This is the last post in our How to Master Middle Name series. You can find other posts in this series here.
Let’s take a moment to discuss name flow. But before we even talk about flow, some discussion about where flow stands in the pecking order would be helpful. My motto when it comes to names, clothes, home decor, etc. is, “Style without function causes unnecessary grief.”
To that end, I consider name flow a nice-to-have—not a must-have. Since flow is simply a nice-to-have, I would never suggest:
- Giving up a meaningful name or one you really love because the flow is a little off.
- Calling your child by a middle name only because the day-to-day name you wanted flowed better in the middle. (Once I became a name blog junkie, I was surprised at the number of people considering this.)
That’s why I suggest picking the first name first, if possible, and then going from there. FYI—I broke my suggestion. For years I knew I wanted my daughter to have the same middle name as me and my Mom, long before I picked her first name. But if possible, “first name first” makes the most sense regardless of how many middle names you choose.
Once the first name is picked, and assuming the last name is picked, here’s my checklist:
- Don’t over look first and last name flow (it’s the most important)
- Alternate syllable counts
- Avoid repetitious sounds
- Pay attention to syllable stress
- Avoid “vowel run-on”
Don’t Over Look First-Last Name Flow
First-last name flow should not get overlooked in the effort to find the right first-middle name flow. The first and middle name could go together beautifully, while the first-last name flow is off.
When it comes to flow, first-last name flow is the most important since those are the names that will be used everyday. The flow doesn’t have to be perfect, but make sure it’s not a tongue-twister.
Something to note with first-last name flow is the cultural origins of the last name. Cross-cultural name combos (e.g. Fiona Wang or Naveen O’Donnell) is a hot baby name topic. The topic may even be a tad controversial. I’m all for cross-cultural combos, but I’m also all for balance in the ways names coordinate and contrast.
By picking a first name with a different cultural origins than the last name, you are already creating contrast. Therefore, to create balance, cross-cultural names should coordinate and not compete with each other.
One way names can either coordinate or compete is with length. Here are some examples with a long Italian last name, Mazzarella.
Here’s a long Italian first name with a long Italian last name:
- Cecilia Mazzarella
This combo passes because both names may be long, but they are also Italian. (Cecilia is actually a multicultural name.)
Now here’s a long English first name with the same long Italian last name:
- Willoughby Mazzarella
This combo fails, in my opinion, because the two long names compete.
Here’s the result when the first name is shortened:
- Will Mazzarella
This combo passes. (The two names have contrasting lengths and don’t complete.)
Alternating name length leads into the next item on the checklist:
Alternate Syllable Counts
Once the first name passes with the last name, try alternating syllable counts. In the following examples, I’m using two middle names, but these guidelines work regardless of how many middle names are used.
For example, compare a 2-4-2 pattern (Lena Felicity Adele) to a 2-2-4 pattern (Lena Adele Felicity).
I prefer the 2-4-2 pattern for its symmetry, but let’s see what happens when we switch some names.
- Another 2-4-2 combo with a different four syllable first middle name: Lena Serenity Adele. This combo passes (in my opinion)
- A 2-3-2 combo: Lena Josephine Adele. This combo passes.
- Another 2-3-2 combo with a different two-syllable second middle name: Lena Josephine Maxine. This combo fails (in my opinion).
While Lena Josephine Adele and Lena Josephine Maxine both have the same 2-3-2 pattern, the first one passes and the second one fails. Josephine and Maxine simply rhyme too much, which leads to the next qualifier:
Avoid Repetitious Sounds
With Josephine and Maxine, the “een” endings are too repetitious. Name beginnings can also cause too much repetition, such as in this failed combo: Nora Noreen Gail. Try saying that 10 times fast.
But there is one more place where names can share too much.
Pay Attention to Syllable Stress
Take a look at this combo:
- Elizabeth Felicity Olivia
Can you tell what’s wrong with the combo?
Do you think switching the combo will save it? The answer is no. Switching the order of the names (e.g. Elizabeth Olivia Felicity or Felicity Elizabeth Olivia) will not make this combo pass. Why do these names fail next to each other?
Besides all three names having four syllables, Elizabeth Felicity Olivia doesn’t work because the stress is on the second syllable in all three names. Often varying syllable counts solves this problem, but if you put two names with the same syllable counts next to each other, at least try to keep the stress on different syllables.
For example, here’s a 2-2-2 combo that may not be terrific, but passes (in my book):
- Vera Delphine Opal
This combo passes because the stress is on the first syllable in Vera and Opal, while the stress is on the second syllable in Delphine. This breaks up a monotonous pattern found in other 2-2-2 combos.
An example of a monotonous 2-2-2 combo is:
- Vera Dina Opal
This combo fails. Notice how the stress is on the first syllable with all three names.
Syllable stress makes a difference, but it’s not the last qualifier to watch.
Avoid “Vowel Run-on”
“Vowel run-on” is when a name ending in a vowel has a middle name beginning with a vowel.
Sometimes this isn’t a problem. Some of the most popular middle names happen to start with vowels, such as Anne and Elizabeth. But other times names ending and beginning with vowels blend together.
- Ava Angela Elise almost sounds like one name, Avangelice (almost like some modern creation inspired by Evangeline).
While first-middle-last name flow can be subjective, following this checklist will give you a starting point for finding the right middle name for your baby. But if you find you love a combo that breaks the rules, then I say go for it.
Readers: Which of these risky name combos are your favorites?