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Are There Rules for Double-Barreled Names?

I'm seriously considering a double-barrel first name for a daughter. I have been poring over the internet for the best way to write it: hyphen, just a space, no space but two capital letters? I have read that French names use a hyphen, but Southern U.S. names do not. But I live in Pennsylvania! Is there a rule I can follow so I know I am doing it properly?
- Double-Barreled Mom

Dear Mom,

I'm happy to tell you that propriety isn’t an issue. When it comes to punctuating double-barreled names, the U.S. is an anything-goes kind of place. Every approach to doubling is used and approved, so you can’t get it wrong. This is great news for creativity and flexibility, but bad news for decision making. Never fear, though. With attention to the practical over the proper, we can work out some rough guidelines.

First, let’s talk about why hyphens are so handy. You know those sentences that  show off grammar in a funny way? Like "Let’s eat Grandpa!" versus "Let’s eat, Grandpa!" Think of double-barrel names like that. Take a name like Mary Beth Anne Smith.  Is this adouble barrel first name (Mary Beth) with a single middle name?  Or is it, instead, a single first name (Mary) followed by a double middle name? There’s no way to tell. But Mary-Beth Anne Smith makes all immediately clear.

Some parents also like the look of the hyphen, adding an extra graphical kick to a name. The same logic holds for running the names together into a corporate-style "UniName," MaryBeth. Some like the aesthetic result, some don’t.

On the other hand, some parents find the non-hyphenated versions cleaner and more elegant. Another upside: a non-hyphenated double name like Mary Louise makes the name flexible, leaving open the possibility that your daughter could go by one name or both later in life.

If you need another tiebreaker, consider how familiar the double-barreled combo is. Without a hyphen or another clear signal, a new or unfamiliar double name like Madison Grace is likely to be read as a first name and a middle name. A classic pairing like Mary Lou, on the other hand, may be able to go as is. 

Ultimately, the choice is about your intentions. Do you care most about people getting the name you’ve chosen right, in all itsdouble-barreled glory, the first time? Hyphens and UniNames are for you. But if  you’re more into leaving the name open for creative interpretation, two single names are the more flexible choice. 


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December 12, 2011 11:09 AM
By Allison (not verified)

My daughter has a double name. We did not hyphen, so legally she has two first names. She also has a middle name.
Yes, some people think it's two middles, but most people know she's two names and call her two names. Some people only pick up on the first of the two and leave off the second part. And seriously - when saying it, nobody will hear that Anna+Beth is AnnaBeth, Anna-Beth or Anna Beth. So just use what works best for you!

December 12, 2011 11:34 AM
By K (not verified)

Aesthetically, I really don't love the look of two capital letters. I think any of the other options are great and I love double-barreled names. A favorite of mine is Mary Claire. So sweet & classic.

December 12, 2011 12:43 PM
By Marmee (not verified)

We live in the Southern US, and named our fourth daughter Anna (fn) Kathleen (mn), but call her Anna Kate. I wanted to give her lots of options, and not complicate her life with two first names AND a middle name. It suits her, and has turned out to be quite flexible.

December 12, 2011 4:12 PM
By Sarah (not verified)

I find that double first names with just a space can be confusing. I prefer a hyphen. My second choice would be a run together name (MaryBeth) although I think that many computer systems may uncapitalize the second part. To me, the hyphen is very helpful in explaining to anyone who sees the name that it is a double first name and not first and middle.

December 12, 2011 8:43 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Another option is just to run the names together, though this will impact the sound as well as the look. I know a Marybeth, and it sounds very different than I would have said it if it were Mary Beth. I think it looks and sounds lovely, though.

December 12, 2011 11:25 PM
By Plain Jane (not verified)

my parents gave me a double name without the hyphen because they didn't like the way the hyphen looked. instead of being called my actual first name, jamie ann, i have always been called jamie.

so if your heart is set on the double name, add the hyphen-- that way there is no confusion.

good luck :)

December 13, 2011 8:34 AM
By RB (not verified)

I wasn't given a double barrel name, I've just appropriated one for myself. I prefer to go by my first and middle names together because it makes my gender clear, while my first name alone doesn't do that. No hyphens, no CamelCase--just FirstName MiddleName with a space between. Think of something like Bobbie Sue, except that my names are neither Bobbie nor Sue.

December 13, 2011 3:39 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I like the hyphen but I also agree with the namelady that the space gives more options and it is more flexible. I think a hyphen is only absolutely necessary if you want the names always said together. If you don't care if your child is called one or the other I'd leave it without the hyphen.

December 13, 2011 4:43 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

In this age of computer/technology how do computer systems read a hyphen? My full name is 10 letters, annoying when I have to fill in bubble slots that only give you 9 spaces, but when a hyphen isn't an option, what do you do?

I guess it depends on the names you want. I actually like the double capital letters, but beware that plenty of systems will uncapitalize the second one. I have a friend who named her daughter AnnaRose and I love it. But if you're going with something else, it might get too bulky to smash them together.

December 14, 2011 8:40 AM
By AngelaAiea (not verified)

I know a "Mary Kate" who decided in elementary school that she hated her name (a result of the Olsen twins on Full House), and has gone by Kate ever since.

December 16, 2011 2:10 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the other poster who points out that run in names are likely to be pronounced very differently than their hyphenated or two word counterparts.

MaryBeth is different from Mary Beth or Mary-Beth. I would pronounce it more like Annabelle (vs Anna Belle).

December 16, 2011 7:45 PM
By <3 sgc <3 (not verified)

Interesting. I would like to hear how the commenters are pronouncing MaryBeth versus Mary Beth or Mary-Beth. I tend to pronounce them all the same. However, I would pronounce Elizabeth very differently from Eliza Beth (uh-LIZ-uh-bith versus uh-LIE-zuh BETH) so maybe it's sort of the same?

December 16, 2011 7:49 PM
By <3 sgc <3 (not verified)

Also, I have two friends (in the South) who have each named their daughters double-barreled names, but just by calling them by both first and middle together. In each name, Katherine/Kathleen is shortened to Kate or Katy.

I have another adult friend who is named Lee Ann, and has gone by LeeAnn her whole life, though the two names are separate. Sometimes digitally it only displays Lee as her name. I don't know how she feels about that, but it would drive me crazy!

December 16, 2011 10:33 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I, personally, don't like two first names (or two middle names, for that matter). But if you're going to do it, I do think it should be hyphenated or else it could be confused as a first and a middle name. I have a hyphenated last name, and I chose the hyphen simply because I wanted to be sure people knew that both names were my last, not a middle and a last name. But I think one name is always cleaner, whatever the position! (Or hyphenate if you're doing two...the UniName is just annoying...sorry!)

December 18, 2011 2:40 AM
By Janelle (not verified)

I generally prefer the hyphen, just because it makes the double-barreled-ness clear. If you're going with a well-established name like Mary Anne Smith, the simple space works well. But if you choose a more surnamey-sounding name, it can be confusing: does Anna Lee Jones have a double-barreled first name (Anna Lee) or a double-barreled last name (Lee Jones)?

I'd avoid the capital-letter-in-the-middle "EmmaLee"-style because it looks too corporate/ personal logo-ish to me.

December 18, 2011 6:01 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I love double first names. We Southerners will even turn one name into two (my friend Jonathan is often called Joe Nathan). I prefer no hyphen because it's more flexible, especially if one or both names that have variations- Mary Kathleen can go by Polly Kate or Molly Kay

December 20, 2011 1:13 PM
By Erin (not verified)

When my daughter was born we initially contemplated calling her "Kayna Jo" her first & middle name. But, with her first name being so unique, we quickly decided to just go with Kayna - as that's easily confused with "Kayla" and other creative interpretations anyway.

I liket he idea above of using the second barrel as the middle name - and then giving it a lot of flexibility (especially if you don't want to use the hyphen). Not using the Hyphen especially up in the Northeast is going to cause confusion IMO unless you use a first & middle name.. and just go with that when she's called.

As she gets older, also think in the professional world.. how is she going to want to be called? I currently work with a woman who has been known as "Lynn Ann" her whole life, but now only goes as Lynn because the email system we work on creates havoc with double barrled names.

Good Luck!

December 22, 2011 11:56 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have a friend who has two first names and a middle name. She goes by her two first names (Anne Marie), and nothing else and there doesn't really seem to be any confusion. I did, however, find it really funny when she told me that kids on the playground used to say that her initials spelled out ASS (Anne Marie Sarah Smith), and she triumphantly got to tell them that the M was a very distinct initial, so it was correctly AMSS.

January 3, 2012 10:15 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My parents gave me a middle and a first name, but decided to call me both as a double name. As I got older, I noticed that people would drop the second part of my name. So when my step dad adopted me, I legally added a hypen to my name. Now I don't have a middle name, but people know for sure it's a double name.

January 5, 2012 2:24 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My parents intended that I be called by my first and middle names. I prefer just my first name. I can always tell who is calling me on the phone--if it's Donna Jo, I know it's an old, childhood friend or relative; if it's Donna, it's a new friend. I, however, use Donna Jo on legal documents because my last name is very common.

January 5, 2012 3:04 PM
By Lisa Marie (not verified)

Our 2 year old daughter goes a double barrel name - although legally she has one first name and one middle name. My preference was to use both as her first name and choose an additional middle name but my husband thought that was too long...I brought it up about a year after she was born and he said that he would have backed down if I had insisted. So - now I'm looking into changing her name legally...

I made it perfectly clear when she was born that I wanted her called by both names (especially to my husband's northern family that make any name as short as possible). I had to fight it a bit at first but after about 6 months it really hasn't been a problem. I'm sure once she gets older her friends will probably shorten it. I really think the parents and later you as an adult set the youngest brother is Christopher and that is what we have always called him. A few have called him Chris and in high school he was often Topher but that came about when teacher & students would call him Chris and the kids who had known him forever would tack on -topher to finish it and it stuck very few call him that anymore.

I prefer to be called my both my names however for whatever reason when I first met my husband I was only introduced by my first name and that was what he called me and I didn't really mention my preference until after we had dated for a couple of months so as a result he only calls me by my first name but I still sign myself by both names legally, etc.

January 5, 2012 4:05 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Our Daughter's name is Lilly Ann Grace...Ann Grace being two middles even tho ppl mistake it as LillyAnn Both being first... you need to know your intentions and go from there. It is all about preference

January 5, 2012 4:18 PM
By Mary Ellen (not verified)

I have lived with a double name, Mary Ellen. My parents,family and husband calls me Mary Ellen. When I was a child and my mother would have a meeting with my teacher, the teacher would call me,Mary, no matter how many times Mom would say her name is Mary Ellen. It was a useless. Especially after computers can on line, my name was Last Name. Mary E. so of course the teachers called me Mary.

January 5, 2012 7:33 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

When I was growing up I had 2 aunts and 2 cousins that called me by my first and middle name. My mom only called by my first and middle name was when I was in trouble. I have one little aunt 92 year old is left and 1 cousin and they still call me SherriLynn.

January 16, 2012 1:32 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My son has a quite long "double-barrel" first name and a middle name, as a result of a compromise between my husband and I so that both families are represented. Because his first name is a traditional, African name that most of my family members can't pronounce, I gave him a very American, easily shorten-able middle name. He goes by his middle name here and people tend to call him by his middle and last name as if those were connected, as they are one syllable each and alliterative. With our African family members, they combine his two first names and don't use the middle at all. Seems complicated to explain, but gives him lots of options and pleases both sides of our family. Plus, it gives him an interesting story to tell folks when he's older, if he wants to.

January 27, 2012 4:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Being from Arkansas, I have many relatives with double names. However, now they all want to be called by just their first name. My Uncle David's son was named Joseph David Jr and we called him Joe D. growing up, but many people thought his name was Jody. So now he just calls himself Joe.

On the other hand, I have one first and one middle name, Helen Louise. But my oldest sister has always insisted on calling me Heloise just to irritate me.

June 27, 2012 9:58 PM
By Mary Beth (not verified)

I can definitely weigh in on this. My name is Mary Beth and I go by Beth. I don't like the name Mary Beth and get furious when people lop off the Beth from my name and call me Mary. I don't like the name Mary and additionally, it is my mother's name (she is a Mary Ellen who goes by Mary). I hate when people take further liberties with my name. When I use Beth, people sometimes assume my name is Elizabeth, which it isn't. Or, as I stated above, when I have to disclose my full name, they drop the Beth and call me Mary. About 12 years ago, I came up with a solution though. I sign all documents as M. Beth. This throws people off since people don't know what the M. stands for. They don't mess with the "M". They respect it! :). At minimum, they are forced to stick with calling me Beth.

April 28, 2013 4:08 AM
By Jiang (not verified)

I need help!

What if both names are generally unknown in English?

First(double)Name: Tsu Jiang

Should I spell it:
Tsu Jiang

Here's some things to concider when helping me decide. 1)I don't wanna be called Tsu by itself. 2)I'm called Jiang in school & in sports & sign that way, but I want Tsu in my official first name.

It would be a great help to me cuz I'm totally confused :) but I understand it's a hard name, so your eyes & ears are important to me. Whatcha think?

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May 24, 2013 10:11 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

This sounds like a Chinese-background name. From what I've seen, the treatment of such double names in North America would generally be Tsujiang. - try look up famous Chinese people on wikipedia

I know where you are coming from because I have a Chinese double first name as well. At first the Tsujiang form annoyed me because "It's not one word! It's two words!", but if written as Tsu Jiang, you will likely get people calling you Tsu, or computer chop off Jiang - because it thought it's your middle name, which is annoying for a different reason. That leaves TsuJiang and Tsu-Jiang which are just down to stylistic flair. Tsujiang would be most standard and simplest.

June 11, 2013 11:50 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My full Korean first name is Gyeong-Yeon and I hate it when people call me Gyeong without the Yeon part. Gyeong by itself is not a name in Korea. But if I go with Gyeongyeon, people might pronounce it gyeon-gyeon instead of gyeong-yeon. Which name should I go with?


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December 11, 2013 11:31 AM
By Jiang (not verified)

Hi this is Jiang again. Thank you to the individual who stated they also have a Chinese background double-barreled first name. For me, my choices were Tsu Jiang, Tsu-Jiang, TsuJiang or Tsujiang. You recommended Tsujiang with the alternative TsuJiang and Tsu-Jiang which are just down to stylistic flair. While you didnt recommend Tsu Jiang because people will end up calling me Tsu or a computer might chop off Jiang. The only prob I have with Tsujiang is that I've found people give up when they see a lot of letters together. Ive had more luck breaking up the letters somehow. So maybe a hyphen or a capital letter on the second part. Thanks again. Also thank you Gyeong-Yeon, your Korean name is lovely, the only advice I have is dont do Gyeongyeon for the same reason I stated earlier.

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December 18, 2013 4:38 PM
By Jiang (not verified)

I'm posting again! I just read another post by The Name Lady and she states "You should also remember that when it comes to modern paperwork and databases punctuation and capitalization get stripped out." That puts a crimp in my decision to go with TsuJiang :-(

Should I still go with it?

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