Baby Name Flow: How First-Middle-Last Names Can Play Nice Together

May 13, 2014 upswingbabynames
middle name flow

by Angela Mastrodonato of Upswing Baby Names

Savvy parents looking for a name consider how well the first, middle, and last name get along (or how well the names flow).

But before we talk more about name flow, some discussion about where flow stands in the pecking order would be helpful. My motto when it comes to names, clothes, home decor, etc. is:

“Style without function causes unnecessary grief.”

To that end, I consider name flow a nice-to-have—not a must-have. Since flow is simply a nice-to-have, I would never suggest:

  • Giving up a meaningful name or one you really love because the flow is a little off.

  • Calling your child by a middle name only because the day-to-day name you wanted flowed better in the middle.

Pick The First Name First

That’s why I suggest picking the first name first, if possible, and then going from there. But we all know how life goes.

I broke my own suggestion. For years I knew I wanted my daughter to have the same middle name as me and my Mom, long before I picked her first name. But if possible, “first name first” makes the most sense.

Once the first name is picked, and assuming the last name is picked, here’s my checklist:

  1. First-last name flow is the most important

  2. Alternate syllable counts

  3. Avoid repetitious sounds

  4. Pay attention to syllable stress

  5. Avoid “vowel run-on”

First-Last Name Flow

Let’s face it: the full name is only reserved for a few occasions and, in many families, is only used when the child is being reprimanded. The most common day-to-day pairing is the first and last name.

I bring this up because overlooking the first-last name flow in the effort to find the right first-middle name flow is easy to do. The first-middle name flow could be beautiful, while the first-last name flow is off.

The first-last name flow doesn’t have to be perfect, but make sure it’s not a tongue-twister.

A Word About Cross-cultural Name Combos

Something to note with first-last name flow is the cultural origins of the last name. Cross-cultural name combos (e.g. Fiona Wang) is a hot baby name topic. The topic may even be a tad controversial.

I’m all for cross-cultural combos, but I’m also all for balance in the ways names coordinate and contrast.

By picking a first name with a different cultural origin than the last name, you are creating contrast. Therefore, I suggest reinforcing this contrast in other areas such as name length.

For example: Will Cogliano is a complementary combo because the English first name is short while the Italian last name is long.

A competing combo would be Willoughby Cogliano. Both names are long, both names are distinctive, but they come from different branches of language, and therefore have contrasting styles.

Cross-cultural name combos are like multi-pattern outfits. When done right, both practices create an impact; when done wrong they clash.

Alternate Syllable Counts

Once the first name passes with the last name, try alternating syllable counts.

Here are some examples of how to do this with two-middle names, but these guidelines work with first-middle-last name combos too.

Which combo do you prefer?

Lena Felicity Adele

Lena Adele Felicity

My money is on the Lena Felicity Adele combo. Why? Because there is balance created by the alternating syllable count.

Lena Felicity Adele has a 2-4-2 syllable pattern while Lena Adele Felicity has a 2-2-4 pattern.

If you switch one of the names, but follow the pattern, the combo usually works, because the alternating syllable counts.

Here’s another 2-4-2 combo: Lena Serenity Adele.

And here’s a 2-3-2 combo: Lena Josephine Adele.

However, alternating syllables doesn’t always guarantee good flow. Here’s a 2-3-2 combo that’s off: Lena Josephine Maxine.

While Lena Josephine Adele and Lena Josephine Maxine both have the same 2-3-2 pattern, the first one passes and the second one fails. Josephine and Maxine simply rhyme too much, which leads to the next qualifier:

Avoid Repetitious Sounds

With Josephine and Maxine, the “een” endings are too repetitious.

Name beginnings can also cause too much repetition, such as in this failed combo: Nora Noreen Gail. Try saying that 10 times fast.

There is another place where names can share too much.

Pay Attention to Syllable Stress

Can you tell what’s wrong with this combo?

Elizabeth Felicity Olivia

Do you think switching the combo will save it?

The answer is no. Switching the order of the names (e.g. Elizabeth Olivia Felicity or Felicity Elizabeth Olivia) will not save this combo. Why do these names fail next to each other?

Besides all three names having four syllables, Elizabeth Felicity Olivia doesn’t work because the stress is on the second syllable in all three names (as shown by the bold capital letters in the brackets below):

Elizabeth [ih-LIZ-uh-buhth]

Felicity [fi-LIS-i-tee]

Olivia [oh-LIV-ee-uh]

 Alternating syllable stress allows you to successfully break checklist item #2 (Alternate Syllable Counts).

In other words, two names with the same syllable counts can work next to each other as long as there’s alternate syllable stress.

For example: Sarah Michelle is a 2-2 combo that flows well because the stress in on different syllables:

Sarah [SAIR-uh]

Michelle [mi-SHEL]

Syllable stress effects name flow, but it’s not the last qualifier to watch.

Avoid “Vowel Run-on”

“Vowel run-on” happens when the first name ends in a vowel and the middle name begins with a vowel.

Sometimes this isn’t a problem. Some of the most popular middle names happen to start with vowels, such as Anne and Elizabeth. But other times names ending and beginning with vowels blend together.

For example:

Ava Angela Elise almost sounds like one name, Avangelice (almost like some modern creation inspired by Evangeline).

Closing Thought

While first-middle-last name flow can be subjective, following this checklist will give you a starting point for finding the right middle name for your baby. But if you find you love a combo that breaks the rules, then I say go for it.

About the author


Angela Mastrodonato created Upswing Baby Names to celebrate names on the upswing. She is a big-time name watcher, and has a growing list of names she watches by tracking their popularity each year. Sign up here to get your copy of this Watch List.

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