choice in the matter. This means you can do almost anything you like with your middle name choice. In fact, you probably have even a broader pool of choices to play with than you did when choosing a first name.
Last Name in the Middle
One of the reasons why there are more choices when it comes to middle names is because it's more common for family names to be adopted for use as middle names than as first names. Many couples honor traditional family names by using them as middle names. Another widely followed practice is to honor the mother's or the grandmother's family by selecting either of these family names, or a form of them, as a middle name.
Some couples use a variation of this theme by hyphenating the wife's maiden name with her husband's family name, and using the hyphenated name form in place of a separate middle name/last name combination, such as Susan Taylor-Smith. This name form isn't widely used, as it tends to be reserved for women who retain their maiden names when they marry. Since it's generally considered a feminine name fashion, it's rarely used when naming boys.
Location Is Everything
You also might find that there are more middle name choices based on one simple fact: Some names just sound better in second place. You may find that you really like a certain name, but it doesn't sound right with your last name or maybe you just can't picture calling your son or daughter by it. Whatever your reason, you'll notice that putting the name second gives you a whole new take on it. Just think of all the names you've considered and discarded as a first name. Putting them second gives you a whole lot of options from which to choose.
Initials in the Middle
A legendary misnomer story recounts the experience of an Army recruit named R.B. Jones, who, when filling out his enlistment forms, jotted down his name as “R. (only) B. (only) Jones.” You guessed it! From that day forward, he was known to all as Ronly Bonly Jones.
Multiple middle names are best left to British royalty, who delight in honoring their royal heritage by bestowing such monikers as Charles Philip Arthur George (Prince Charles), William Arthur Philip Louis (Prince William), and Henry Charles Albert David (Prince Henry).
Even more middle name choices present themselves when initials, rather than full names, come into the picture. This name fashion is seen most often when naming boys and it generally happens when names are being passed along from generation to generation. It can seem like a bit much to saddle a little kid with such middle monikers as Abercrombie or Ebeneezer, or, heaven forbid, both of them! Two initials instead of two names—although a bit unusual—can be far easier to deal with. The downside to using just a middle initial or two as a middle name is that they can seem somewhat stuffy and formal. And, they can be misconstrued as stand-ins for full names.
But middle initials can also be very powerful—just look at a few of the famous people who use them, such as actors Michael J. Fox and Vivica A. Fox and writer/producer David E. Kelly. Not bad company to be in. Initials can also form the basis for some good nicknames. Many initial combinations become names in their own right, such as C.C., J.J., or D.D.
A middle initial isn't always a stand-in for a name, however—some parents choose them because they just go nicely with the given name they've selected. In this case, the initial used as a middle name is actually a letter name, and the letter isn't followed by a period because it's not an abbreviated form of anything. It is what it is—just a letter.
This name form is pretty rare—in fact, I can't think of anyone aside from President Truman who has it. But it does show up on vital statistics records. More often, though, letters as middle names tend to be expressed as the sound that the letter makes, such as Ess, Jay, or Dee.