Some are traditional, some
are second thoughts, some are omitted altogether and most get little
enthusiasm from those who bear them
By JENNETTE BARNES, Standard-Times staff writer July 9, 2006
Traditional is her middle
Karolyn McIntosh bears one of the most common middle names of the 20th
century: Ann. Even her sister has it.
"My mother was running out of names," said Ms. McIntosh, 29,
the youngest of four sisters.
She never liked the rhythm of Karolyn Ann. She doesn't use her middle
name at all, even for signatures, and she's not alone.
People do as they please with middle names. The love them or hate them,
use them or don't. They take them as first names, drop them altogether
or even use them after a first initial (as did writer F. Scott Fitzgerald).
Ms. McIntosh's first name, spelled with a "K," is far more unusual
than her middle name; it hasn't been among the top 1,000 American girls'
names since 1965.
Balancing an unusual or trendy first name with a more traditional middle
name is popular, according to an unscientific Standard-Times survey.
Witness these combinations submitted by new or expecting parents: Tyler
Stephen, Lukas Manuel, Connor Joseph and Aiden Keith.
Aiden, the name 28-year-old Holly Travers of Fall River chose for her
son, has grown consistently more popular since 1995, according to records
from the Social Security Administration, while Keith has dropped dramatically
in popularity, at least as a first name, since the 1970s.
The Social Security Administration tracks the popularity of first names,
but not middle names, at ssa.gov/OACT/babynames.
The most popular boys' names remain traditional, often stemming from Judeo-Christian
history. The top three were Jacob, Michael and Joshua for 2005.
Girls' names are more varied. Isabella and Ava made the top 10 for 2005,
while the top three were Emily, Emma and Madison.
Ms. McIntosh calls her middle name "blah," but her feelings
weren't enough to stop her and her husband, who live in Somerset, from
picking a fairly traditional middle name for their newborn son. The baby,
Tyler Stephen McIntosh, got his middle name from Dad.
So, by the way, did Aiden Keith Travers.
Middle names often come from the family tree.
Among the 10 people who responded to the survey, which was distributed
at classes for new and expecting parents, four people said using a name
from a relative was the most important factor they considered in choosing
a middle name. Another four prioritized the sound of the middle name with
the first and last names.
One person considered initials first; another wanted to name the baby
after important people in its life, who turned out to be family.
Even parents who didn't list family as the top factor often chose a family
Kimberly Wrightington, 35, of Fall River said initials were most important,
but gave her son the middle name of Donald after her husband's father.
Her own middle name the ubiquitous Anne, with an "e"
this time was a sheer accident. None of her siblings has a middle
name, but when she was born at St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River and someone
from the hospital asked her mother about the baby's middle name, her mother
"My mom always told me she was put on the spot to think up something
quick, so that's when they decided to name me after the hospital,"
Ms. Wrightington said.
When she and her husband Mark Wrightington named their son, they considered
Donald after the baby's grandfather, Carlton after his great grandfather,
and Lee, because it was delightfully short compared to the baby's other
names. In the end, the grandfather's name won out, and that's how little
Alexander Donald Wrightington got his long name.
Honoring family was a serious matter for Erik Thompsen, 28, of Somerset.
He got his own middle name from a grandfather who died of cancer while
Mr. Thompsen was in the womb. When he and wife Lucy Thompsen were expecting
a baby, the same thing happened the baby's grandfather, her father,
died of cancer. They decided that if they have a boy, his middle name
will come from his late grandfather, Manuel.
Robin Breault, 35, of Westport doesn't have a middle name.
"I kind of feel left out," she said.
She thinks of its absence every time she leaves blank the "middle
initial" box on forms.
"I've always wanted a middle name," she said. "My mother
said she hated her middle name and didn't want to give me a middle name
I wouldn't like."
When she and husband Jason Breault chose a middle name for their son Tyler,
who is 4 months old, they reviewed names from the family but couldn't
find one they wanted. So they made their decision based on names they
liked and the way the names sounded together, finally settling on Tyler
Mr. Breault, 33, carries the traditional Charles as a middle name. He
said he feels indifferent to the name, which came from a relative he supposedly
resembles but never met.
"Growing up, there was not a lot of reference to it," he said,
"but I think it's important to have a middle name."
"Why is it important?" his wife quipped, conscious, as always,
of her lack of a middle name.
"Because everyone else does," he said.
While countless books and Web sites are dedicated to names, few delve
deeply into the unique characteristics of middle names. One of the most
thorough Web pages on middle names is contained among the pages of namenerds.com,
brainchild of Boston-area resident Amy Norah Burch, 33.
Fascinated with names since childhood, she has long hated "Amy"
for its commonness. It was the second most popular girl's name the year
she was born.
She went to school with so many Amys, that in one eighth grade home economics
class, five out of six girls were named Amy. And she wasn't the only Amy
"No matter what job I have or where I'm working, there is always
one more Amy," she said.
At 15, she started going by her middle name, Norah.
Though not scientific, the information on her site is based on more than
2,600 survey responses and decades of obsession.
Rhythm is the reason so many girls have Ann or Marie as a middle name,
she said. Since many first names are accented on the first syllable, a
very short middle name like Ann or a middle name with a second-syllable
accent like Marie breaks up the "sing-songy" sound, she said.
Boys' middle names are different. Their middle names (as reflected in
The Standard-Times survey) often come from a father or grandfather, whereas
girls' names tend to wax and wane in popularity.
"Girls' names come and go as fashion more," Ms. Burch said.
The name Emily, which started coming into vogue when it hit the 50 most
popular girls' names in 1976, the year today's 30-year-olds were born,
has shut out all other names for the top spot since 1996.
Eventually, the fashionable becomes the mundane: Jennifer, the top name
in Social Security records from 1970 to 1984, dropped to 48th most popular
last year. But if middle names come from our ancestors, it could be hanging
around on birth certificates for years to come.