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Choosing a Middle Name

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Middle Picking

What's in a Name

Probably the most famous example of someone with a letter name was president Harry S Truman. His parents couldn't decide on which of Truman's grandfathers' names to use—Solomon or Shippe—so they compromised by using the letter S.

Name Dropping

When selecting middle names, keep in mind that shorter ones generally look and sound the best with long first or last names. Long middle name can balance shorter given and last names.

Whatever form of a middle name you choose should, first and foremost, work well with the first name you have selected and with your last name. While it's true that middle names don't get used as often as first names do, these names are often the glue that holds a full name together. They can even bridge the gap between first and last names that don't work too well together, which makes them not only unsung heroes but also great diplomats. See what I mean about how important they are?

For example, maybe you've selected a given name that's somewhat on the traditional side due to a family tradition or preference of your spouse, but you would have liked something a little less formal. Give your favorite the middle spot. Or maybe your ideal given name is on the unusual side. Pairing it with a more traditional middle name may make it seem less odd.

Basic given name/middle name fashion combinations include the ones listed below, although there are certainly others that you can consider as well:

  • Formal/informal, such as Katherine Sue or John J.
  • Informal/formal, such as Katie Suzanne or J. John
  • Traditional/unusual, such as Elizabeth Siena or James Cort
  • Unusual/traditional, such as Dakota Marie or Kobi Michael

Middle Moniker Tests

Name Dropping

Even your best efforts at avoiding unfortunate name combinations won't address every possible situation that may arise in the future. There's no way the parents of Francis Lee Bailey could have anticipated the antics of their son, who, as notorious defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, earned the somewhat unfortunate nickname “Flee” based on his erratic behavior during the O.J. Simpson trial.

Middle names should always be tested thoroughly, just as you would when selecting a first name. However, because they're often a last-minute choice, many middle names escape the same level of scrutiny, but they really shouldn't. Unfortunate combinations happen far too often when parents don't pay attention to how the middle name they've selected works in all its many forms and combinations.

  • Spell them, again in combination with the first name alone and with first and last names. Be sure to consider all possible variant spellings. Sometimes an altered spelling on a middle name can be even more effective than when used on a first name.

  • Say the names you're considering out loud—both in combination with the first name alone and as part of the entire given name. You want to make sure that the middle name you select fits well rhythmically as well as euphoniously.

  • Consider all the various name forms and how the middle name will be used. How does a middle initial look in conjunction with the first name? Do the given name and the middle name initials form a pleasing combination? One of my college classmates was named Barbara Caroline, but she was known far and wide as B.C., which suited her elegant yet warm Southern personality to a tee. Remember, one of the key reasons to give a middle name is to increase the number of names that your child can use as he or she grows up. Your Margaret Suzanne may end up being Margaret Sue, Maggie Sue, Missy, Suzie, or just plain Suzanne as she grows up.
  • Even if you're using a middle name that you don't particularly care for—maybe it was your compromise answer to your first name selection—do your best to make it work with the other parts of your child's name. It isn't necessary to stick with the most formal form of a name when it's used as a middle name. If you're stuck with something like Susan, maybe you can get away with Sue. Mary could be Marie, or even Mare.

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More on: Choosing a Name

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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