It is a traditional French double name, worn by artists, athletes and politicians.

But how would it wear in the US? Thanks to Joy for suggesting Jean-Marc as Name of the Day.

Joy originally suggested John Mark, her brother’s name.

Double names range from the down-home Southern twang of Billy Ray and Bobbie Sue to elegant, vaguely European appellations like Marie Elise or John Paul.

Plenty fit somewhere in between, but none of them are officially acknowledged by the US Social Security Administration. Search “Mary Anne” in their database and you’ll receive an error message: “Use alphabetic characters only!”

American parents have two options if they wish to bestow such a name:

  • Smoosh ’em together. This approach works beautifully in some cases – Mariana, for example – and isn’t so bad with some nouveau coinages – Avalee, perhaps. But traditional masculine picks usually look awkward combined. Johnmarc seems downright odd;
  • Accept that your son will often receive mail addressed to Jean M. or John M. Plow forward with insisting friends, relatives and school records use both names together. Accept that most people who should know will know.

The tyranny of databases can make for headaches, but the limitations of a database are a lousy reason to choose – or change – a child’s name.

Outside of the US, parents have other options. The French baby name site Meilleurs Prenoms happily searches on compound names. You’ll see hyphenated first names reflected in the official records of plenty of other countries, too.

Jean-Marc is as French as La Tour Eiffel, and several notable bearers ensure that he is recognized as one name, including:

  • Actor Jean-Marc Barr is better known in Europe, but American audiences might recognize him from a number of indie flicks and imports, including 2004’s Dogville and 1988’s The Big Blue;
  • The seventeenth century Jean-Marc Nattier painted French princesses dressed as nymphs and goddesses;
  • French Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has gained some recognition in the US for his late 2009 release of The Young Victoria, a semi-biographical account of the queen’s early reign.

On their own, both boys’ names are classics. The evergreen John has never left the US Top 20.

Mark can’t claim that level of continued use, but Saint Mark penned the second Gospel in the New Testament and serves as patron saint of Venice. Tradition links the saint with John Mark, a figure referenced in the Acts of the Apostles and sometimes referred to simply as John or “John, also called Mark.”

Between 1955 and 1970, Mark ranked in the US Top Ten, and usually placed in the Top 250. As of 2008, he charted at #139. Marc peaked at #60 in 1970. Today, Marco and Marcus are both a shade more fashionable, but all four wear well.

Name aficionados know that the French Jean sounds something like zhan. An American audience might see Jean and think denim – and assume it is a girls’ name. Still, Jean-Marc makes for an authentic French heritage choice, one that most will recognize and, with a nudge, can say properly.

Databases challenges aside, the two syllable John Mark is equally appealing. For many families, it could split the difference between bestowing a well-worn classic and something less expected.

What do you think? Would you use a double name like John Mark or Jean-Marc, or are the potential hyphenation headaches too much trouble?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. Jean-Marc and Jean-Luc – love ’em both!

    I’m in my 40s. When I named my children there were several double names I liked that didn’t even have a chance of getting onto my short list because I didn’t like the single name option.

    Some of my favorites are Spanish combos Juan Carlos, Juan Manuel, Juan Luis, Jose Luis, Jose Antonio, Luis Antonio and Marco Antonio. I do not like a single one of those names on their own.

    I think for those parents that DO like both names individually, it would be worth having the second name chopped off databases and rosters. After all, the people that matter and know them, WILL call them by the double name if that is how they are introduced.

    Excellent post!

  2. I can appreciate it, but i’s not my style. A good friend’s brother is a John Michael and is American – as far as I know, he was introduced as John Michael and then people simply called him that. Not a big challenge, except maybe on school rosters and such. But most daycares and schools have a blank for the official name and then one for the preferred name to help counter such issues. I’d imagine that the double first isn’t as much hassle as it may have been in the past, at least for kids.