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How Many Baby Names is Too Many?

a Name Sage post by: Abby View all Name Sage posts

Rosanna writes:

We’re expecting a baby boy, due in May, and our name crisis is twofold.

First of all, my partner and I are having a confidence crisis over the name we were previously set on – Leonardo, or Leo. We like Leo as a given name, but we’re not keen on shortened/nickname versions of a full name being put on the birth certificate. Leonardo would be there if our child wanted to use his full name later in life, and I liked how distinguished it sounds – and its catalogue of interesting namesakes!

However, I’m getting cold feet as we get closer to our due date. I’m starting to think that Leonardo is a bit of a mouthful and that we’d just never use it. The other name I would have used in a heartbeat is Theo/Theodore, but a co-worker recently used it for her baby boy, and I just don’t think I could use it for that reason.

There are only a few other names I like at this point. Oscar is one that my partner and I both like, but I don’t love it. And Lorcan is one that I really like, even love, but my partner isn’t keen on it at all!

The other part of our problem relates to middle names. We aren’t yet married, but have agreed that our baby will have both our surnames. We’d like to use Berry as a middle name, as it was my partner’s mother’s maiden name, and honors his much loved and missed grandparents. But I would also like our boy to have a first middle name – John – to honor my grandfather.

My partner thinks this would make our baby’s full name far too long, but I’m not so sure.

What do you think?

The Name Sage replies:

How many names is too many? That’s a great question, especially because the answer isn’t what it used to be.

I don’t think I knew another person my age with two middle names – or two last names – growing up in suburban America in the 80s. When I saw it in books, it was terribly exotic, reserved for aristocrats with titles like Comtesse or Landgravine.

Today, I know plenty of children with two surnames or two middle names – and a handful with both! The world has changed, and our naming conventions reflect that.

So is a name like Leonardo John Berry Williams Harrison too much? (Note: I’m making up last names for Rosanna and her partner.)

Most of the time he’d be known as plain ol’ Leo Harrison, which is a great name, and definitely not too much for a child or an adult to wear. In fact, the number of times he would have to introduce himself as anything other than Leo Harrison is pretty slim.

That argues for using the names that matter to you – even if it feels a little bit like overload on the rare occasion that you write out his full name.

But let’s assume that you really find the whole combination excessive, and can’t quite imagine filling out all of those names on a birth certificate or passport application.

The most obvious options are:

  • Choose a different first name, one that sidesteps the formal name/nickname problem. A few suggestions: Felix, Ezra, Jasper, Arlo, Hugo, and Rory. Or use just Leo. I tend to agree that Ollie really ought to be Oliver and Billy William, but Leo is very common as a formal name – not just in 2016, but throughout the ages.
  • Drop one of your honor names – either John or Berry – possibly reserving it for a future child.
  • Forgo using one of your surnames.

Those aren’t the only choices, of course. You might also creatively combine middles – Berryjohn? Or maybe drop John and Berry to find an honor name that ties together both of your family histories. You might even promote John from middle to first name, maybe by using a different form of the name – Jack or Ian, maybe?

One way to make the decision might be this: should you ever find yourself expecting another child, would you have two more names that matter just as much as John and Berry? Because while I don’t see anything wrong with Leonardo John Berry Williams Harrison, I do think it’s a shame if his future sibling is plain Kate Williams Harrison, because all of the middles are taken.

Assuming the answer is yes, I’d encourage you to use the full name, though perhaps choosing Leo over Leonardo to shorten it slightly and address your concerns that it is a mouthful.

It will be longer than most children’s names by a syllable or three, but it won’t be so long as to be outlandish. (There are a number of people with more than two dozen names! Pablo Picasso had eleven, plus two surnames.)

Let’s ask the readers what they think, and I’d love to hear from others who have been in similar situations.

How many names is too many?

  1. AStick with a first, middle, and last.
  2. BTwo middles or two lasts is fine, but not both.
  3. CThe more, the merrier! Five names is fine.
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About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.
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19 Responses to “How Many Baby Names is Too Many?”

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Lynnsf Says:

April 12th, 2016 at 11:16 pm

I love Leonardo. Other more substantial names include Leonard, Leopold, Galileo. If you think you may have a second child I’d save Berry for the next child as it works well with either a boy orgirl.

JulesBerry Says:

April 12th, 2016 at 11:37 pm

My oldest is Leo (after my grandpa- another just Leo) & it’s a wonderful name on its own!

I agree 100% about saving a name for a future child. Berry does work great for a boy or girl, so you can’t go wrong.

I’m always curious as to how people with two middle names fill out forms. There’s hardly enough room for one middle name most of the time.

missmini Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 12:13 am

I have two middle names and plan on adding my maiden name in as a third when I get married. It’s common in my family, and like the NameSage was saying, you rarely use both middles or in this case both last names. Use the names you wanna use in the order you want to use them; full names are so rarely used, it’s not a big deal

bboxbritt Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 1:27 am

My professor and her husband gave their baby a last name that was a combination of the two of theirs. She has her own last name, but it’s a mashup of their last names. Just a thought.

mommytomany Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 6:59 am

My oldest daughter has one first name two mns and a last name. One day when/if she gets married she’ll have five names. I don’t think it’s too much, but if you do I’d reserve Berry for a future child.

erin1978 Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 8:14 am

I think it is a little much. While it won’t come up much, it will make paperwork difficult. I legally have two last names (although I only use my married name) and every time I fill out paperwork I wish I had dropped my maiden name. I would legally change it, but the administrative hassle of changing it and then changing all of the documents stops me.

On the Leo front – my husband and I had the exact same discussion. I wanted Leo, but my husband insisted it was a nickname. Abby has a point here here, Leo has a long history as a formal name (including multiple popes, and we know they don’t get nicknames). In the end I was unable to sway my husband and we have a Theodore, nn Theo. Incidentally, we also considered Oscar, which was my great-grandfather’s name. I felt I couldn’t use it due to a co-worker having a son by that name.

BCox13 Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 10:15 am

Based on the comments, I seem to be in the minority here, but John Berry [Lastname] [Lastname] sounds so lovely!!! The two names are both simple enough that they wouldn’t overpower the double last names in the same way I think Leonardo would with both John and Berry.

Unique and different names are so en vogue right now, it might be even more avant garde to name your kid something so classic. And of course, the nicknames are endless: Johnny, JB, Bear, Jobe

This is assuming of course that a) there are more honor names in your arsenal if you’d like to have another child.

Otherwise, I say Leo Berry [Lastname] [Lastname] is equally lovely. I’d name my kid just Leo if my last name, Cox, wasn’t also so short and three letters.

Another alternative is to use the name Giovanni with nickname Gio, since you like both Leo and Theo. And if I’m not mistaken, that is the Italian variation of John. Giovanni Berry [Lastname] [Lastname] sounds pretty good to me!

Hope this helps!

marisarose Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 10:36 am

I love just using Leo as the first name, but then again, I named my son Liam as a combo for 2 grandfathers: Louis and William. And my Liam, now 7, wishes he had a longer name… so that he could still be Liam but that would be his nickname! (second grade is apparently a big time for nicknames).
Liam’s father and I also never married, so he is Liam Anthony Surname-Surname. And when I married my husband, Liam’s name was changed to Liam Anthony BioDadSurname-NewSurname. And he’s Catholic, so in a few years we’ll add on his chosen saint name (he’s currently leaning toward St. Mark or St. Michael), and at that time he’ll be known as Liam Anthony Michael/Mark Surname-Surname. And that does seem like a mouthful, but every part is special and meaningful, so that when beloved grandparents pass away or when we (his parents) one day leave him, he’ll have his name to ground him in his roots.

So name little Leonardo/Leo John Berry Surname-Surname just that and you can tell him all about his wonderful ancestors who’s traits will guide him and ground him.

AldabellaxWulfe Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 10:41 am

I don’t agree with the ‘save it for another child’ statement, because there might not be another child and, even if there was, so what? Parents should be able to use whatever or however many names they want, for the child that they want – aka, the first and potentially only child. Yes, I will admit Leonardo John Berry Williams Harrison is quite a bit to write out but, for the child in question, in the long-run it’d be a minor irritant at worst. As it stands, all the names are lovely and practical, and the overall length offers a touch of diversity to the world of baby names.

Maerad Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 11:25 am

I knew a family growing up whose last name was very long, I won’t post it but roughly it as Sang-Sang-Merry. They had 5 daughters names Arabella, Lucinda, Miranda, Camilla and Pandora (Bella, Lulu, Mandy, Milly and Pansy). Each daughter had 3 middle names each.

Whilst I prefer Leo to Leonardo, I don’t think Leonardo John Berry Williams Harrison is too much. Even if you hyphenated the last name and he was Leonardo Williams-Harrison. It’s fine.

Essa Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 1:38 pm

I’ve come across a few people who have 3 middles names, so 5 in total like you’re debating. When I’ve read their names I’ve always thought they were awesome! I’d happily give my children 3 middles but I’m having a hard enough time convincing the OH to even have 2.

However, I’d probably go with Leo to shorten it slightly and because Leonardo is quite full on especially with so many other names. I’m also someone who prefers a ‘proper’ full name on the north certificate but Leo is one case where I think it works fine.

I’d hyphenate the surnames, i.e. Leo John Berry Williams-Harrison. To me this makes it appear shorter as it only seems like one surname instead of 2.

I do think using Berry on a second child is a great idea mind. That is if you are sure (and of course you can’t always be 100%, but as close as possible) you are going to have another one. It would be nice for each child to have an equally meaningful child and I personally think Berry would make a gorgeous middle for a girl (but it also works for a boy), for example, Sophia Berry Williams-Harrison sounds fantastic!

You could also save John. It doesn’t work quite as well for a girl but there are loads of variations. My favourites girls variations are Sian and Siana.

I saw someone above recommend Giovani as a first name. This seems perfect to me as you get Gio (similar to Leo and Theo) but I’m pretty sure it is the Italian version of John.

Austine0923 Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 1:43 pm

You said that you and your partner aren’t married yet. If you plan on getting married and sharing the same last name, maybe just name your son the name you all will have?
Of course, if you plan to keep your maiden name, or you’re not necessarily the marriageable type, then there’s nothing wrong with a long name!

the 3 esses Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 9:46 pm

Leo John is great. No need for it to be long. Leonardo John nn Leo is also pretty great, though. I would only use one middle name, especially if he will have two last names. Save Berry for a second kid. 🙂

lesliemarion Says:

April 13th, 2016 at 10:32 pm

Five names is a lot, but I doubt it would harm the child.

Leonardo is a cool name, but this year I have five of them in my high school classes. All of them named for Leonardo diCaprio actually. I would not choose a name that popular maybe.

Theodore is a great name with so many nicknames, wish you could go there. While you have a co-worker who named her son that, many other sons you meet will be named Leonardo or some form of it, and the co-worker’s similar choice in names may not seem important later. After all, each of you choosing Theodore is not like both of you choosing Magenta or Cadwallader, which would seem copycat.

Good luck!

RaeOfSunlight Says:

April 14th, 2016 at 6:23 am

Just sharing my personal experience with a double barreled surname. Both of my surnames are 2 syllables and not particularly common but simple and intuitive to pronounce on their own. For some reason, when combined, most people seem to struggle with the pronunciation. It is very rare that someone pronounces my surname correctly if read out and some people even get it confused after being told the pronunciation. My first name is also not complicated, but when read out with my surname letters often get changed or omitted. In school and university, this always made role-call interesting and I had to get in the habit of calling my own name out or sticking my hand up when the teacher/lecturer/receptionist at doctors rooms/etc. got to my place in the list

If the surnames to be used are something like Willams-Harrison, then I don’t see a longer first name being a problem. If the surnames are slightly more uncommon, then personally I would go with something shorter like Leo (a lovely name on its own), where letters are less likely to be lost in the many that make up the baby’s name.

As for second names, those aren’t said together with first and surnames all that often, so I don’t think it matters too much either way.

At the end of the day though, it really is a matter of preference. I look forward to getting married and having a fuss-free surname but I’m sure there are plenty of people who enjoy having multiple names and don’t find it to be a hassle at all.

wool_gathering Says:

April 14th, 2016 at 11:25 am

FWIW, my husband has 6 names: given name, 4 middle names, and a last name and he absolutely HATES it. He says that anything more than 4 names is burdensome, awkward, and embarrassing.

starophie Says:

April 14th, 2016 at 9:50 pm

my legal name is not the name i go by — i have always (except for the year i was in first grade) gone by my nickname. my parents were of the same mind as rosanna in that they wanted me to have a “formal” name option if i so chose, but i never have (save the aforementioned year, which tbh not even my mom remembers). i hate the fact that everything from airplane tickets to the computers at my job refer to me as sophia, so if leo is what you’d call him 99% of the time, i think leo should be on his birth certificate, driver’s license, and passport. but i don’t think that leonardo john berry ln ln is too much name. go with your heart!

anyagreenwich Says:

April 15th, 2016 at 3:17 pm

I think Leonardo John Berry plus a double surname is absolutely fine, but I’d hyphenate the surname. I know it doesn’t always look as sophisticated with the hyphen but in this case it helps with distinguishing which names are which.

That said, you could reserve Berry for a female child given that it’s unisex.

I really like John as a middle, and since you’re giving up Theodore which you seem to like, you could consider Johnathon, to incorporate the “th” and double “o” from Theodore.

If you dislike the flow of Leonardo Johnathon, consider Leopold. I think Leopold is gorgeous and works well with your American English middles.

Some people like Leo as a full given name, but it’s not my style either, I prefer it as a shortform.

Maybe this isn’t your style, but Lionel and Leon are wonderful, handsome full names that you/he may get much more use out of than the extravagant Leonardo. (Plus, iIf it fits your style at all, you could even use Leon rather than Leo as the shortform for Leonardo.)

Suggestions:

Leonardo Johnathon
Leon (Leo) Berry John
Lionel (Leo) John Berry
Leopold John
Leopold Johnathon
Leopold John Berry

mother_dragons Says:

April 16th, 2016 at 8:29 pm

While it can be quite long, I don’t think it will be a problem- hardly anyone will say his full name after all. I have a fairly short first name (two syllables, five letters), a slightly longer middle (three syllables, six letters) and a double, hyphened surname (first part is two syllables and four letters long, second part is three syllables and seven letters). That adds up to a raging ten syllables and twenty two letters! And yet most people call me by my nickname and when they say my “full name” they always forget my middle name and the last part of my surname.
All that rant was only to explain that while it is quite a long, aristrocatic even, name it doesn’t matter much. That said, I’d probably just stick to one honor name so that future children can have an honor name as well. Leonard John is simple, but absolutely divine!

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