Middle Name Switches

Clearly, parents today are giving a lot more thought to their children’s middle names than their own parents did.  Long gone are the automatic connective choices like Lee and Lynn, Beth and Bruce;  more likely now might be something more imaginative like Maeve or West—or Sebastian or Story—or Mom’s maiden or another family name.

For some people, the reasoning behind this is to give the child an additional option for later in life.  It works both ways: either he could switch his classic William for his jazziermiddle  Jasper, or she could opt for using her traditional, grown-up Elizabeth middle name over the less sophisticated Poppy.

It turns out that a surprising number of celebrities have done just that—chosen to use their middle as their marquee moniker.  Sometimes it was to drop a wimpy appellation for a more stylish one (Eldred for Gregory, Orvon for Gene), sometimes because a name was too common at the time (Mary, John, James) and the middle had more character (Farrah, Orson, Montgomery), sometimes maybe because probably just seemed cooler to be Brad than Bill.

As a result, some of the most stand-out celebrity names –Evangeline, Reese, Rihanna, Ashton and Jude—started out in second place on the birth certificate.  Here are some of the most prominent–And note that the last names given aren’t necessarily the ones they were born with.


Kathryn BRIDGET (Moynahan)

Lily CLAUDETTE (Colbert)

Mary DEBRA (Winger)

Nicole EVANGELINE (Lilly)

Audrey FAITH (Hill)

Mary FARRAH (Fawcett)

Dorothy FAYE (Dunaway)

Deborah HUNTER (Tylo)

Mary KATHLEEN (Turner)

Olive MARIE (Osmond)

Holly MICHELLE (Phillips)

Carole PENNY (Marshall)

Laura Jean REESE (Witherspoon)

Robin RIHANNA (Fenty)

Rebecca SARA (Gilbert)

Elizabeth TEA (Leone)

Ellen TYNE (Daly)


Christopher ASHTON (Kutcher)

William BRADley (Pitt)

Walter BRUCE (Willis)

John CHARLTON (Heston)

William CLARK (Gable)

Yitzak EDWARD (Asner)

William FRENCH (Stewart)

Troyal GARTH (Brooks)

Leonard GARY (Oldman)

Orvon GENE (Autry)

Eldred (GREGORY)(Peck)

Hiram HANK (Williams)

James HUGH (Laurie)

David JUDE (Law)

Allen KELSEY (Grammer)

Edward MONTGOMERY (Clift)

George ORSON (Welles)

James PAUL (McCartney)

Charles ROBERT (Redford)

Patrick RYAN (O’Neal)

Thomas SEAN (Connery)

Terence STEPHEN/Steve (McQueen)

Michael SYLVESTER (Stallone)

Richard TREAT (Williams)

Henry WARREN (Beatty)

John WILLiam (Ferrell)

Jeannel WYCLEF (Jean)

But  you didn’t have to be an entertainer to follow this pattern.  Some others:

Lula CARSON (McCullers)

Alfred DAMON (Runyon)

Samuel DASHIELL (Hammett)

Anna ELEANOR (Roosevelt)

Mary FLANNERY (O’Connor)

Mary JESSAMYN (West)

Herbert MARSHALL (McLuhan)

John MICHAEL (Crichton)

Marvin NEIL (Simon)

William ROBERTSON (Davies)

John ROBINSON (Jeffers)

Joseph RUDYARD (Kipling)

Margaret RUMER (Godden)

Keith RUPERT (Murdoch)

Hiram ULYSSES (Grant)– he hated having the initials HUG)

Adeline VIRGINIA (Woolf)

Pearl ZANE (Grey)

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38 Responses to “Middle Name Switches”

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Jill Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 12:57 am

This is such a great topic! I really enjoyed reading the list you compiled! 🙂

LyndsayJenness Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 5:39 am

I loved this blog! What a great list! I did theatre for a long time and used my middle name in place of my surname, which is what I do here, too! My goal with my children’s names is for there to be lots of ways to mix them up to make whatever type of name they desire, whether they want a totally normal name or a totally unique one or name befitting an author, actor, athlete, lawyer, etc.

Lissa Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 7:10 am

As the resident Alabamian here, I feel compelled to point out that Hank is a nickname for Hiram, not a middle name. Also, you could add Nelle Harper Lee. 🙂

Kiki Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 7:36 am

Adeline Woolf is a lovely name. I like it better than Virginia Woolf

JLyn Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 8:35 am

I loved today’s blog and just wanted to say I appreciate all the effort that is put into this website!

Charlotte Vera Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 8:42 am

Great list, great topic! The name I go by on much of the world wide web (including here) is my first and my middle name. I used to think that if I ever became famous for anything that I’d drop my last name and just use my middle. If she ever wanted to, my daughter has two middle names to choose from.

I have quite a few friends who used to work with/were friends with Evangeline Lilly before she made it big and they all knew her as Nicole.

Meredith Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 9:25 am

A friend’s sister moved to LA to become an actress. “They” made her drop her given name of Nancy and use her middle name of Brianne. The reason wasn’t just because of her name- there was already an actress named nancy Davis. The whole family had to get used to calling her by the new name so there was no confusion. It took a while but she is definitely no longer Nancy. Strange change but probably great for her career.

Bella Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 9:35 am

I use my middle name as my maiden name and stage name. Gabrielle Carolina sounds so much better than Gabrielle Ash.

smismar Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 10:12 am

Love this one!! I’m not celeb, but I have thought long and hard about doing this. I tried in about 7th grade and failed (b/c I wouldn’t speak up and correct teachers when they called my first name). I MUCH prefer my middle name to my first. I now try to put at least first AND middle on all legal documents instead of just my first and I’ll answer to either. At my age and being nearly done with professional school, I feel like it’s to late to switch entirely.

Shanna Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 10:47 am

Fun topic – I really enjoyed reading this list! I am definitely planning to give my children interesting middles so they can switch them up if they want to. My middle (Jean) is my grandma’s name, but also a typical “connector” name.

vikki Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 11:22 am

Is it uncommon to use middle names you know as a nickname? I live in SC and I can honestly say I know LOTS of people who are called by their middle name.

Doris LYNN Evans (my mother)
Jonathan EVAN Davis (cousin)
Marilyn DANETTE Evans (my aunt)
Helen NICOLE Thomas (my best friend)
James DORRIS Poston (my step-grandfather)
Norman HINSON Perry (my grandfather)
Eddie DANIEL Evans (my grandfather)

Alyssa Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 11:31 am

What has always been a mystery to me is why some parents give their child a first name they never intended on using. My husband’s family has a loooong tradition of the firstborn son’s first name being (no joke) CARROLL but just calling them whatever their middle name is. Not only is Carroll an awful name to give a boy in this day and age, but to put it in the first name position where it’s the first thing substitute teachers will see on the roll, etc… oy. I refused to do that to my son but my husband was set on keeping Carroll for a middle name. I’m hoping the tradition dies out completely with the next generation.

My dad’s parents did the same thing, giving him the same name as his dad for his first name. They never intended to call them both Wayne as it would be too confusing, they always intended to use my dad’s middle name as his name… but then WHY NOT MAKE IT HIS FIRST NAME?! When ever something official needed to be taken care of or someone read his name off a list, they always called my dad Wayne, and to all of us that was my grandpa. I never understood that, so it’s become a major pet peeve of mine.

Choosing to use your own middle name because you just like it better is one thing, but intentionally giving your child one name you know they will never be able to use? I’m still bitter, as a name nerd, that we were saddled with Carroll for one of our names, as you can see. Urg.

Linda Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 11:43 am

Thanks, JLyn—appreciate being appreciated!

vikki Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

You know…I don’t think using the middle name is so horrible. What is the difference between calling a person their middle name or having a nickname? I mean should my parents have named me Vikki instead of Victoria. I’ve been called Vikki since the day I was born, but my full name is Victoria Lynn.

JNE Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Great blog! My best friend growing up was Nina – imagine my surprise after knowing her for 8 years and at the ripe ol’ age of 10, myself, to here her ‘real’ name was Kathryn and I’s been calling her by her mn all that time. Of course it doesn’t seem so odd to me now, but it seemed very strange then. I’m now one of few people who does not call her Kathy – me and family and one or two old friends of hers.

Now I know more people who have done this – my MIL goes by her middle Doreen because she prefers it to Winifred (which I personally can’t understand, but she is Doreen nonetheless) and I just (a few months ago) learned that my own grandfather’s name used to be reversed – the fn we’ve always known him by (Glen) was the middle and Julian the first on his BC… but his youngest sister is Julia – so it is understandable why he changed it (but I can’t grasp what my GGparents were thinking with Julian and Julia as siblings).

Kari Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 2:51 pm


Araminta HARRIET Tubman

linda Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

This is a great one–sorry I omitted it!

jacjac Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 6:32 pm

isn’t Rihanna’s last name Fenty 😛

Karen Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I like this topic. I usually advise people or feel strongly that they should not be too concerned with “flow” of middle names as they aren’t often heard. I stand by that if they are in love with a name, they should use it and not just fit in another name just because it sounds better. All things being equal, however, of course you should listen to how it sounds. How does the first and last sound together. Does the middle sound ok alone with the last name as well? I just think it’s a bonus if it does. I generally like a middle name that’s sort of personal and something you reveal to someone if you want to, but I leave it up to anyone to choose their own strategy.

As far as calling someone by their middle name, I can think of a lot of reasons. If they are a junior (and they didn’t inherit a heinous middle name), or if you really just like both names, and put them in the order they sound best, etc. A “first” name being what someone is called means nothing to me, if they have all those names you spent time thinking of, call them what you want to call them, or what you think fits better once you’ve gotten to see them in action. It’s quite hard as an adult to determine suddenly to go by another name, and they still have their first name if they like it better.

Linda Says:

March 18th, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Thanks jacjac–the Fenty typo is fixed.

Devon Says:

March 19th, 2010 at 2:34 am

I think the reason why some, at least in my family, call their child by their middle names, rather than their first name, is for the flow of the name. Both my uncles go by their first middle name, rather than their first name, because my grandparents liked the flow better. My eldest uncle, William Craig McGregor, goes by Craig. William Craig sounds better than Craig William – and he was named after his father, William Charles and they didn’t want 2 “Bill’s.” My younger uncle, John Reid Gibson, goes by Reid. It sounds better, John Reid, than Reid John. My mum and aunt on the otherhand, Anne Cranston and Elizabeth Christina, go by their first names.

I think it’s important to give your child a name (and middle name for that matter) that will grow with them and translate well for any profession they choose. My name, Devon Johnston, works (at least I think!) for any sort of job I could have, as does my brother’s name, Andrew Edward. I always thought if I became famous I would keep my first name and shorten my maiden name to “Ford.” Devon Ford sounds like a hot model name! LOL My brother, I thought, could go by Drew Edwards.

My poor husband on the other hand, Michael Douglas, is forever getting the “did your parents like Michael Douglas? You know, the actor?” remark from people. He definitely wasn’t given Douglas as a middle name for the actor – it was for his uncle who passed away. That’s a good example of what not to do with a middle name, no matter the significance!

When I have kids, I’m so giving them names that can morph into something that will suit whatever they want to do in life.

Filipa Says:

March 19th, 2010 at 6:01 am

In Portugal, almost every girl has a middle name; Our first name is usually Ana or Maria and we are called by our second name. In my case, I’m Ana Filipa, but everyone calls me Filipa (Fee-lee-pahh), but my sister’s name is Vera Lucia (means True Light in Latin), and we call her Vera.
Right now Maria all by itself it’s very very very trendy.

Lucy Says:

March 19th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I had a friend back in high school named Mary Katherine, and she hated being one of several girls named Mary at our school so she went by Kassie, a nickname for her middle name. It was pretty confusing, and I’d always think her name was Kassandra. The teachers all gave her weird looks whenever she corrects them too. As in “how’d you get Kassie from Mary??”

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lemon Says:

March 20th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

After reading this, I had a thought…

How come nobody on NB ever talks about NOT giving their child a middle name? It’s always, what should his middle name be? Should I give her two middle names? We don’t hear, “Well, I only like Catherine, so she’ll just be Catherine Smith.”

Now, I’m a firm supporter of the middle name – I love the potential a middle name has to enhance a person’s name! Whether it be honoring family or a hobby, throwing in something unusual, or just getting in some more names you love, middle names are awesome!

But, I’m still left with my initial question. Does everybody do the middle name thing still? My grandmother, Marion, doesn’t have one. Is it really that weird?

Lemon 🙂

Charlotte Vera Says:

March 21st, 2010 at 2:49 am

In response to Lemon, I have a few friends without middle names. For their parents it was a cultural thing not to give middle names. However, the kids in question have always said that they regretted not having a middle name and one friend had her name changed to add a middle name — with her parents’ encouragement, I might add! Thus, Ruth Aaron became Ruth Pranithi Aaron.

My grandmother, Elisabeth Johanna, always went by either Johanna or Hanna because there had simply been way too many Elisabeth’s in her town growing up.

Rebecca E. Says:

March 22nd, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I love my middle name, Pearl. It’s somewhat unusual amongst other people my age and it actually makes a good connector name with my first name, Rebecca. I’m an actor/director and I’m considering dropping my last name and just using Pearl.

My friend’s actual name is Katherine Frances, but she goes by Frances which fits her so much better. That’s what’s so nice about middle names, really.

Jason Says:

March 30th, 2010 at 9:47 am

I watched some writings from your blog, also have added your feed during the previous hours and I found a constant improvement of style.
Wonderfull job.

jessica Says:

April 11th, 2010 at 3:33 pm

@rebecca e. my middle name is pearl also! jessica pearl 🙂 i love it

Farah Says:

May 3rd, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I love my name, which is Farah Beth. I was named after Farrah Fawcett, but my mother decided to only put one R in my name. I got my midde name from the rock band Kiss- they wrote a song called Beth. I have two teachers that call me Farrah Fawcett-one of them calls me that on purpose, the other on accident. I’m proud of my name.

Allison Says:

July 14th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

My husband goes by his middle name, and as he is the first-born of his siblings, he wanted his first-born to do the same, regardless of the gender. Our daughter’s first name is the family name – that of my husband’s maternal grandmother, and her middle name is the one we use commonly. We like the sound of the names together, although in a liberal household, many family friends were mortified to learn her initials – G.O.P! I would not mind doing it for a second child, either, if it worked well.

Namegirl Says:

February 27th, 2011 at 12:59 am

Hmph…Sigh…My parents didn’t give me a mn and I despise my first. They are not so keen on the idea of me changing my name, so I was thinking that perhaps they would let me add a mn and I could go by that. Brilliant, right? The only one we can agree on so far is Rose. This is a lovely name (that happens to be my grandmother’s) and it sounds great with my fn, but alas, it has become a filler in my generation. Any suggestions?

Sarah Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 7:23 am

My grandmother’s siblings all went by their middle names. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but it seems to be. They were born between the 20’s-40’s.

My grandma was FRANCES Nita, but goes by Frances.
I have aunts: Olive ELIZABETH, who goes by Betty,
Arlene PATRICIA, who goes by Pat,
Astrid MARIE, who goes by Marie (yuck)
Honor NESTA, who went by Nesta
and uncles: David Willis, who went by Willie
Richard Morris, who went by Morris
Uncle Whitney, who’s first name I can’t remember.

I love the names Olive, Astrid and Honor. They were popular Swedish names that my ancestors brought over from Sweden when they immmigrated.

sunshinetina Says:

September 1st, 2011 at 11:50 pm

In my family I am currently one of 6 Martina’s. The name is VERY popular in my family, in fact there is rumor of one more Martina on the way.

In any case, growing up it was easier to call us Martina’s by our middle names to tell us apart. I am very used to being called by my middle name by my family, though I actually loathe my middle name (it shall remain private) and prefer my first. My family are the only people that I allow to use my middle name.

emilymaryjane Says:

December 28th, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Great post. I have put some strange middle names on my list like Smith and Green for boys and Lake for girls but I love Anne and Rose. Anne is of family signifigance. It’s my great grandmas name, Grandmas middle name, mums middle name and my middle name

arianabelinda Says:

March 22nd, 2012 at 9:12 pm

My sister didn’t give her daughter a mn, and I am still in disbelief. Poor kid will probably wonder why her mom didn’t bother to give her a mn. VERY interesting article! Really helped me see the extra value of a mn. I also like the idea of either the fn or mn being traditional and the other one being more jazzy/personal/unique. I basically followed that pattern with my kids, but of course, to each his own! (Except for my sis — wish she’d given her kid a mn! Lol).

MissusAytch Says:

January 29th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I just have to say I can’t stand it when actors use their middle names as their last names. Unless its a very surname sounding middle name (Thomas Cruise Mapother) it just sounds contrived. I think of the actress Michael Michele… I mean, come on. And whoever wrote Gabrielle Carolina sounds better than Gabrielle Ash… Um, no. Not at all. The former is trying way too hard. The latter is quite a lovely name.

GingerCat Says:

November 26th, 2013 at 11:22 am

I love old fashioned clunky names like Wilhelmina and Theodora, I think somethingg much more modern in the middle place would give my, so far imaginary girls, the chance to swap if they hated them

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