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We Know the Middle Name, Now What?

If my husband and I have a girl, we'd like to give her a middle name after my mother, Nancy. We're having trouble finding first names that sound good with Nancy. Any advice? -Anagogic

Indeed, I do have advice. You're doing this backwards.

It's a common mistake. You start with two simple, loving desires: to honor your mother, and to choose an attractive name that will give your child a great start in life. Since your mom's name comes from a different era of name fashion, you moved it to the middle name position.

So far so good. Middle names are perfect for this role. They're part of a person's identity and can be a powerful symbol of connection, yet we don't actually use them. Unless your name is designed as a two-parter, like Mary Kate or John Henry, your middle name settles into a private, personal realm. It's part of you, but it's not the name the world knows you by.

That should have solved your problem. But instead, it's turned your decision-making process upside down.

Because the middle name is the one thing you know for sure, you're building around it, even catering to it. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. You're letting the name you won't use determine the name you will -- and letting the name that's not your style dictate your style.

Try to separate your two goals in your mind. Give the middle name over to family bonds, then start your first-name search with a blank slate. Once you have a short list of names you truly love, then the middle name might be a tie-breaker. (Names ending in an "n" sound, like Brianne, can be a bit awkward with Nancy.) But in the end, the first-middle match is a trifle compared to having a first name you love, and a full name that honors the people you love.


Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

May 24, 2010 10:37 PM
By Alex (not verified)

Mmm. . . That's a problem of too much freedom (yes, there is such a thing)and too much choice. In many countries (particularly Spanish or Portuguese speaking countries), the middle name problem is settled by using the family name of the mother. This doesn't allow for much choice, but I've heard no complaints. Of course, in Slavic countries, patronymics and matronimycs (if there is such a word) also do very nicely. Problem settled!
Alexey Alexandrovich Levy

May 25, 2010 11:25 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would suggest finding an alternate version of Nancy that works better with the style of names you'd like for a first name. Perhaps Nanette or Nanina would flow better with current favorites (Olivia Nanette vs. Olivia Nancy or Charlotte Nanina v. Charlotte Nancy). This would allow you to still honor your mother but satisfy your desire for more diverse naming options. I have a niece named Hannah for her mother Anne. Nancy is also a derivative of Ann, so you might find additional options along those lines.

May 25, 2010 12:23 PM
By Elye (not verified)

You could always use two middle names. Find a first name you love, and then a name to buffer in between the first name and Nancy. I like Anonymous's comment of using an alternate form of Nancy, though.

May 25, 2010 12:27 PM
By Maureen (not verified)

I disagree with Name Lady. Middle names are used (albeit not as often), and should be treated as just as important in the naming process.

However, thinking about the first name as separate, and simply ruling out uncomfortable alliteration (names that end in NN noises, or a name that ends in the -CY noise) is the best way to go.

The names may not match up in style perfectly, but knowing that the first name is theirs and the middle name is the same as their "Gramma" is awesome.
I'm not a huge fan of the name Edna, but I love being named after my gramma whether or not it matches my first name.

May 25, 2010 12:57 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Ah HA! So that's why my hubby and I are having so much trouble coming up with a first name we love that will pair well with the middle name we're going to use. I like Levi, for example, but mostly because it's one of the only names we cold think of that would sound well with the middle name (which I'll keep a secret). Thank you, Name Lady, and thanks to Anagogic for the question.

May 25, 2010 1:07 PM
By Kevin (not verified)

I agree with Elye's suggestion for a second middle name as a "buffer." There's another approach you could use -- have Nancy as the first name, your chosen name as the second, but call your daughter by the second name. Brianne Nancy sounds awkward, but Nancy Brianne sounds fine.

I guess the point is, concentrate on finding a name you really like, and there are lots of ways you can make it work with Nancy.

May 25, 2010 1:45 PM
By Tanya (not verified)

Kevin's got a good idea, but be careful. My mother has never used her first name and always her second- Joann- and its caused interesting issues- legally, and with mail- lables addressed to "jo" "last name," or they say her true first name and last name, but she won't use them as she is not know by her first name. Just a thought. In some cases might be worth it, but remember it could cause some hassle.

May 25, 2010 7:18 PM
By fiery (not verified)

I love the thought of honoring family members or close friends but at the same time feel it's important for a child to have their own personal identity.

I highly recommend using a variant/related name to Nancy as your first or middle name and pairing it with a second name you really like.

I am doing much the same in honor of my grandma's using variants/related names of their given names (Mary Jane and Helen Sophie) to name my second daughter. The only issue I am running into is that Mary Jane always went by Jane and the variant/related name would mean having 2 daughters with names starting with the same letter and middle names that are similar sounding (which is a name I like a lot all things aside and would pick even without the connection) or using a variant of Mary with the same middle name and having 2 different starting letters with a similar sounding middle name to my other daughter. I don't want to use the middle as a first name because like my first daughters's middle name it has the same ending sound as my first name.

May 26, 2010 9:14 AM
By Elyssa (not verified)

Nancy means "full of grace," so you could also honor your mother with the name Grace.

May 27, 2010 7:26 AM
By Sebastiane (not verified)

Some random ideas. I have no idea what names you like, but I think these sound good with Nancy. If none of these work, you might want to consider two middle names to balance the flow.

Aurelia Nancy
Cecelia Nancy
Danica Nancy
Eleanor Nancy
Gabriella Nancy
Isidora Nancy
Josephine Nancy
Katherine Nancy
Louisa Nancy
Miriam Nancy
Priscilla Nancy
Rebecca Nancy
Seraphine Nancy
Thalia Nancy
Victoria Nancy

May 27, 2010 2:51 PM
By Jenna (not verified)

We had kind of the same problem. We wanted to use Anne as a middle name, but the name that we had chosen, willow, didn't sound great with anne- willow anne, reminded me too much of pepper ann, the cartoon. so we used a variation of it, Willow Annaliese, and we love it a lot. My husband's mom was still very honored to have the name incorporated into our baby's name. Its the thought that counts!

May 27, 2010 6:23 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Nancy was traditionally a nick-name for Anne (see So Anne, Hannah, and any of their varients could be used to honor your mother.

May 27, 2010 7:03 PM
By Kitty (not verified)

I'm just going to go with your original idea and throw some names at you as Sebastiane did. Personally, I feel using a different name to honor Nancy is not truly honoring. Each to their own.

Adelaide Nancy
Claudia Nancy
Elizabeth Nancy
Genevieve Nancy
Guinevere Nancy
Gwendolyn Nancy
Harriet Nancy
Henrietta Nancy
Isabelle Nancy
Lilliana Nancy
Lucinda Nancy
Meredith Nancy
Minerva Nancy
Miriam Nancy
Octavia Nancy
Olivia Nancy
Tabitha Nancy
Theodora Nancy
Violetta Nancy

I think a longer first name sounds best, and avoiding first names that end in an 'ee' sound is desirable.

May 28, 2010 4:55 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I once knew a woman whose parents had wanted to name her after her grandmother, Margaret, but didn't like the name Margaret, so they translated it into Irish, and she became Mairead. (She was from Northern Ireland.) She liked her name, and apparently her grandmother was happy.

May 29, 2010 8:01 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Whatever happened to using the maiden name of the grandmother-to-be as the middle name? Couldn't be any harder/worse than the burden of forcing 'Nancy' to work; and its far more historically grounded. I always thought Nancy was a nickname - it was for my mother Cecelia Ann.

May 29, 2010 8:13 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Your post brought to mind my own mothers convoluted efforts the name her third daughter after her mother Helen Margaret. My grandmother was hurt that my mom had not named either of her first two daughters after my grandmother. So, finally cornered, my mother who hated the name Helen decided to use Margaret instead and not even as a first name! She used it as a middle name and came up with the exotic 'Roseanne Margarite'. But then out of fear that Roseanne would be nicknamed 'Rosie', which she hated almost as much as Helen, she promptly nicknamed her Randy. Which my sister hates to this day. I don't know how my grandmother felt about it...

May 29, 2010 8:37 PM
By Lori (not verified)

I had the same problem as you my moms name was Nancy and I wanted to name my daughter after her. So we add Ann onto Nancy and her middle name is Nancyann, which is still after my mother and it goes with a lot of cute first names.

May 30, 2010 12:15 AM
By Jim (not verified)

I dont think 1st and midle names need to flow... but eventually they will. I have 3 girls. 1st girl wife picked the 1st name Madelyn and I picked middle after my Grandmother elenor. Second Daughter I got to name first name Amanda and she named middle Lee after her middle name and relative. then we had third girl and she got the name of Grace which we both agreed on and I wanted Alexis as middle but we settled on Alexandra. It will all work out.

June 2, 2010 11:47 AM
By Paula (not verified)

Hmmm, middle name Nancy? How about Elizabeth, Rebecca, or Sarah? Elizabeth Nancy (I know someone whose name is Nancy Elizabeth), Sarah Nancy, or Rebecca Nancy might work well.

June 2, 2010 3:03 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

We had the same problem when trying to name my daughter. Wanted to use the babies maternal great-grandmas names (Ada and Clara) Our issue was that they were both older sounding names and while we wanted to honor our grandmothers we also wanted the name to be our daughters name.

We ended up naming her Aydia Claire, and we use the nickname Addy which is also a variant of Ada. Everyone on my side of the family (Ada) knows who Addy is named after and everyone on the other side of the family knows that Claire is in homage to Clara who hated the name Clara and changed it to Claire.
I think it's great you want to honor your mom but however you do it whether it be finding a perfect first name and using Nancy as a middle, using a variant of Nancy etc...your mom will cherish her namesake and your daughter will always feel that connection. Good Luck!

June 4, 2010 5:38 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

i totally agree with Jim-
just choose a name you like and dont even worry about how they sound together, i can remember the midwives telling me that my daughters first and second names were a "mouth full" (like i wanted their advice on names anyway) but no one has ever commented on it since and it sounds so normal because im so used to it.

June 7, 2010 12:52 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Wanted to name my son after my husband -- but not a junior. Also, my husband has a Spanish name and DID NOT want our son to have a Spanish name. What to do? We gave our son the same INITIALS as his father. Problem solved and we picked a name that we both liked: Joshua Jordan.

June 9, 2010 1:24 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Why not use your mom's middle name as your daughter's middle name. Maybe it would be an easier name to incorporate with first names you like and it will still honor your mom.

June 9, 2010 5:52 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

What about making something up that has Nancy in it. Similar to Carolinda. Taking the Linda same generation as Nancy but adding a modern twist to it.
Think of your top names even if they don't go with Nancy and see if you can drop letters or rearrange to make Nancy.

June 9, 2010 7:44 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I like the name Nancy as it is. So many older names are being resurrected. And while it doesn't have the same sound as the increasing popular Eleanor, Stella, Ruby, etc. I still think you could use it as a great first or middle name. And my daughter loves the book series Fancy Nancy....which also reminds me of Nancy Drew books whn I was growing up. You could use a version of the name and maybe shorten it to Nance. Change the spelling, perhaps to Nancie. Maybe that would make it more appealing to you. You could create a nickname based on the sounds in the name, like Cecee, C.C., Neicy, Niecee. Or come up with a created name incorporating some of the name like Ronan or Lornan.

If you know you like it, why not use it as her first name AND call her Nancy.

June 10, 2010 3:55 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I am named after three different grandparents. My parents combined two different names for my first name (my grandfather's name and my grandmother's middle name) and they gave me my other grandfather's first name as my middle name, but they changed the spelling a little bit to make it look more feminine without changing the pronunciation.
I like the name Nancy. Something like Margaret Nancy or Margot Nancy could fit well.

June 11, 2010 9:29 AM
By GeorgiaPeach (not verified)

I agree with Kitty -- I think that if you're going to 'honor' someone by using their name, you shouldn't then change it. It's kinda like saying "yes, I want to honor you but I don't really like your name, so I'm going to tweak it to fit my needs." While I'm sure lots of people would understand and still be honored, it feels like a backhanded compliment to me.

As for using Nancy as a middle name, I like Olivia Nancy, Jessica Nancy or Isabella Nancy (I know Isabella is very popular right now, but I think it sounds good with Nancy)?

June 14, 2010 8:49 PM
By Pat (not verified)

My mother didn't have a middle name, I didn't get one so our daughter didn't get one. It makes sense since our last name is 4 syllables and the name we loved was 3 so she had a mouthful to deal with without a middle name. How about using Nancy for a first and only name. It is a lovely name and there aren't too many of them out there now-a-days!

June 22, 2010 1:52 PM
By Anny (not verified)

Best to ask someone how they feel about their name first, before you use it in their supposed honor. Some grandmothers out there don't like their names, and wouldn't want to pass along the burden to a granddaughter, no matter how nice the sentiment. (My daughter has an "old lady" name, and some the old ladies at church who have that name scolded me when they heard, saying "Oh honey, why not pick something prettier? I never liked it myself, always wished to be a Sally, or a June," that kind of thing.)

June 23, 2010 3:48 PM
By Rebekah (not verified)

I love that one of Sebastine's suggestions was my name--Rebekah Nancy (or Rebecca Nancy)! I was never really a huge fan of my middle name, but it is a family name, so I do make people feel really bad when the make fun of it. Heh.

June 25, 2010 7:22 PM
By Anne Marie (not verified)

Your idea is thoughtful, but as the advice columnist implies, perhaps it's requiring too much thought.

I think middle names are chosen more for the enjoyment of the parents than for the sake of the child. It's one of the more "fun" things about pregnancy: picking names.

Keep in mind - as at least one other poster mentioned-- that "Nancy" is just the nickname for "Anne." Not everyone was or is aware of that fact, which makes it all the more comical and even awkward when a well-meaning parent named her daughter "Nancy Ann." Ouch.

I say use a variation of Nancy, i.e. Anne, Anna or Hannah.

July 7, 2010 12:09 AM
By Kathryn Bartlett (not verified)

I love your spunk! It made me laugh out loud. I happen to have a Sister-in-law who is Spainish and did use, in fact insisted, her maiden name be used as all her childrens' middle name. If I had know about that, back in 1969 and 1970 when my children were born it would of made things simple but tonge twisters. I have an English last name and their Father was of Italian heritage. Thanks for giving me my "learn something new every day". Kathryn

July 7, 2010 9:14 AM
By Lizzy (not verified)

What is your mom's middle name? I've given my son's their middle names from middle names of family members. Maybe that would be an easier solution. Another way to honor your mother (if she is still alive) would be to have her choose the middle name.

All in all.. the most important thing is that the first and last name flow well, since that is how the world will address her, not first middle last.

May 20, 2011 5:54 AM
By Doc (not verified)

my mom tried to give me the middle name "micheal" but mispelled it "michell" i didnt figure it out until i got in boot camp in the navy, the company commader was calling out names and having us stand up so we'd all know each others names, he stopped reading names and busted out laughing and said "stand up michell, who's michell" i was all thinking some poor dumb bastard was named michell until he read my whole name, needless to say i learned to fight effectively real quick

December 20, 2013 6:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with some of the others who say to use Nancy as the first name and use the second or middle name as the name you call her. What did you end up naming her?

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