Middle Names Ready For Retirement (And Their Successors)

tired-babyThere are a handful of names that seem stuck in the middle. Somehow, the mainstream public decided these names worked well in the middle and—in most cases—they do.

The downside is these names worked too well in the middle. They became typecast as go-to middle names, middle names picked by parents tired of thinking about their baby’s name. Frankly, these middle names have become expected and maybe a little dull. But it’s not the names’ fault! These names are overworked, and need to take a break!

To decide which middle names belonged on the retirement list, I had to rely mostly on my gut because, while stats on popular first names are pretty abundant, stats on popular middle names are in short supply. These were the best places I could find stats (and note the caveats):

  1. BabyCenter’s Top Middle Names of 2010. Caveat: these stats are for Australia. After checking BabyCenter’s Australian middle name stats, I concluded they seem comparable to common middle names in the U.S., a conclusion based on gut-feelings. These stats were used to help guess (because guessing is the best I can do) which middle names are popular on contemporary U.S. babies.
  2. Name Nerds middle name survey. Caveat: this is an unscientific online poll and we don’t know when the site owner last posted the poll results. This is a voluntary internet poll. The results don’t indicate where respondents come from, but I suspect most respondents are from an English-speaking country, because the site is in English and the results look like common English speakers’ names. The poll results were used to help guess which middle names are popular on U.S. adults. Not many newborn babies take part in online polls. 🙂

One thing is almost certain: one generation’s go-to middle names are replaced by the next generation’s go-to middle names. That means—just like first names—middle names that seem fresh today could become stale tomorrow. That fact could support the “different is not always better” stance, but more on that later.

Another thing is almost certain: while there is a newer crop of go-to middle names, the grandparents of go-to middle names (Anne, Elizabeth & Marie for girls; Alan & James for boys) are still used a lot on contemporary babies.

Here are the lists of go-to middle names. Girls are coded pink, boys are coded blue, and unisex are coded green.

List 1. Middle Names Ready For Retirement

Many of these—such as Anne and Marie—have been used forever, but others—such as Grace and Rose—have only become popular in the last 20 years.

Lee (or Leigh)

List 2. Middle Names Near Retirement

These middle names aren’t as tired as ones in the above list, but aren’t exactly full of energy either.


List 3. Middle Names Ready to Re-enter The Workforce?

Here are a few middle names that seem tired on older generations, but seem to have fallen out of fashion and may eventually become retro-chic on contemporary babies. Notice the uncertain language here. This uncertainty comes from lack of historical data. I’m going by the Name Nerd poll results and popular middle names in my parent’s high school yearbooks that I don’t remember seeing/hearing on many of my peers or my peer’s children.

Jo (or Joe)

List 4. The New Recruits

These names make fresh alternatives to the names on lists 1-3, but keep in mind, many of these names work so well in the middle that some may join retirement ranks in a few years. For example, Pearl, Lark, and Wren are popping up in other places as middle name suggestions. I tried to include a few suggestions that I haven’t seen elsewhere, such as Elihu and Soledad.


Girls Boys Unisex
Adelaide Abraham Ash
Alice Balthazar Beck
April Bartholomew Bryn
Bernadette Birch Rhys (or Reese)
Bethany Clive
Beverly Cole
Bliss Dane
Blythe Dean
Brynn Elias
Celeste Elihu
Celine Elliot
Colette Frederick
Damaris Gregory
Delphine Guy
Emeline Humphrey
Fawn Jude
Felicity Lawrence
Fern Malcolm
Geraldine Marshall
Giselle Matteo
Gwendolyn Oliver
Harmony Peregrin
Juliet Rafe
Lark Rafferty
Lucille Ross
Maeve Sebastian
Maxine Seymour
Millicent Solomon
Miriam Thaddeus
Nadine Tobias
Naomi Ulysses
Pearl Wesley
Scarlett Zane
Tru (or True)

The new middle name list was getting long, and some of you might prefer to find your own unique middle name. In addition to giving you a list, I am also going to explain why some names work better in the middle than others. That discussion is for next week.

And the observant among you may have noticed my own kids have middle names from List 2. Middle Names Near Retirement! (Their names are Fiona Dawn and Paul Robert.) How could I, a name writer, pick go-to middle names for my kids?

The reason is that family honoring middle names were more important than unique middle names to Rob and me. I tried to find stylish first names for my children, and decided tradition would take precedence over style in the middle spot.

Tradition is one selling point for go-to middle names. This may be another reason, besides simply sounding good, that certain names become typecast in the middle.

Sometimes I mourn the lost opportunity to give my kids imaginative middle names. Ideally I would have loved to give my kids both meaningful and original middle names. For that reason, I put my grandparent’s names, Marshall and Winifred, and my mother-in-law’s name, Bernadette on the new middle name list. I didn’t just include these names for sentimental reasons. Next week I’ll explain why Bernadette, Marshall and Winifred work in the middle.

Readers: Ideally we would like our kids to have middle names that are both imaginative and meaningful, but if you had to choose, which would be more important to you?


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  1. My kids both have family middle names that were picked out way back when we were dating. James Kenneth is the fifth generation of Kenneths on my husband’s side. My Fiona is Fiona Margaret, and while it’s a tired middle name, she’s the fourth generation of Margaret. I wanted her to have ‘her own’ first name, as far as family goes, but it’s very important to us to link our kids to their pasts. I’m Katherine Elizabeth, one of dozens I know. I even had five other Katherine/Kathryn Elizabeths in my graduating class of 600. I don’t mind, because my first name is a family name from my dad’s side going back three generations, and Elizabeth is a middle name from my mom’s side going back at least four generations.

    I too, wish I could just go wild with middle names. I have a whole list of names that I don’t think quite work in the first name spot that would be super cool in the middle. Genieveve Valentine and Oscar Abernathy are some of my favorite combos that I will never, ever use.

    • Right after I published this, I thought of Genevieve for the middle name list. I don’t like editing tables so I didn’t add it, but it makes a good first or middle name. Valentine and Abernathy also make good middle names.

  2. I think that Sue and Mae are middle names that are ready for retirement.

    • Those are good suggestions. Had I thought of Sue, I see it as belonging to the third list, middle names ready to re-enter the workforce. I know a lot of older women with the middle name Sue, but not many kids. But this is all anecdotal of course.

  3. My middle name, May, is on the ready to reenter list. I’m 50, from the end of the baby boom generation. So I guess it’s time it’s made a comeback. 🙂 None of my kids middle names are on any of the lists. Lee, (boy), Sue, Joshua, America (sentimental, my grandmothers name), Danielle, and Tate. I see your comment above that the name Sue might go on the ready to reenter list. I guess my 25 year old daughter will have a popular middle name. lol
    I’m loving your lists. I think they are much better than the baby name books I’ve read.

  4. My grandmother had 5 children (in the 1950s-1060s) and *all* five of their middle names are on your “ready for retirement” list! Only one of the five is an honor name and I find them pretty uninspiring. I think it’s nice for kids to have a story behind their middle names, so if you want to honor a Rose or a James then those are good middle names for your family, but if not there are so many other choices! Your lists are great – I like especially like Bernadette and Delphine, and Balthazar and Solomon.

  5. Our kids’ middle names were all family type names, that’s what we tend to stick with. 🙂

  6. I think balance is important. My son’s middle name is James, and while it is one of those “filler” type middles, I chose it in part to balance his less common first name. I wanted him to have a familiar name to fall back on if he decides down the road that he doesn’t want to be a Conrad. It also has some family significance for us, so that’s a plus. I do have occasional middle-namer regret that I didn’t go with something more creative or distinctive, especially since middle initial J opens the door for nickname CJ, which I haaaaaaate. But I couldn’t find something that was 1) distinctive/imaginative/creative, 2) balanced well with Conrad and our surname, and 3) had significance for us.

  7. Hah, my daughter’s middle name is in the first list and mine is in the 2nd. oh well. And I think Edward is gaining in popularity, because of the Twilight books. I actually like the name Edward, but not “Eddie.” My hubby refused to name our son Edward for this reason.

    • Edward’s popularity has been completely unaffected by Twilight.

      For me, the middle spot is the place to use the delightfully quirky names I’m not bold enough to use as first names. I have a fair number of family names on my middle name list as well.

  8. May is an INCREDIBLY common middle name here, and I’m continually seeing Scarlett and Alice in the middle as well.

    Winter is another “new” name that already seems over-used in the middle, and unlike Rose or Marie, you know it can’t have any family significance (although of course it probably has some personal significance that’s very special to them – and Winter could be a family surname also).

    I think the trouble with some trendy go-to middle name is that they go stale much, much faster than the comfortable old classics. The same way you can keep wearing your little black dress forever, but parachute pants got old really quick.

    • I think I may have gotten Alice and Scarlett from the top baby names in 2010 article which was from your country. Alice and Scarlett are becoming more popular first names here but don’t feel over used in the middle. This is an example of when I wish I had middle name stats.

      But I agree with your point. Sometimes original middle names become just as overused as the old standbys. About 30 years ago I think Grace and Rose were seen as “fresh” middle names!

      • Perhaps May, Alice and Scarlett are too British to be heavily used in the middle in the US, which would make them good choices for American parents. However I’m starting to think they’re the Michelle, Nicole and Marie of this generation of babies, and I have scratched them off my own list.

  9. I like middle names with a lil bit of both creativity and meaning. My daughter’s name is Genesis Lola. Genesis meaning the beginning, first. And her middle appears to be airy feminine and fun, but it has meaning. My mother’s name is Loretta and my husband’s name is Lawan,so hence Lola. Her first name has strength and is uncommon and her middle name is feminine and fun with meaning. So I think I did good.

  10. I think “Rose” is a great middle name because it’s pretty, feminine, and just seems to “go” very well with lots of other names. I have long list of first names that I really like, and for some reason “Rose” is the only middle name that seems to match well with many of them! Some of my top picks are Agnes Rose, Clara Rose, and Monica Rose.

  11. My nephew Ryan’s middle name is Alexander like my grandfather’s and my cousin used Alexander for her son Jake too! I always like Alexander and Elizabeth is a classic too!


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