Category: middle names
First names make a statement, middle names tell a story. Often they preserve a memory. In the Jewish tradition, there is a disinclination to name after the living. Ours is not a culture of ‘Junior’s or ‘Second’s. The important people keep their own names when they are alive and then it is sometimes the letter, the initial sound of the moniker only, that gets passed down. My middle name is Jena, for instance, after my great grandfather Jacob. When it came time to choose a middle name for our son, we were certain of its source, so very sadly.
I heard Oliver’s heartbeat for the first time a mere matter of days before my husband’s sister, Stella, died of cancer. No matter how aware you are of the cycle of life and death in the abstract, losing a close family member in the same year as giving birth to a new one drives home its power in an unparalleled way. Stella was a bright light, as her name suggests, and her parents must have known that because it was not a particularly common thing to call a girl in 197os England. We had the option of going with the ‘S’ alone, but I wanted to enshrine the ‘star’ aspect. It so happened that the year before I became pregnant, celebrities Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, an Anglo-American couple just like us, had a boy. They called him Stellan, a Swedish name I had never heard of before. It was perfect.
Life and death continued to swirl together with the next child, as my second son came into this world on my uncle’s birthday, my Uncle Russel who had been killed in a car crash 12 years earlier. It was a wild coincidence of dates and it should have been a sign. There is a large part of me that regrets not making Leo’s middle name Russell – I would have spelled it with two ‘l’s – after my mother’s younger brother, a second child himself. My husband didn’t like the name enough to use it solely for its significance. And while we could have done something with an ‘R’, we picked Isaac instead. Isaac, the only one of the middle names which was chosen for aesthetic reasons only. We loved the name, plain and simple. Its old Jewish feel, its striking double ‘a’. If I had known for certain that we would be having another son, I would have saved it. Alas.
If you took a middle name poll of your female friends chances are the top middle name would be Marie. For years Anne and Marie were the go-to middle names for U.S. women. And then something happened. Grace and Rose became the next Anne.
Anne is still a popular middle name, but in recent decades Anne has been easy to replace. This is because one syllable middle names are easy middle names. Almost any first name works with a single syllable middle name.
But what middle names have become the next Marie? Louise was popular for a while. Michelle and Nicole began to show up in the middle a few decades ago. But there are many unexplored names that could work in place of Louise, Marie, Michelle, and Nicole.
Some names are common in the middle but rarely used as first names. Others are common first names but hardly used in the middle. And then there are a lucky few that are popular first and middle names, such as Grace and James. But the ultimate double-threat is Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s status as a popular first name has endured over a century. Elizabeth is the only girl name that has remained in the top 30 since 1880, the earliest year baby name rankings are available from Social Security Administration. This places Elizabeth among the baby name elite.
While Elizabeth’s many nicknames has kept it a popular first name, Elizabeth’s distinctive rhythm has kept it a popular middle name. This distinctive pattern is four syllables with the stress is on the second syllable.
Four syllable names with the stress on the third syllable don’t flow as well with most first names. For example, compare the following name combinations with Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s Spanish counterpart, Isabella, which has the stress on the third syllable:
With middle names, one way — the more popular way — to go is to choose slim, sleek, minimal middle names. Meaningful or simply connective, these middle names provide a short euphonic bridge between the more important first and last names.
But middle names can go another way, toward the big, important, statement name in the middle.
We’re talking multisyllabic, exotic, literary, artistic, mind-blowing, message-carrying middle names.
Names you love, but don’t want to stick your child with in first place. Names that are too daring, too difficult, too attention-grabbing to foist upon someone you love.
It might be embarrassing.
Or kind of a snooze.
Maybe it tells a story about you or your family.
Maybe you’ve changed it.
Today we’re going to reprise that fifth grade playground conversation and answer that revealing question: What’s your middle name? Do you love it or hate it? And what’s the story behind it?