Motherhood

How Did You Pick Your Child’s Middle Name?

Toby Goddard-Williams baby

Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on January 7, 2019…

My friend needs help…

Her first child is due any day now, and she and her partner have picked out a first name, but they’re not sure about the middle. “How do you choose one?” she asked me. After chatting with a bunch of different families, I’ve found that middle names seem to fall into at least six fun categories:

1. Honoring grandparents
When I was growing up, it seemed as if all my classmates had middle names passed down from grandparents. True to form, mine is Mary, after both my grandmothers. For Toby, we followed that tradition, and went with “Paul,” after my grandfather.

2. Your favorite singer/actor/historical figure
What about honoring a cultural icon? When Anton was born, we were so stumped by his first name that his middle one seemed like a non-event. When Alex suggested James — after singer Jim Morrison — I signed off immediately in a haze of post-birth exhaustion. A couple days later, I was like, “Wait, what did we pick again?” Thankfully, I loved it.

3. A place you adore
Then again you could go with a beloved place. My nature-loving sister in California chose a national park for her daughter’s middle name. “We went with Acadia,” she says. “We weren’t going to pick Yellowstone or Glacier.” She’s planning to take her daughter (nicknamed Cady) there for her fifth birthday.

4. Big sibling brilliance
What if you need extra help? A family in D.C. let their two-year-old daughter make the call. “We were on my bed, and I wanted her to feel excited about her little brother,” says her mom. “I came up with a few middle names that would work, and she was like…Leaf.” So, they went with it. “I’m not sure how I convinced my husband,” she laughs now. “A week after the birth, he was like, did we just name our son Leaf?”

5. A runner-up first name
Sometimes parents choose a first name that didn’t quite make the cut. “My dad loved ‘Erin,’ but my mom wasn’t sold,” my college roommate in Michigan told me. “So, as a compromise, he was allowed to use it as a middle name.” And he really went for it. Now she and her three sisters share the middle name Erin.

6. A little wink
Perhaps funniest of all, go for an inside joke. “My husband and I took a honeymoon road trip,” a friend in New York told me. “Our son ended up being conceived in Montana, so his middle name is Monty. Maybe we’ll tell him when he’s 18.”

What’s your middle name? If you have a child, how did you choose his or hers? Any advice for my friend? Thank you! Here are three offbeat middle names.

P.S. The blind-date test for baby names, and going from one to two kids.

(Photo of Toby when he was the all-time teeniest.)

  1. Elle says...

    My daughter’s middle name is Sofia. I named her Sofia after Sofia Coppola during that time I absolutely adored her. As she got older I worried she would hate it, until one day she mentioned how much she loved Sofia Coppola movies and that was when I told her. She was kinda psyched! I’m so happy we share the same film aesthetic and DNA ! She’s 18 now so we made it !

  2. Becky says...

    My daughters middle name is Wren, she was born 10 weeks early and we were totally unprepared! My husband was googling “nature names with 1 syllable” hours before she was born. In the moment it felt rushed but she ended up with a name that suits her perfectly, it’s funny how things work out sometimes.

  3. Nadia says...

    As the biracial daughter of a refugee, I am so glad my parents gave me a Vietnamese middle name. At times when I struggle with my identity, it has made me feel connected to my culture, especially to my late grandma, who mainly spoke Vietnamese, and always called me by my middle name, Quynh.

  4. JP says...

    Our son’s middle name is Allston. It’s the place my husband and I met and lived while going to school in Boston. Allston was also on my short list of first name options, but, we went with my husband’s pick. He is now Miles Allston – It is a compromise that suits him perfectly!

  5. Julie says...

    Our son’s middle name is William. He is named after my husband’s great uncle, who died in WWI in his early 20s. He was shot down in Germany (he was a pilot), on his own birthday. Interestingly, we ended up buying a house 1 street over from where he lived when he was just out of high school. My husband has always liked hearing stories about him, and felt a connection to him, even though they obviously never met.

    • Julie says...

      I meant WW2!

  6. Katie says...

    Our daughters middle name is June. Both my husband and I were born in June so we thought it was perfect…. she was also conceived in June! haha!

  7. Sarah Atkinson says...

    As soon as I became pregnant with my daughter we stumbled upon a first name we just loved (Sinclaire), but never could find a middle name that we liked to go with it. Since I never took my husband’s last name and I run my family’s business (which is also our last name) we used that as her middle name. Her full name is basically three last names which sounds like a law firm, but we love it and it suits her perfectly. :)

  8. Jess O. says...

    We gave our son the middle name ‘Chainsaw’. He’s this sweet, flirty impossibly chubby toddler and the juxtaposition makes us laugh. When people are shocked or surprised when we tell them his full name (they always are) I like to tell them “there’s no laws about what you can name a baby, it’s not even a crime!”

  9. Gemma says...

    Several weeks after we gave our first son the middle name Wolf, just because we liked it, we were walking out the door past a poster we’d had framed from our favourite Toronto brewery, Bellwoods Brewery, to remind us of a lovely summer we spent there – the penny dropped that we’d actually done was name our son after a beer, Wizard Wolf. For our next son we thought carefully in advance about how we would tell the story of his name.

    • Amanda says...

      LOVE Bellwoods Brewery! And <3 your sweet new baby's name! Congrats from another reader in TO!

  10. Rosalie says...

    Both my daughters have the same middle name, Rose. My name is Rosalie and Rose is a popular middle name for girls in my community. I call them my two little Roses. I chose their first names because I wanted strong names that wouldn’t be easily shortened. My family tends to call them by both names when addressing them, Morgan Rose and Georgia Rose ❤️

  11. Deb says...

    Both our children have typical Italian first names to compliment their last name creating a very lyrical sound. With their middle names I was able to be more creative and give pause to catch your breath. My son is Cole and my daughter is Sage.

  12. Keri says...

    Our little guy just joined us 3 weeks ago. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl so we had a few different first and middle names picked out for either sex.
    When he arrived and the doctor asked if he had a name and we said we wanted to spend a bit of time with him first. But then in my delirious state I said, his middle name will be “Lee” like his dad though. Lee wasn’t even on our middle name list. But it felt right.

  13. Cecilia says...

    My daughter’s middle name falls under “little wink”: I had that app that tells you how big the baby is in relation to a fruit or vegetable, so she went from being pea sized, to blueberry, to raspberry, etc. One day my husband referred to the baby as “raspbluepea” and that became her moniker amongst our families for the rest of the pregnancy. She even had a nickname (“Rasblue” ). We were those people who named their baby the day we left the hospital; her first name is an homage to my beloved grandmother and for a middle name we decided on “Blue”, to remember that sweet idea of her we envisioned for 40 weeks.

  14. Ali Hendrickson says...

    With our first born, a boy, we gave him my Dad’s name (Robert) for a middle name because I was so sentimental, am a natural ‘rule follower’ and a classic first born people pleaser. : ) We love his middle name but it was definitely what we thought we were ‘supposed’ to do. When our daughter was born my husband and I wanted something really sentimental to just the two of us so her middle name is Linden, named after the street his families lake home is located on where my husband and I met, fell in love, got engaged and married. The street in named Linden due to the excess of Linden tree’s in the area. We plan to plant a Linden tree at our new home next spring.

    • Annie says...

      My middle name is Linden and I love it! Currently 31 weeks pregnant and trying to decide if I should pass it down to my daughter.

  15. CEW says...

    Joyce sounds wonderful. I’m sure your daughter will fill our world with just as much joy and positivity as her, in her own unique ways. Wishing your family all the best.

  16. CEW says...

    It’s my husband’s middle name as well! We are untraditional in the extreme – we both changed our last name when we got married instead of one of us taking the other person’s. However I like this subtle link between father & son. My mom suggested it & it felt right for us, plus sounds good with the rest of his name (wouldn’t have chosen it if not).

  17. Stephanie says...

    My husband’s adored father, and my beloved grandmother, both passed away before our children were born. We gave their names to our son and daughter, as middle names. It’s funny to say, but it truly is so comforting feeling like a little piece of each of my father-in-law and my grandmother, both of whom we loved so deeply, is quietly being carried around by our children every day.

  18. Sandra says...

    Our daughter’s first name is after my paternal grandmother while her middle name is based on a series of memories I have of my paternal grandfather in which we stayed up at night chatting and looking at stars out in the rural area they lived in. We wanted to bestow that feeling of love and safety and acceptance they gave to my brother and I. We call her by her middle name most often.

  19. Janine Fuhringer says...

    My husband is from Ghana, and its the tradition there for people to be named (either the first or middle name) after the day of the week they were born on. The name can vary, depending on what dialect and language people speak.My kids have taken the day of the week name for their middle names as a nice nod to their Ghanian heritage. My kids are Afua (friday for a girl) and Kwame (Saturday for a boy)

  20. Leanne says...

    We struggled with boys names, and eventually sought out notable Canadians to name our tiny humans after. I wanted a story to tell our kids, rather than simply “we liked the name.” Our son (Eric Bennett) was named after RB Bennett, the 11th prime minister, who sent his personal funds to Canadians who wrote as he governed during the great depression. Bennett may be problematic for other reasons (as are so many historical figures), but this generosity was something we wanted to instill in Eric. The name is uncommon, but Eric would have lots of options to go by a moniker other than his given name (we loved the name “Ben” but didn’t love “Benjamin”). Close runner up was “Thompson” after explorer David Thompson (sometimes I wish we had another boy just for this purpose). Our spitfire of a daughter, Eleanor Elizabeth, is named after Elizabeth “Elsie” MacGill, Queen of the Hurricanes, first woman to earn her masters degree in aeronautical engineering and first practising woman engineer in Canada. I read a story when I was super pregnant about how MacGill’s brother would leave the door to science club open (and attend!) because it was something she was super interested in and girls weren’t allowed to participate at that time. My Ellie’s brother would similar fight for his sister’s passions, I have no doubt.

  21. Laura says...

    My daughter was born on my cousin-by-marriage’s birthday. My cousin had been living with metastatic breast cancer for five years by then. She was an incredibly joyful, positive person. I didn’t know her well, but I loved spending time with her. I didn’t feel super comfortable asking her too many questions about her diagnosis but tried to focus on having fun with her. Quite unexpectedly, while I was pregnant with my daughter, my cousin and I happened to have a very candid conversation and she shared with me that she’d always wanted to be a mother, but had had to make her peace with the fact that she wouldn’t. Her strength and clarity in the moment really moved me. My daughter was born early, and when it turned out that she was born on my cousin’s birthday, I really wanted to make my cousin’s name her middle name. My cousin is a worthy namesake, but if my daughter hadn’t been born on her birthday I would’ve felt like like naming my daughter after her would’ve been too much of a downer. When my daughter was born, I called my cousin and asked if she and my daughter could share more than just a birthday–but if she could share her name. It felt so right to be able to celebrate my cousin, rather than memorialize her. Thus, Harriet Joyce was named. Two years later, I had the honor of helping my cousin move into hospice and supporting her as she decided how to spend the last weeks of her life. It was terrible, she was wonderful, and I hope my daughter will share the joy, positivity, love of travel and fashion, and ability to make a friend wherever she is just the way Joyce did. She is deeply missed.

  22. Ashley says...

    We gave my daughter (the “second” granddaughter on my husband’s side of the family) her middle name after her cousin (the “first” granddaughter on my husband’s side of the family) who passed away at 17 weeks old due to complications from Down Syndrome. It is the sweetest name and we just felt like it was perfect and a way we could honor her cousin.

    • Chris says...

      My middle name is Mavie and I share it with my daughter. My dad chose it, it’s ‘my life’ in French. Inspired by an old Spanish/French song that he loves.

  23. cg says...

    My daughter is adopted, her middle name is the name she was given by her orphanage in China where she spent the first year of her life. We wanted to honor her origins, and make sure she kept everything that is hers before we became a family.

  24. Ann says...

    I have a middle name theory. If the baby has one parent’s last name, then the other parent gets to choose the middle name. The first name should be agreed upon by both parents, but I plan on going crazy with middle names since my children will have my husband’s last name :) I think I’ll choose mostly family names or names with strong personal meanings but that are also a little more out there.

  25. Alexandra says...

    My husband loved offbeat first names for our kids so I chose less common but very classic middle names (Alastair, Frederick, and Beatrix) to also give them a sense of timelessness.

  26. hm says...

    Fair warning: if you give your child the middle name “Wilder,” you should expect them to live up to it.

    • Kate says...

      That was my grandma’s maiden name and I have definitely considered it for the future…but you raise a good point ;)

  27. Haley says...

    My oldest is named after both of our grandmothers (lucky they shared a name). For our youngest, we wrestled with middle names for 7+ months. We knew her first name but everything we put with her first name just didn’t feel right. We were literally filling out the birth certificate application and my man spouted out a name that we had never considered and after a quick google search (gotta make sure we’re not naming her after a porn star or something) we declared that was the name. Her middle name is sooo perfect for her and I chuckle every time i think about us coming up with it last second

  28. Julia says...

    Two other things I’ve seen: a coworker didn’t change her name when she married. She had three children and they alternated between her last name and his last name for the kids. I thought that was creative. I also have a friend whose middle name is just B. Her parents couldn’t decide, so they told her she could decide. Over the course of her life, her middle name has been “Brittany,” “Becca” and “Bea” (the list goes on and on), but legally her name is always B. I thought this was VERY cool in middle school when she explained
    It and it is a creative solution.

  29. Sue Brönnimann says...

    My dear father, George, passed away in February and he was adored by everyone in our family. Over the years it’s become a bit of a tradition to name his grandkids and great-grandkids after him. So far we have Edward (Ned) George, James George, Lenny George, Huey George and Thomas George. (Lenny and Huey are even brothers).

  30. Julie says...

    Strange but true story…. way back when I was a little girl, I asked my mother how on earth she decided on my name. At the time I thought it was the most hideous name… Julie…. and I wanted to be Heidi or Emma. Her response, “I had a dream when I was pregnant with you that I met a little girl and asked what her name was… the little girl in the dream said “I’m Julie”. And so it was. A couple of decades later, my sister had the same dream when she was pregnant with her first. In her dream she met a little boy on the beach and asked what his name was and he had responded “Noah”. And so it was. It seems, in our family, the dream only happens with the first pregnancy though.

  31. Trudy says...

    I regret not naming any of my children after myself. They have my husband’s last name, but nothing in their names comes from me! I would have loved to give one of my kids my own middle name, but I never even thought of this option…

    • cg says...

      It’s a bit of work, but you still can add your name legally (unless they’re adults, and don’t want to), I believe. My daughter has two middle names, one originally given by the orphanage she was at, plus my maiden name.

  32. Nina says...

    Not sure if this used to be a Belgian tradition or if it was just tradition in both my dad’s and mom’s family, but me and my siblings got our middle names from our godmother and godfather (eg my middle names are Annemarie Herman). Most of my peers didn’t get middle names which I used to think was better, but now I think it’s kind of nice to have two ‘secret’ names (for most official forms first and surname are fine, my middle names are used almost never). If anything, it’s a fun party conversation to talk about who has middle names and where did they come from :)

  33. Erin says...

    Our first child was born recently during the lockdown – we gave him my maiden name as his middle name: McKenzie. Our families all loved the idea thankfully.

  34. Eva says...

    Ours falls under a seventh criteria: a sign/omen? :)

    At 7am on a Saturday morning, as I peed on the stick that a few moments later would tell me I’m pregnant, the smoke detector on the other side of the door rang loud—exactly once. This earned our growing fetus the nickname “The Siren” for the duration of my pregnancy. At some point, I looked up the sirens of Greek mythology for name inspiration, and came across one I liked: Peisinoe. We ultimately came to a different first name, but when she was one day old and a nurse asked what to put on the birth certificate, I came back to that siren, so today her middle name is “Peia” :)

    *pronounced PAY-uh

  35. Jen says...

    We loved that our friends chose fun and badass names for their boys middle names (Havoc and Danger). It seemed like a way to give your kid a secret superpower. Our own middle names are both boring and super common.. We chose Fury as the middle name for our son, Moses Fury. But, if he had been female, we still would have used Fury as a middle name. My advice: have some fun!

    • Leanne says...

      Our pals have given each of their children a middle name as a birthday present – their daughter was given “Adventure” for her first birthday, and their took a bit longer to figure out (he’s 4) but he’s finally firmly decided that his middle name should be “Honey.” Both of them fit their personalities perfectly. I love this idea so much.