Middle Names That Deserve A Promotion

middle-names-promotionMarch is “Middle Name Month” at UBN. (March 8 happens to be Middle Name Pride day.) In our “How to Master Middle Names” series we have gone in-depth with middle names.

First we discussed middle names ready for retirement such as Anne, Elizabeth, Marie and Michael. These names are go-to middle names, names used so often as middles, they have become uninspired. And then we discussed why names like Anne and Marie get stuck in the middle. These go-to middle names have distinct rhythms that make them good middle name candidates.

Today we are taking another look at go-to middle names, and instead of writing them off as ready to retire, we are analyzing whether they deserve a promotion.

Many popular middle names also happen to be popular first names. But other middle names are often overlooked for the first name slot, making them surprisingly underused. Statistics on popular middle names are hard to find, but luckily first name statistics are readily available from the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Here are the top go-to middle names ready for retirement and their first name ranking on the 2011* Social Security list:

Alan #163
Anne #593
Elizabeth #11
Grace #16
James #17
John #27
Lee #667 on boys; outside the top 1000 on girls
Leigh Outside the top 1000 for boys & girls
Louise Outside the top 1000
Lynn Outside the top 1000
Marie #598
Michael #6
Rose #291


The first name rankings of these go-to middle names reveals the following:

  • Clearly Elizabeth, Grace, James, and Michael are doing double-duty as popular first and middle names.
  • Alan and John may rank reasonably high, but seem less popular than their rankings suggest, probably because neither name is considered fashion-forward. John is in its first period of real decline since name stats have existed (since 1880). Alan has been at a plateau for the past 40 years after its big decline in the 1960s following its peak in the 1940s-50s .
  • Rose is in that golden “different but not too different” range, and its rank has slowly climbed in recent years.

Then there are the unexplored first name candidates: the large number of go-to middle names outside the top 500, such as Anne, Lee (on boys), and Marie. What is even more exciting is that many of these names are outside the top 1000: Lee (on girls), Leigh, Louise, and Lynn.

Now is a great time to consider some go-to middle names for the coveted first slot. Not only are these names familiar due to their long-term success in the middle, their middle-name characteristics put them in an up-and-coming genre according to Nameberry. For their top 14 trend predictions for 2013, Nameberry cites really long and really short names as the “next name lengths”.

As discussed last week, many popular middle names are either single syllable names (we call them “One Syllable Wonders”) or three or more syllable names (we call them “Super Syllable Names”). Being One Syllable Wonders, Anne, Lee, Leigh, Lynn and Rose have style clout.

There is a second group of middle names that don’t seem as common as the retirement group, but are also beginning to get stale in the middle. And there is also a third group of middle names that seem overexposed on older people but might be stylishly mod on babies. The good news is a lot of middle names in these groups also make wonderfully underused first names. Among these groups of middle names, here are some that may deserve a promotion:

Denise #603
Elaine #697 The nickname Lainey brings this up-to-date.
Eugene #825 Best for bold families completely unaffected by what’s “of the moment”.
Gene Outside the top 1000
Jane #368
Jean #943
Joy #507
Kay Outside the top 1000
Louis #332
May Outside the top 1000 The variant Mae ranks at #801.
Paul #186
Ray #681
Renee #831 The growing appeal of the similar Esmé can revive this exotic 70s name.
Ruth #362

Even some of our fresh middle name alternatives would also make unexpected first names, at least for the time being. The hope is that no great name becomes overexposed in the first or middle spot, but we all know with great names that is nearly impossible.

Now that we’ve covered some go-to middle names that deserve a promotion, we’re going to go back to focusing on middle names, specifically when one middle name isn’t enough. That topic is for next week.

Readers: Which common middle names do you like as first names? (Multiple choices are allowed.)

* 2011 is the most recent year baby name stats are available. The 2012 stats will probably come out in May.

Photo credit


  1. British American says:

    My daughter’s name is Rose. She’ll be 8 this summer. When she was a toddler and I’d meet new people at the library storytime, it was funny how many of them would tell me that their daughter’s middle name is Rose. I’ve been watching her name each year in the rankings. I’m surprised her climb has been as slow as it has been. It was around 350ish when we picked it in 2005. I think it only just popped out of the 300s and into the 200s.
    I like that her name hasn’t jumped up the charts as fast as I thought it might.


  1. […] I’ve recently become a proponent of promoting Ann from middle to first name status. […]

Leave a Reply to Angela Cancel reply