Double First Names: Mary Ann and Peggy Sue
By Elisabeth Waugaman
The practice developed for a variety of reasons. As populations grew, names necessarily became more complex in order to distinguish individuals from each other. Physical descriptions, occupations and locations of specific individuals became last names, as in John by the tower (John Tower), John the short, (John Short), John the Baker (John Baker).
When first and last names no longer sufficed—especially in clan areas—Mary O’Neil needed an additional name to distinguish her from all the other Mary O’Neils in the vicinity, which led to names like Mary Anne O’Neil.
Religious beliefs also inspired parents to give their child not only a family name but also a saint’s name to secure the protection of that particular saint. For centuries, European children had to have a given name that was recognized by the Catholic Church. The tradition of naming a child for a godparent, who was present at the baptism, also led to additional given names.
The European aristocracy, too, had an influence with complex naming traditions meant to cement extended family relationships and territorial holdings: e.g. the current Karl Thomas Robert Maria Franziskus Georg Bahnam Hapsburg-Lothringen, the Archduke of Austria. Here we have six given names, but there could be as many as ten.
With this proliferation of given names among the upper classes, the usage filtered down and double given names became common among the lower classes, becoming accepted in England in the seventeenth century after the reign of Charles James Stuart (Charles I), a Catholic king with a double given name.
In America, the double given name tradition derives from Scots-Irish-English, French, and German double naming customs–just one of many different naming practices in the populous North. However, when the Scots-Irish settled in the Appalachians, gradually moving south and west, their double names became associated with the South and “hillbillies,” as seen in pop culture characters like Daisy Mae in L’il Abner and Elly May in The Beverly Hillbillies. In other parts of the country (e.g. Marie–Louise from the French naming tradition) they did not acquire these negative associations, which are now, thankfully, a thing of the past.
The word ‘double’ suggests separate identities. In my research, I found that women who wrote about their double given names were very conscious of the significance of both elements. However, many of them had problems with their double names either because people couldn’t remember them or because they didn’t use the second name. If women decided to drop one of their given names, there could be problems with relatives or even for the women themselves if they felt that they couldn’t accept the loss of one of their names. Most of the essayists either fused the names into one (e.g., Mary Anne became Maryanne), used initials, or dropped one name in order to avoid confusion, Southern stereotypes, a childish sounding name, or identity complications due to computers. A woman named Billie–Jean was the one contributor who could not give up her second name despite a desire to do so because with a masculine and a feminine double name, she could not tolerate the loss of either because she felt the names represented a whole that would be lost if one name were dropped.
With the computer age, double given names now require the use of a hyphen or else the computer automatically records the second name as a middle. Women with double names described numerous problems with paperwork if the double name was not used uniformly in their documents. Hyphens eliminate this problem: France, for example, now requires a hyphen for double given names for this reason.
Hyphenated names are becoming more popular in England, which suggests that we will be seeing more of them here in the U.S. in the future, especially if the parental trend to seek names that will set their children apart continues.
Would you use a two-part first name?
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 1:10 am
I would use a double first name. My favorite double name is Rosemarie or Rosemary Maryanne is cute too.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 5:22 am
I would, I love:
Ellie-Charles, Jean-Pearl, Kitty-Jean, Birdie-Max, Teddy-Pearl, Bunny-Jean, Minnie-Faye, Billie-Max, Opal-Max, Opal-Jean, Stevie-Jean, Dot-Louise, Andy-Jean, Petra-Max, Winnie-Pearl, Cappi-Noon, Essie-Dove.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 8:06 am
Wow! What an interesting article. I might use a double name, but then again I don’t know, seeing as I might not have kids. Theodora-Phoenix is the one for me!
Also I love Juliette-Marie, Claude-Juliette, Claude-Marie, and Juliette-Claude.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 8:35 am
Interesting post! Coincidentally, I’ve been musing over Marie-Therese (ress not reese) lately. I don’t know why, but double names seem to work better with girl names. Any thoughts?
on September 2nd, 2014 at 10:49 am
I live in Texas we we have A LOT of double names here. My only advice is that if you want them to go by a double name give them a middle name as well. Then, it won’t get shortened to just the “first” first name. My brother’s daughter is Molly Kathryn. A few people call her Molly Kathryn but most say Molly Kate (although I have never called her anything BUT Molly Kathryn…and they’re not catholic). Just off the top of my head I know of Lila Ann, John Edward, John Thomas, John Canon, John Mark, and an Emma Claire.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 11:10 am
I’d use a double first, but I live in England so it’s pretty normal. I have Luna-Fae on my favourites list, and I also like Tilda-Beth, Mattie-Beth, or Tilly-Beth as a nn for my combo Matilda Hazel Beth. I know a Molly-Ann who only goes by Molly (but I don’t think the Ann bit fits her at all), but I also know an Emily-May/Mae, who only goes by her full first name. Jean-Christophe is a swoon worthy double first (it helps it being French :P).
on September 2nd, 2014 at 12:28 pm
I second the article’s really fascinating!
I might think of double first name for a future son. Because I’m not really a fan of double first names, I can’t really point out a reason for using it other than I might not have more than one son (if any son at all) …and there are more than two names I’d like to use for a boy.
I was thinking about Louis Noel (or Louis-Noel), with middle name Frederick… Or the other way round, Noel Louis (Frederick), which I like less, but Louis seems too common to me.
If not, I just might consider giving two middle names.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 12:36 pm
The idea of a double name really appeals to me, though I don’t know if I would use it in real life, since there’s a lot of issues to consider. Plus, I’m so indecisive about names; it’s hard to even choose one first name, let alone two! Mary-Kate (as in Olsen) has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Though I’m not crazy about either name separately, I adore Marie Christine (which was actually the name of a shipwreck and a subsequent song by Gordon Lightfoot). There was a contestant on Wheel of Fortune the other day who insisted on being called Barbara Jean, and there’s a TV reporter here in MN who goes by Susan Elizabeth on-air. Quite a mouthful, and I would imagine it’s hard to get people to use that all the time. When your double name gets to six syllables, that’s where I’d stop. It becomes kind of an imposition on people.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 1:54 pm
Love this article! I have been playing around with double names for girls lately and the idea really appeals to me. I would definitely use one–if I could find the right one! Favorites of mine right now include Margaret Jane, Fiona Grace, Edith Rose, Mary Margaret, Lucy Rose, Celia May, Judith Grace, Mary Violet, and Celia Jane. With double names, you get two great names for the price of one.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 1:58 pm
Forgot to say that I also love Annemarie and Rosemary, but don’t like them *at all* separated into doubles (Anne Marie and Rose Mary). I have no clue why, since it’s essentially the same thing.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 3:11 pm
I love Ann Marie, Lily Rose, and Rose Marie.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 3:51 pm
If I’d ever use a double name, I’d stick a hyphen in the middle, just to avoid what the article talked about with the confusion between first and middle. A unique one that I rather like is Keira-May.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 4:01 pm
Funny, I was just wondering this weekend if Nameberry would ever do a piece on two-part names. I have a two-part name (not my screen name), and as kindergartner, I remember classifying it as just that – a “two-part” name, explaining to others that I could go legitimately go by either part.
I don’t care for hyphenations. I think it detracts from the whole. Some two-parts blend well as one such as Rosemarie, Anne Marie, Katie Rose, Lily Rose, and the endless Mary +’s, such as Mary Elizabeth, Mary Frances, etc. The names in other two-parts detract from each other, such as Lucy Noelle, and stand better alone. Noelle is too pretty to be obscured.
The one two-part I never hear but love is Grace Mary. I’ve seen a few Mary Graces, but only became aware of Grace Mary on a sticker- “Grace Mary is pretty scary” – perhaps advertising a ghost walk. It sounds so Irish.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 4:56 pm
My cousin is called Marie-Luise but she’s always been known as Malu.
And the daughter of a friend of mine is called Mary-Eleanor but has always been known as M.E. In fact when I first heard her name, I thought it was ‘Emmy’.
on September 2nd, 2014 at 6:47 pm
I know a Mary Jane who is mostly called Mary. I like myosotis’ suggestion of Jean-Christophe quite a bit 🙂
on September 3rd, 2014 at 4:27 pm
I found this article very interesting because I have a double first name: Mary Grace. Legally, Grace is my middle name, but I’ve always gone by Mary Grace. I’ve never thought of the double nature of my name as denoting two separate identities before, but I do know that I don’t like it when people call me just “Mary” because that’s not my identity. Mary Grace is my identity. The Grace adds an extra something that gives my name and personality an extra oomph. That’s why I get irked when I see people write Grace off as a “filler middle name” or an uncreative virtue name—that’s not true at all. It’s beautiful, short, and fun, and I love that it’s part of my name.
Also, if you meet someone who introduces themselves with a double-barrel first name (Mary Grace, Anne-Elise, Gemma-Claire, John-Michael, James-Matthew, etc.), please use it. When I hear someone call me “Mary,” it’s like someone saying “Saman” instead of “Samantha” or “Abig” instead of “Abigail.” Please use the name that they prefer to be called, not just the first half because that’s what you’re used to. Common courtesy is an awesome thing.
@LuMary: I once had a gymnastics teacher who said she always wanted to call me “Grace Mary.” That’s the only time I’ve ever heard that combination, but it’s sweet.
on September 3rd, 2014 at 6:43 pm
I really like some of the Italian male double names, like Giancarlo, Giambattista, Gianpiero, Gianluigi, Giampaolo, etc. although I can’t pinpoint exactly why. Sure, it would be a whole lotta name for my environment (I live in Virginia) but they’re definitely my GPs 🙂
on September 3rd, 2014 at 6:47 pm
I’m not sure why my smiley face was put in the middle of a sentence, it was supposed to go at the end???
Anyway, I forgot to mention that I myself have a double first name, and so do many of my maternal relatives (i.e. Barbara Gail and Kenneth Craig). Yes that part of my family is from the South but we are not white haha.
on December 16th, 2019 at 3:04 pm
I personally have a double first name, Emmylou, and yes it is from the south lol. I do like my name, but at times I feel it isn’t professional.
leave a reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.