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How Many Baby Names is Too Many?

April 12, 2016 Abby Sandel

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.

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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