By Clare Green
Think of short middle names for girls that go with everything, and May – or another spelling like Mae or Mei – is sure to spring to mind.
With its timeless streamlined feel, May can lighten up a long first name (like Elizabeth or Persephone), make a short sweet name even sweeter (like Lola or Maisie), or ground a less traditional name (like Kinsley or Malani). The links to springtime, and to the names Mary and Margaret, don’t hurt either.
It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular short middle names for girls around. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, or if May doesn’t go with your child’s first name or surname, there are plenty of other possibilities that do the same job – and won’t be shared with half the kids in the school. Here are twelve “ay” grade names that slot nicely into the middle spot, or even first position, for both girls and boys.
For such a short name, Bay works hard. It’s both a breezy watery name, and an aromatic tree and herb – though its original meaning was “berry”. Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano named their daughter Alma Bay, and Justin Bieber’s little sister has Bay as a first name. Spelled Bae, it’s a Korean surname and nowadays a term of affection (thank you, internet). And then there’s Queen Bey.
No man is an island, but this short middle name is. A cay is an island on a coral reef, making this a nature name with a sunny, tropical vibe. Of course, it’s also a respelling of Kay, and could be a nickname or honor name for anything from Catherine to Cadence to Caysen.
As down-to-earth names go, they don’t come much earthier than this. Yet for all its solidity, Clay also has a casual cowboy feel, and a tough, hardworking image like Cassius Clay (aka boxer Muhammad Ali).
Yonder come Day! This bright, optimistic word name is rare in the charts but sounds charming and unexpected in the middle spot, as shown by Leighton Meester’s daughter Arlo Day, and Tony Vincent and Aspen Miller’s daughter Sadie Day. The surname Day comes from a nickname for David, so it could also be a creative honor name.
A vintage name that couldn’t wait a hundred years for a comeback, Faye was popular in the 1940s and flew back into the US Top 1000 in 2014. It’s short but packed with meaning, with links to the word “faith”, and to fairies and Arthurian legend. Morgana Le Fay goes by the more streamlined spelling, and there’s also Fey (as in Tina), Fe (as in Santa), and the Chinese name Fei.
An often-overlooked Norse god, Frey is associated with fertility, prosperity, fair weather and kingship. His original Old Norse name, Freyr, simply means “lord”, just as his twin sister Freyja means “lady”. Frey is a gentler, more peaceful alternative to Thor and Odin – and will long outlast any Game of Thrones associations.
Gray is the color of the decade, for both interior decor and baby names. The popularity of the sound is obvious from names in the charts like Grace, Grayson, Graham and Grady. But there’s a neat simplicity to Gray on its own. The softer spelling Grey has its own associations, from Tudor queen Lady Jane Grey to literary heroine Agnes Grey to Grey’s Anatomy.
Hayes is one of the hottest rising surname names right now. File it down a little and you get Haye, which has the same meaning and a gentler, less preppy sound – and it won’t get confused with Haze.
This sound is hugely popular in names from James to Jayden, but there’s something refreshing about Jay on its own. As well as a letter of the alphabet, it’s also a bird name: jays are colorful and intelligent members of the crow family. And it’s a cultural crossover: Jay or Jai is an Indian name meaning “victory”, widely used in Southern Asia. Jaye is used slightly more for girls.
Rae / Ray
Like Jay, you’ll find a “ray” sound in lots of popular names. But as a standalone middle it’s just as versatile as May, and more edgy: think actor Issa Rae or musician Billy Ray Cyrus. The Star Wars spelling Rey, which also means “king” in Spanish, has had a boost in use for both sexes since we first met Daisy Ridley’s character in 2015.
From an Irish name meaning “fortunate,” Shea is lighter than longer surnames like Cassidy and Sullivan, and sounds fresher today than Shane. It’s used almost equally for boys and girls, and below the Top 1000 for both. There’s also the more anglicized spelling Shay or the Game of Thrones version Shae.
One of the most popular number names, Trey started off as a nickname for a third-generation wearer of a name, but is now well-established in its own right. The minimal spelling Tre is the Italian word for “three.” Either one would work for a third child, a baby born on the third, or simply a cool syllable to bridge that gap between first and last names.
Over to you: what’s your favorite alternative “ay” name? Or do you prefer classic May?
Clare Green writes Nameberry’s weekly round-up of the latest baby name news, including celebrity announcements, unusual naming stories, and new statistics from around the world. Clare, who has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, lives in England, where she has worked in libraries and studies linguistics. You can follow her personally on Instagram and Twitter.