Guest Blogging News: Long Middle Names

elizabeth-taylorOver on Nameberry’s Berry Juice I discuss middle names today. The topic is long middle names beyond Elizabeth.

After I wrote the middle name series for UBN, I discovered that Elizabeth made a great middle name not only because it has four syllables, but also because of the stress on the second syllable. I put together a list of other names with this pattern that you can see here.

And Nameberry is going to run the second part on two-syllable middle names tomorrow! Stay tuned for that.

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How First / Middle / Last Names Can Play Nice Together

fighting-boysThis 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:

  1. Don’t over look first and last name flow (it’s the most important)
  2. Alternate syllable counts
  3. Avoid repetitious sounds
  4. Pay attention to syllable stress
  5. 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.

For example:

  • Ava Angela Elise almost sounds like one name, Avangelice (almost like some modern creation inspired by Evangeline).

Closing Thought

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?

When One Middle Name Won’t Do

eggs-in-nestThis is the next installment of our “How To Master Middle Names” series. In case you missed them, you can find the other posts in this series here.

Way back in 2008 when I became a name blog junkie, I stumbled upon an amazing discovery: multi-middle names. This practice was completely new to me. I knew more people without middle names than people with two or more middle names.

Admittedly, I was turned off. This is a bold admission for a name-person as name-people normally embrace this trend. But to me it seemed like a fad. However, as I met more adults with multiple middle names, I began to suspect this wasn’t just a passing fad, but rather a little-known practice. And being open-minded, I began to see how multiple middle names might make sense in certain situations.

Let’s review some pros and cons of multiple middle names:

Pros:

  • If you love names, but don’t want more than one or two children, multiple middle names allow you to use more of the names you love.
  • If you have many important people you wish to honor, but don’t want a lot of children, multiple middle names allow you to honor more people.
  • If you can’t decide whether you prefer honoring or imaginative middle names, multiple middle names allow you to do both.
  • If the parents have different last names, one of the last names could be a second middle name, allowing the parents to put both surnames and another honoring or imaginative middle name on the birth certificate.
  • In some families, multiple middle names are a tradition going back a couple of generations that some parents wish to continue.

Cons:

  • The U.S. is mostly a one middle name per person culture, and some people might find multiple middle names pretentious, a practice reserved mostly for royalty.
  • Our one middle name culture also means many forms don’t allow for more than one middle name or multiple middle initials, and as a result the second middle name often gets dropped by the bearer.
  • If the last name is long, especially if it’s hyphenated, multiple middle names can become cumbersome.
  • Getting the right flow with multiple middle names adds another layer of complexity to the baby naming process.

And this complexity in getting the right flow makes muli-middle names both intriguing and infuriating. This is the perfect segue into next week’s middle name topic: mastering first/middle (possibly second middle)/last name flow.

Readers: Would you consider giving your child multiple middle names?

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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.

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Why Some Names Get Stuck In The Middle

Laurene-MarieLast week we talked about go-to middle names, common middle names that seem tired and are ready for retirement. Examples of go-to middle names are Anne, Elizabeth, James, Marie, and Michael. There is a reason certain middle names have become common–they work.

When Rob and I decided to pass on Rob’s first name as our son’s middle name, I began to consider why we didn’t pass on my first name (Angela) as our daughter’s middle name. When I discussed this with my friend, her response was:

Some names just aren’t middle names.

But why is Angela not a middle name? Why are some names seen as first names only?

Rhythm is the answer. There are other reasons Angela is difficult in the middle, such as the a-ending, but most names that don’t conventionally find their way to the middle are passed over because of their rhythm.

Go-to middle names have three distinct syllable patterns that complement most other first names. The new middle name recruit list posted last week was created from (mostly) names that follow the same distinct syllable patterns of (most) go-to middle names.

There are formulas you can use to get good flow between the first name and middle name. When picking a middle name, most parent subconsciously apply these formulas. Parents don’t generally apply the formulas as consistently with boy as with girls, but the formulas work for both genders. My goal is that more parents learn the middle name rules they are already subconsciously following.

Some of you might automatically feel boxed in with rules. To be clear, I don’t share these rules as rigid requirements, but rather as guidelines that you can follow or break at will. Intentionally breaking the rules with good reasons is how picking names becomes fun.

Intentionally breaking the rules is how you can still use Angela in the middle without accepting the “everyone knows Angela isn’t a middle name” default. But before you can defy convention, you need to know what the conventions are.

The Three Distinct Patterns Found In (Most) Middle Names

Here are the three distinct rhythm patterns of conventional middle names:

  1. One syllable names. I call these “One Syllable Wonders”.
  2. Two syllable names with the stress on the second syllable. I call these “Fantastic Iambic Names”.
  3. Names with three or more syllables that don’t end in A. I call these “Super Syllable Names“.

One Syllable Wonders

Anne, Grace, James and Rose all work well in the middle because they are one syllable. One syllable middle names are the easiest to work with. They flow well with almost any name, except maybe other one syllable names, which can result in an abrupt sound with certain combination.

However, there are some classic one syllable name combinations, mostly for boys, that sound good, such as John Paul, John Luke, and John Mark.

The trick with double-one syllable combos is to avoid names that share vowels. For example, Tate Zane sounds choppy because both names have the long-a vowel.

With a few exceptions, one syllable wonders break up the rhythm and create an easy bridge to the last name. Here are some examples of one syllable middle names with first names of varying lengths.

Bethany Fern
Geoffrey Clive
Jean Claire
Jenna Pearl
Malcolm Ross
Michelle Brynn

Fantastic Iambic Names (Applies Mostly To Girls)

Iambic names are two-syllable names with the stress on the second syllable. Marie, Michelle, and Nicole became go-to middle names because of their iambic rhythms. Finding boy equivalents is difficult, at least in English–more on that later.

For girls at least, iambic names make the best two-syllable middle names. This is because they create an ascent-descent rhythm. When I say names like Sarah Michelle or Emma Simone, I picture a bell curve. These combinations avoid the repetitious sing-song pattern of two first stress two-syllable names. Note the examples:

Henry-MichaelGood: Sarah Michelle
Not so good: Sarah Megan
Good: Eden Celeste
Not so good: Eden Cora

Exceptions To The “Fantastic Iambic” Rule

Now might be a good time to bring up the complicated, yet undeniable, importance of je ne sais quoi, a fancy French way of saying some first/middle name combos will break the rules and still appeal to some people for unknown reasons.

Examples that work and don’t work for me, regardless of rules:

A rule breaker that (possibly) works: Sarah Megan breaks the iambic rule, but seems fine to me, if not great.
A rule follower that doesn’t work: Ava Elise follows the iambic rule but still seems awkward.

The vowel ending of Ava and the vowel beginning of Elise cause the names to run together, sounding like one name, Avalise, which is sort of pretty, but could become difficult to announce. Bear in mind the only time this would be an issue is during times when the full name is announced such as graduations.

One big exception to the fantastic iambic rule is boy names. As I mentioned before, there aren’t many iambic boy names. The only one I can think of is David pronounced the French way, da-VEED.

David is a somewhat common boy middle names, but usually (among English-speakers) with its English pronunciation and, according to this unscientific online middle name poll, David isn’t as popular a middle name as Alan.

Alan is the number one male middle name according to this online poll, but the results may not be exact. Alan is two syllables, but not iambic. With Alan, the stress is on the first syllable. The technical term for this pattern is trochaic.

Trochaic middle names like Alan works best with first names that are either one syllable (James Alan) or three+ syllables (Jeremy Alan), but these names are OK with two-syllable first names (Jason Alan).

On the new middle name recruit list from last week, Malcolm and Marshall were inspired by their rhythm, which is similar to Alan.

More examples that work and don’t work for me, regardless of the “fantastic iambic” rule:

A rule bender that works: Franklin Marshall is a double trochaic combo that sounds good.
A rule bender that doesn’t work: Franklin Malcolm is a double trochaic combo that doesn’t sound good to me.

With Franklin Malcolm the endings (N and M) are similar, but not the same. I like names that either perfectly match (alliteration) or contrast, and Franklin Malcolm does neither.

And if boys can break the fantastic iambic rule, why not girls? Inspired by the name of late actress and casting director, Cecily April Adams, I put April, another trochaic name, on the girls’ new recruit list. As a middle name April works best with three (or more syllable) first names ending-in-ee. For example:

Bethany April
Felicity April
Serenity April

This pattern could work for other trochaic middle names. Had my son been a girl, I really wanted to name him Cecily Robin.

Now That The Exceptions Have Been Exhausted

Here are just some of the fantastic iambic names on the list from last week. Any of these names would work well in most combos where an uninspired parent would use Marie.

Celeste (pronounced the English way, se-LEST)
Giselle
Maxine
Nadine
Simone

Super Syllable Names

Almost any name with three or more syllables seems to work well as a middle name. Elizabeth’s four syllables and non-a-ending made it a go-to middle name. But pairing super syllable names with first names takes some thought.

I wish I could say you could simply swap Elizabeth with any three or four syllable name on the new recruit list and get good results, but that’s not always the case.

For one thing, none of the new recruit middle names end in A. There is a reason for this. With girl names, three syllable names ending in A don’t often work well in the middle. This is because a first and middle name that both end in A could create a sing-song effect. Sometimes a sing-song effect is surprisingly good, as in Ava Cecilia. But most of the time the effect is off, as in Jenna Vanessa (or even worse Jessa Vanessa).

That doesn’t mean middle names ending in A don’t ever work; they just work best with first names ending in any letter besides A. For example, Scarlett Susanna might work, but I imagine reader reviews on Scarlett Susanna would be mixed. Maybe even with first names that don’t end in A, middle names ending in A are tricky.

Super syllable middle names usually flow best with two-syllable trochaic (stress on the first syllable) first names. For example, Ashley Elizabeth, Ava Bernadette, Henry Solomon, and Nina Damaris sound fine.

Super syllable middle names usually also work with two-syllable iambic (stress on the second syllable) first names, but the results vary. This could be subjective but, in my opinion, some of these combos work better than others.

Iambic + super syllable combos that work for me:
Marie Damaris
Sylvie Bernadette

An iambic + super syllable combo that works well enough, but isn’t great:
Nicole Elizabeth

An iambic + super syllable combo that seems off:
Delphine Felicity

Super syllable middle names also work surprisingly well with super syllable first names. One might think these combos would get too long, and in some cases they can be too long. A couple of details decide how well double-super syllable combos work.

The first detail to note is which syllable is stressed in both names. Examples of double-super combos that work well enough:
Olivia Gwendolyn
Olivia Winifred

Examples of double-super syllable combos that seem off:
Olivia Elizabeth
Olivia Felicity

In the examples that seems off, besides the obvious fact that both names have four syllables (Olivia with Elizabeth and Felicity), both Olivia and the middle names have a stress on the second syllable. The result is a very repetitive combo. Gwendolyn and Winifred have a stress on the first syllable, breaking up any repetition with Olivia.

The second detail to note is the last name length. With a short last name, you can pull off a double-super syllable combo. For example Olivia Winifred King is fine. But with a long last name, you could end up with a mouthful of syllables. For example Olivia Winifred Grabowski is a bit much.

Sometimes super syllable middle names sound good with one syllable first names, but these combinations don’t always work as well as they should. One might think the contrast in length would create a nice balance, but sometimes the balance isn’t enough.

Short-long combos that work:
Mark Ulysses
George Thaddeus
Rose Ophelia

Short-long combos that don’t work:
Elle Bernadette
Hugh Ulysses

There’s something about Elle that makes it difficult to pair. Maybe it’s the fact it sounds like the letter L or el, the Spanish connector used before feminine nouns. Either way, Elle has a way of blending into middle names. With Hugh and Ulysses the shared U causes the names to run together.

Wrap-Up

So far we have focused on finding replacements for middle names that are ready for retirement. First I gave you a list of suggestions and today I gave you a list of guidelines if you want to branch out on your own. But there is another option.

Perhaps some of the middle names on our retirement list don’t need to retire, but rather they deserve a promotion. Some common middle names would make refreshing first names. That topic is for next week.

Readers: Which of these combos are your favorites? (Multiple choices are allowed.) Do you have your own combo suggestions?

Photo credit: Laurene Marie / Henry Michael