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Middle Names: Part 2–Middle-sized middles

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by Angela Mastrodonato of Upswing Baby Names

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.

This is why even underused one syllable middle names feel like they have a short shelf-life. Pearl and Wren may not be as common as Grace and Rose, but may already feel like the next Grace and Rose.

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.

What do Louise, Marie, Michelle, and Nicole have in common that make them middle name material? These names all have an iambic pattern, two syllables with the stress on the second syllable.

One common belief is that names flow well when the syllable count varies between the first and middle name. For example, a 3-1 combination is popular (the first name has three syllables and the middle name has one). Some popular 3-1 combinations include Sophia Rose and Jennifer Lynn.

But syllable count doesn’t have to vary between the first and middle name. Sometimes 2-2 combinations can work as well. Yet not all 2-2 combinations work. There are some that sound repetitious. The 2-2 combinations that work, work because the stress is on different syllables.

Usually the most appealing combination is when the first name is stressed on the first syllable and the middle name is an iambic name, stressed on the second syllable. This creates a balanced, not repetitive, sound. This is what makes Sarah Michelle sound nicer to most people than Sarah Molly.

Here are some other iambic names that are more unexpected than Louise, Marie, Michelle, and Nicole:

Celeste – if it is pronounced se-LEST

You may note there aren’t any boys names on this list. In English-speaking cultures at least, male iambic names are hard to find. Maybe Stefan would count depending on pronunciation.

One of my favorites from this list is Simone used in combinations like Charlotte Simone, Emma Simone or Vera Simone. For an easy exotic style, Delphine is a good choice. I like it with other exotic names. One of my dream combinations is Ione Delphine.

While iambic names work well in the middle, let’s not overlook their first name potential. Even this group’s leader, Marie, is surprising as a first name, only given to 504 newborn girls in 2012 (the most recent year data is available).

Which iambic names are your favorites? How many combinations can you make with this list?

For more middle name discussion, see the middle name series at Upswing Baby Names.

Angela created Upswing Baby Names out of an obsession with baby name statistics, trends, and predictions. She put her predictions into a book, The Top 22 in 2022. She is also an avid runner, wannabe foodie, and devoted mom of two.

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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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12 Responses to “Middle Names: Part 2–Middle-sized middles”

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elliebean13 Says:

June 13th, 2013 at 11:40 pm

My name is Ellie Charis, and yes, both have names two syllables, and yes, they both stress the first syllable, but I still feel like they flow well. I think it might because of the fact that the two names don’t share any of the same sounds. I’m not sure, but I’m wondering if there are any combos like my name that still sound okay, regardless of whether they follow the rules?

upswingbabynames Says:

June 14th, 2013 at 5:04 am

@elliebean13: I’m so glad you brought this up. When I created the middle name series, the purpose wasn’t to create a rigid set of rules that must be followed in every circumstance, but rather to help people see why some combinations work well and others don’t.

I’m reminded of when I took a graphic design class many years ago. When the instructor was teaching us graphic design rules she mentioned that part of the reason for learning the rules was to learn how to effectively break the rules. Work that unintentionally breaks the rules rarely turns out well, while work that intentionally breaks the rules, with good reason, is often better than formulaic, uninspired work that follows every rule.

The iambic middle name “rule” isn’t as common among male names. One of the most popular male middle names, Alan, has a stress on the first syllable not the second and people seem to feel it works in many cases.

As for Ellie Charis, I think both names sound nice together, and work just as well as Patrick Alan, as a male example.

This list is made for an expectant parent who may like the name Lara, as an example, but can only think of Marie as a middle name and would like another middle that works as well as Marie, but is also surprising.

MaScha2 Says:

June 14th, 2013 at 6:07 am

Haha my name is Marie Ann! I guess my mom didn’t realize she was giving me 2 of the most popular middle names of all time!

ajw77 Says:

June 14th, 2013 at 8:31 am

There are in fact several popular boys names in “English-speaking cultures” that would classify as Iambic: Jamal, Malik, Lamar, Naveen, etc. Please don’t exclude those names you may consider too ‘exotic’ to list in this blog.

upswingbabynames Says:

June 14th, 2013 at 11:33 am

@formulaic: Thanks for suggesting those names.

I didn’t deliberately exclude names for being too “exotic” and certainly don’t mean to suggest there aren’t any iambic boy names. I came across Emil the other day, and thought, “There’s an iambic boy name.”

In the end I decided to focus on alternatives to Marie–a popular middle name for girls.

rkchance Says:

June 14th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Wow, some people take this fun site way too seriously. Great job with your middle name suggestions upswinging!

abeezee Says:

June 14th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Recently I came up with Caroline Adair. 🙂

tabitha Says:

June 15th, 2013 at 9:31 am

any tips for those wanting to give
TWO middle names? 😉

ash1114 Says:

June 15th, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I am fairly new to posting here but I love your blogs, postings & subject matter. I had to reply because I love middle names! I would also plan to give my children 2 middles someday. Some of your double syllables I love are Delphine, Francine, Claudine & Sylvaine! These are glorious! Thanks!

calypsotheoneandonly Says:

June 15th, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I like Elise! Or have I been pronouncing it wrong?

Amaris261 Says:

June 16th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I’m confused how Margot made the list? I most certainly stress the first syllable.

littlewren Says:

January 14th, 2014 at 11:50 pm

I stress the first syllable on Margot, and I’m pretty sure that’s at least the proper way to pronounce it, so I’m not sure why it’s on here?

A unisex iambic name is Azure! I just love Azure on a boy.
And a few other girls’ iambic names not listed: Capri, Marin, Marine, Helene, Elaine, Brianne, Frostine.

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