Double First Names: Mary Ann and Peggy Sue

Double First Names: Mary Ann and Peggy Sue

By Elisabeth Waugaman

The term ‘double names’ refers to the use of two separate first names as one, such as Billie Jean or Mary Jane or Billy Bob .

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. MarieLouise 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 BillieJean 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?

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.