People often ask if there are rules for picking a good middle name. Well, there are and there aren’t. There certainly are rules to follow if you merely want to get a name combination that sounds pleasing to the ear. However, it is okay to break some of these rules, especially if you are trying to choose a middle name that honors someone special, has a particular meaning, or would allow you to compromise with the child’s other parent.
Because of that, I prefer to think of these as general guidelines instead of rules, to be used when they are useful, but thoughtfully discarded when they are not. They take into account the rhythm of the names, the sounds within the names, and the names’ overall “feel.” So without further ado, here are my guidelines:
1. Try to make sure each name (first, middle, and last) has a different number of syllables. It’s okay if two of the names have the same number of syllables, but all three names should not. Examples of pleasing combos:
Clara Juliet Grey (2, 3, 1)
Nora Joy Sullivan (2, 1, 3)
Gwendolen Eve Conner (3, 1, 2)
Rose Madeline Connor (1, 3, 2)
Charlotte Victoria Grey (2, 4, 1)
2. If names have the same number of syllables, try to make sure the stress falls in different places. Because many English names are stressed on the first syllable, the most rhythmically pleasing middles tend to have second- or third-syllable stress. (This is what makes Marie and Elizabeth such popular middle names.) Here are example of good combos with the same number of syllables but different syllable stress:
Emily Sophia (EM-uh-lee so-FEE-uh) instead of Emily Sylvia
Lina Corinne (LEE-nuh cor-INN) instead of Lina Karen
3. Try to make sure the ending sounds are different. Examples:
Gwendolen Adele instead of Gwendolen Eileen
Ivy Caroline instead of Ivy Cecily
4. Try to make sure the first name doesn’t end with the same sound in which the middle starts. Combinations like Sara Adele or William Mason tend to run together in a way that many find displeasing.
5. Consider whether you like alliterative names. Many people find them a bit too cutesy or artificial. I tend to avoid combinations where the first, middle, or last name share a beginning letter. Examples of what I would choose:
Julia May instead of Julia Jean
Lydia Grace instead of Lydia Leigh
6. Consider whether you like names with assonance. This is where a vowel sound is subtly echoed within both names. I think combinations like this tend to sound very lyrical and appealing. Examples:
— the long I’s in Eliza Violet or Ivy Caroline
— the long U’s in Ruby Juliet
— the short A’s in Susannah Katherine
— the long A’s in Adrian James
7. Because finding a good first-middle combo is often about balance, consider how you can best “balance” out your chosen first name. If the first name is really rare, try to pick a middle that’s a little more common (like Zenobia Rose). If the first name is common, choose a more unexpected middle (like Elizabeth Wren). If the first name is unisex, by all means choose a middle name that is clearly one gender (like Rowan Alexander for a boy or Rowan Miranda for a girl). If the first name has the potential to sound dated, pick a more current-sounding middle that “unfustifies” it a bit (like Frances Madeleine instead of Frances Maud). If the first name sounds very trendy, pick a more classic middle that lends it some substance (like Kylee Madeleine instead of Kylee Skye).
8. Finally, as a general rule of thumb, consider which adjectives would best complete this sentence: “I love the name such-and-such, but it is a bit _____.” Then, choose a middle name that is less “______.” For example, I love the name Violet, but it is a bit abrupt. Solution? Choose a long, vowel-saturated middle name like Arabella or Anastasia. I love the name Clara, but it is a bit plain. Solution? A fancier middle, like Juliet or Anneliese.
Of course, you may disagree with some of these rules entirely. It really is all about personal taste — about finding a name that sounds right to you and has meaning to you. And after all, what were rules made for if not to be occasionally broken?