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The Trouble with Two First Names

I want to give my son two first names, James Michael. Both names are significant because they are the names of my fiancé's and my older brothers that have both passed away. So we think it's sweet to name our son after our brothers. I was just wondering how two first names work. Do I need a middle name as well or can you drop a middle name all together?

–It Takes Two

The Name Lady sees a lot of confusion about Juniors, and that's with a fairly well established tradition to follow. When it comes to the double first name, the waters are even murkier, especially for boys. The good news is that almost anything goes. The bad news is that, well, almost anything goes, so how are you supposed to decide?

Let's try to weigh the pros and cons. You could use James Michael Lastname, call your son James Michael, and ask others to call him that too. Simple and straightforward, and yet you might have trouble making the double name stick. That would demote Michael to the middle-name slot, not what you intended.

You could add a middle name: James Michael Middle Last. This gives you the chance to use another name for your child, whether it's an honorific or just a name you enjoy. It keeps Michael from being bumped into the "just a middle" category. But not all computer systems and forms allow for two middle names, and if you choose a name that's at all surnamey, people may be led to believe that your child has two LAST names instead of two FIRST names!

You could add a hyphen: James-Michael (Middle, if desired) Lastname. This makes your intentions clear, although it is a less common choice for a boy. And there may be an occasional misunderstanding that James-Michael is a hyphenated surname.

I've even encountered a double-named boy with an intercap, like MaryBeth. This boy's name was something like JackWilliam, and as it turned out, he didn't like it, at all. He eventually insisted on going by just Jack. Which, I must remind you, is a risk no matter what you decide on for your boy. He may one day prefer to be called James, Michael, Jamie, Mike, or something altogether different! But if you start with a name you love (hyphen, middle name, or not), you've done the best that you can do for your child and for the brothers you wish to honor.

Comments

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August 10, 2015 11:20 AM
By Sabby (not verified)

Is there any chance you will have more kids? Why not pick one brother for the first child and the second brother will be for the second child. Both names could work for a girl. I personally know a female Michael. You could decide based on which name you think would be good for a girl or which brother died first.
I think 2 long first names is too much. He might even be called JM instead of one name.

August 10, 2015 11:38 AM
By Bonnie (not verified)

I agree with Sabby about saving one of the names for a second child. If the baby will have your fiance's surname, use your brother's name first (and vice versa).

However, if the next child is a girl, I think it would be better to use the female form of the name. Jamesina and Michelle are lovely names, but rarely used for babies in this generation. She'd probably be the only one in her class.

August 10, 2015 12:17 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The people I know with double first names don't have a middle. I recommend that, unless you have a middle name you absolutely want to use. They also eventually dropped their second name in daily use, so be prepared for James Michael to eventually want to just go by James or Michael.

I also think you should use both names now if you want to honor both brothers, rather than saving.

August 10, 2015 2:35 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The way I see it, you can't have two first names or two last names. (Hyphenating or creating an intercap turns it into one name.) By definition, the first is first and the last is last, everything else is in the middle.

That said, you can absolutely have your son's "call name" be James Michael. On forms, James is the first name, Michael is the middle, and you can have as many more middle names as you want. Just be prepared that he will likely drop one at some point.

August 10, 2015 2:56 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I know a kid whose family always calls him by first & middle. However, at school & everywhere else, he only goes by the first name. I suspect you could probably get family to use James Michael, but there's a good chance teachers & friends will assume James is the first name-and that's what most people will call him.

I also know a boy named John-Paul after the pope. Nobody ever calls him just John. I've never been sure if this is because of the hyphen or if it is because the combination of John & Paul is so familiar to people.

It's a nice thought to want to give both late uncles an equal tribute, I'm just not sure it is very practical. If the baby is getting dad's last name, I'd probably use your brother's name first. If baby is getting your last name, use the name from dad's family first.

Another option I've seen done when people are using 2 tribute names is for the first name to be the honoree's middle name & then the middle name is the first name of the other honoree. So if your namesakes are James Thomas and Michael Sean, you'd end up with Thomas Michael or Sean Thomas.

August 10, 2015 5:54 PM
By Brooke (not verified)

I suggest using two first names separated by a space on the birth certificate. But for all non-formal situations, you could use a hyphen. That avoids the hassle of a hyphen in official documents (not all of which allow hyphens, as I understand), but also makes it clear in everyday scenarios that both first names go together.

August 11, 2015 12:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

A double name for a boy isn't that odd. I too know a John Paul; he goes by JP. And we all know Billy Ray, etc from popular culture.

But James Michael is a different beast. I don't think calling him "James Michael" is going to last very long. Because of the names themselves, and because there's no precedent (Mary Margaret is familiar) James Michael sounds extremely formal. It sounds like a kid getting in trouble or a president getting sworn in. Relatives and friends (and possibly the kid himself) will automatically try to de-formalize the name.

If you want to avoid losing either "James" or "Michael" to convenience, I suggest calling him JM from the very beginning.

August 11, 2015 2:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have a Jean-Luc and his middle name is Sebastian, but if you really wanted to, I think you could drop the middle name.

He's only ever been called "John" or "Luke" once or twice. People usually get that his name is Jean-Luc.

August 11, 2015 2:54 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Funny, I have a cousin whose first name is James and middle name is Michael, and yes, that's what many people call him on a daily basis: James Michael. There are a few other men named James in our large family, so the middle name got stuck to the first. :) I've always really like it, actually. I think it flows nicely and since it is familiar to me it doesn't sound too formal at all. I would definitely go with James for first, Michael for middle. Seems easiest to me!

August 12, 2015 9:35 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would go with James as first name and Michael as middle and call him James Michael. It gives you the name that you love, and it gives him the flexibility to work his name around computer systems and choose if he wants to be called James Michael, or James, or Michael, or Jamie, or whatever when he's older. A second middle name would be fun and give him a portion of his name that is "his," not handed down from his uncles.

August 12, 2015 9:13 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My cousin is named John Robert Middle Last. From all I've seen, he doesn't have a problem getting people to call him both. He will explain to the ones calling him "just John" that his name is John Robert. Cute kid and as straight forward as he sometimes needs to be.

August 12, 2015 11:44 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Condolences for your loss. I think this thread proves that there is no way to predict how the names will ultimately play out being honored but know you did your part by honoring them both. If it comes down to a special reason which name gets the first name position, I'm sure alphabetically or which ever brother your little one's birthday comes closest to would be suitable. Maybe wait until he is born and meet him then decide which fits your baby the best and the other is the middle name that will be used as part of his identity as well. There is just no way to fret about what will stick in the long run to make it seem honorably fair to their memory. The honor comes from your choice to simply use them and let them thrive with your son!

August 14, 2015 2:51 PM
By Christi with an i (not verified)

if either of my two older sisters or myself had been a boy we would have been James Michael by the time my brother was born my dad realized that if he wanted a child named after himself this was his last chance so they used a different middle name. And I have a cousin named James Michael. It's a name I have always loved. So I don't think it sounds too formal and I think you could either do that as his name (kids often go by first and middle or a combo of them) or add another middle name. My kids have 4 names (first second third last) Their first names are simply theirs, the next two are to honor various family members and then the family last name) It is a bit hard to include all their names on formal occasions but it is getting easier.

August 18, 2015 11:29 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

When we were expecting my daughter 23 years ago, we intended her to be named Anne (new name) Margaret (middle name after her paternal grandmother) Lastname. However when she happened to be born on my grandmother's birthday, I felt compelled to put her name into the mix. We made her first name Anne Margaret with a middle name A...(unusual old fashioned name of my grandmother). Among her friends and family she goes by Anne or Annie, professionally by Anne Margaret A. Lastname. A recent dilemma that has presented itself is that she is is recently engaged and unsure if she wants to hyphenate her new last name. It's quite a mouthful that fits perfectly to the tune of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!

August 22, 2015 7:36 PM
By Alli (not verified)

My daughter has a double first name, no hyphen or intercap (JamesMichael). She also has a middle name. So she's "Sally Jane Rose Lastname" and we all call her " Sally Jane." She's in 3rd grade now and we haven't had many problems at all with the double first name. I say go for it!

August 28, 2015 5:08 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks everyone for your responses. I definitely like the formality of it and I know everyone in my family is loving it because it's a wonderful tribute.

November 15, 2017 4:55 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

how about if you want to give your son a new name but also call him the 2nd/II of a great-grandfather? how would that be placed?

e.g.

"NewName Second2nd Middle Last" ?

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