Strictly speaking, there are no rules in baby naming.
But there are some guidelines that I believe in strongly enough to call rules, at least here on Appellation Mountain. And here’s the first: The Middle Matters.
Just as every generation has its Top 10 names, they also have their reliable go-to middle name choices. Pair up a white hot given name with a worn-out middle at your peril. In the 1970s, we all knew at least one Jennifer Anne, if not three, four or more. And how about Michael James? Amy Elizabeth? They are legion. And if your last name is relatively common, too, then your son, Jeffrey Andrew Hall, is one of several men with the identical name, and perhaps the same date of birth.
The names have changed in recent years, but the problem persists. Today, it’s Emma Grace and Aiden James, Isabella Marie and Ethan William.
On the flipside, for every parent naming their daughter Laura Elizabeth, there is one thinking about christening their child Cascata Eleni. Neither name quite works, though the first is unobjectionable and the second has a certain poetry.
What they both need is a bit of the other’s spirit. Laura Eleni and Cascata Elizabeth are much stronger choices.
And so here’s the rule: If you’re using a common, classic given name, go a little wild with the middle name choices. If you’ve already went out on a limb with the first name choice, give yourself a safe fallback in the middle.
Here’s the rule in action:
- Instead of Elizabeth Anne, consider Elizabeth Wren.
- Instead of William David, consider William Dakota.
- Instead of Olivia Marie, consider Olivia Maren or Olivia Maris.
- Instead of Estrella Garbo, consider Estrella Katharine.
- Instead of Hansel Hadley, consider Hansel Jameson.
- Instead of Ezekiel Stryker, consider Ezekiel Stephen.
The examples are, obviously, not exhaustive. But it’s a good rule to keep in mind, and it gives your child options – to be known as E. Katharine if she dislikes her unusual first name; to be called William Dakota Hunt if there is another William Hunt in his field.
How wild should you go in the middle? Or how safe should you play it? That’s a tricky line, but I’d say this: if both your first and middle name are Top 50 choices, you haven’t gone far enough. And if neither your first nor middle picks are in the Top 1000, then you’re out to sea.