Middle Names

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Does a Nickname Disqualify This Middle Name?

Is Theodore Edmund a nickname disaster? We love both names. Both honour family. But can we use both in the same name, considering the risk of a deadly nickname combo like Ted Ed, Ted Ned, or even Ted Ted? You can just imagine the nurse at the doctor's office when she catches the joke. Or are we overthinking it, with Theo the new normal nickname for Theodore? In fact, could we even be so bold as to name this baby Theodore and save Edmund for a sibling?

–Not Ready for Teddy Eddie

I'd say this one goes into the "overthinking" column. Middle names are almost never reduced to nicknames. And what’s more, most people won’t even know what Theodore's middle name is. Even doctors, nurses, and teachers who might happen to see the middle name aren't likely to give it much—if any!—thought.

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Carrying Too Much Weight in the Middle (Name)

I'm a 14-year-old boy and I want to change my middle name. My parents gave me a Russian middle name and an American first name, because I was born in Russia (and then adopted). I want to change my middle name, but I don't know how to tell them the name I like. Any suggestions?

–All-American

I normally advise young would-be name-changers to be patient. You are still growing into the person that you are and will be, and sometimes wishing for a new name is a part of that—one that proves to be temporary.

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We’ve Already Used the Perfect Baby Name!

My husband and I are stumped on a girl name for our third baby. We both like Claire, but it is our oldest daughter's middle name. Is it weird to reuse a middle name as a first name? My husband suggested Clara. I love it, but think it is too close to our younger daughter's name, Nora. We also both like Stella, but our oldest's name is Adelle. What do you think?

–Mom in a Middle Muddle

This can be a tough call! Is it okay to reuse a middle name for a younger sibling's first name? There are strikingly strong feelings on both sides. In some families, every child has the same middle name (say, Dad's first or Mom's maiden name). In others, a middle name can return as a first name without a second thought. And in still others, parents feel it would never be fair to give a child a name that's "used." The older siblings, if old enough to have an opinion, might love the practice—or hate it.

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Does My Baby Need Her Own Special Name?

I've had a first name chosen for a girl for years: Elliana. I'm struggling with her middle name. My mom's name is Kathryn, and I would like to honor her. Should I go with Elliana Kathryn? Or use Elliana Kate as a way to honor my mom, but still give my baby her "own" name?

–Like Mother, Like Daughter

It seems to me that your baby would already have her own name: Elliana. But let's look at the question of what constitutes an homage: What's the best way to honor your mom in her granddaughter's name? Generally, the standard is: Will the honoree (or if she is deceased, the people who loved and remember her) feel suitably honored by the name you choose?

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Should I Stick With this Baby Name Tradition?

I have been debating whether or not to give my little girl the middle name Carol, which is a family name on my mom's side. Part of me wants to keep the tradition, but another part is not so sure. The first name that I have chosen is Ruby, but Ruby Carol sounds a little off. I'm a big believer in tradition, but should I give my daughter a middle name that I am unsure about? (I don't like Caroline or Carolyn.)

–Feeling Torn

You haven't said just what it is about Carol that's turning you off, aside from the way it sounds with Ruby. Perhaps it's the rhythm: Your ear craves another syllable after "Carol," but you've already said you don't care for Caroline or Carolyn.

Or maybe the pairing of two word names is causing your discomfort. In either of those cases, a second middle name, either before or after Carol, could help. How about a trio like Ruby Elizabeth Carol or Ruby Carol Jane?

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Can We Leave One Grandma Out of the Baby Name Game?

I have always loved the idea of honoring a family member by giving a child a meaningful, family middle name. My husband and I both like my mom's name (think "Jane") as a middle name, and had agreed on that if we were to have a girl. Turns out we are having twin girls! Neither of us loves his mom's very '50s name (think "Cheryl"), but we can't exactly name one child for my mom and not name the other for his … can we?

For me, the symbolism of naming our girls after our mothers is more important than loving the name itself, but my husband feels the opposite: Why give your child a name that you don't like, even if it is your mom's name? Do I try to convince him, or do we start over and give up using my mom's name?

–Mom in a Middle-Name Muddle

Your question made me think of President George W. Bush’s twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, each named after a grandmother (they even got the grandmothers' surnames, Welch and Pierce, as middle names). Stylistically, the names are quite different, but as you point out, their symbolism can outweigh the style difference and make them a cohesive set.

But your husband has a point too. He doesn't want to feel locked into a name choice because of the symbolism. I don't believe either of you should try to badger the other into making a choice you don't feel good about.

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Are Two Androgynous Names Too Many?

We love the name Quinn for our little girl. For a middle name, we both agree that we love Adair, an old surname in our genealogy. We are concerned, however, that Quinn Adair is too androgynous and not feminine enough. Should we go with something like Adele or Eloise in the middle instead? Does Quinn Adair sound like a boy?

–Have a Q about QA

It's not clear from your question if you will be using the two names together as a first name (like Mary Rose or Anna Lee). If not, then the practical issue of sounding "too androgynous" really only matters if someone is looking at a document which lists your child's full name, but not her sex. In that case they might use the middle name to try to figure out whether the person is male or female.

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Two Colors for a Baby's Name?

Before I even knew what I was having, I had my heart set on Gray for a middle name. Then I fell in love with the name Indigo. It is strange to have two colors for the first and middle name? Her name would be Indigo Gray Walker. An alternative name would be Temple.

–Rainbow Mama

Two colors need not be a problem, although I did advise against Hunter Greene as a first-middle combo. Just look at little Blue Ivy Carter, daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, who seems to be doing just fine with her double-hue (and double-word) name.

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What's the Recipe for the Right Middle Name?

I'm looking for advice on a middle name for my daughter. My husband and I have decided on Persephone for her first name. Our last name starts with a "K" and is four syllables long, Germanic-sounding, and full of consonants. We are looking for something shorter to keep the name from feeling too bloated. We have thought about Wren and Grace but neither of them struck the chord that the perfect name should.

–Stuck in the Middle

I've fielded questions before from mothers and fathers with similar levels of anxiety over that second name on the birth certificate. But despite feeling stuck, Stuck, you're already on the right track here. As you've figured out, the middle spot offers a great opportunity to bring elements of contrast into a name—sharp consonants to balance liquid vowels, traditional names to dance with ultra-modern, or monosyllabic names to provide a break from long and winding ones.

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Is This Name Okay for an Atheist?

My partner and I are lucky enough to have similar tastes in naming styles. Our top contender for a girl's name is Remy Evangeline. We absolutely love the rhythm and sound of it. The problem? We are both atheists, and while we obviously have no way of knowing if our daughter might someday choose a theistic lifestyle for herself, we have no intention of raising her in a religious context. To further complicate matters, our last name contains the word "Saint." I'm concerned that two overtly religiously affiliated names for one child might make us conspicuous for comment among friends and family who are aware of our irreligious persuasion, and that strangers hearing the name might make erroneous assumptions about our family. So what do you think: Can style trump meaning, or should we look for another name we can love as much as this one?

–Secular Mama

The irony is that Remy won't come across as religious at all, even though it's a saints name, while Evangeline sounds spectacularly saintly when in fact it comes from a poem (Longfellow's Evangeline: a Tale of Acadie) and isn't a traditional religious name. And yet, style can indeed trump meaning. I don't think any parents of Claudias intended to call their daughters "lame." Nor must boys named Calvin inevitably grow up to be bald.

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