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The question everybody asks soon-to-be parents after “Is it a boy or girl?” is “Do you have a name?” If they have picked a name and are willing to share it, the exchange goes something like this:


You ask the name. They hesitate, glancing lovingly at each other. Then one of them (usually the mother-to-be, because: labor) trots the two-piece title out like a brand new flavor of ice cream.

You pause, repeat the name aloud, and say how much you love it, after which they are compelled to explain how they chose it. It’s rarely a simple explanation either, so if you’re in a hurry, don’t even broach the subject.

The first name is usually an indulgent pick, maybe from a favorite movie or book, or after a childhood friend or an obscure British poet, or maybe it’s just a name the couple likes. But the middle name…the middle name is an entirely different story.

The middle name serves a purpose beyond semiotics (the study of sign and symbols), being that it’s not the primary signifier we identify with. It connects the prénom and surname, adding a layer of syllabic texture and intrigue.

A carefully selected middle name can discharge an obligation, preserve history, and appease in-laws all at the same time. It can carry the weight of tradition and fulfill the dying wishes of Great Grandma who always wanted a namesake, without sentencing your kid to a lifetime of answering to “Grizelda.”

The triad template we use today for names actually dates back to the Middle Ages, when Europeans were torn between giving children a family name or a saint’s name. The formula – given name first, baptismal name second, and surname third – emerged as a solution to this dilemma.

Parent Co. partnered with Babybay because they know some decisions are more difficult than others.

After the American Revolution, immigrants arriving in this country continued the practice of three names. Since it was originally associated with royalty and aristocrats, giving a child a middle name was emblematic of aspiring to the upper class. The trend took off, and within 100 years, middle names were commonplace.

The first U.S. government document that had a space for a middle name was the World War I enlistment form. Other official forms followed suit, requiring at least a middle initial, which remains the standard format to this day.

The use of categorical religious middle names expanded to include family names – often maiden surnames – and soon, any name was acceptable. From a records-keeping standpoint in a country with a booming population, this additional differentiation was a welcome one.

The function of modern middle names continues to evolve, telling a story far more complex than, “I come from a long line of old ladies.” For parents, middle names can be the repository of a shared past, like NSYNC alum Chris Kilpatrick and his wife, Karly, who named their son Nash Dylan after the folk singer Bob Dylan, whom they listened to on their first date.

A middle name can be a reminder of unique circumstances surrounding the birth, as it was for the baseball fan who went into labor during a recent postseason game and named her son Logan Bauer, after Cleveland Indians pitcher, Trevor Bauer. Or it can be a grateful tribute, as it was when Jessica Braddock chose Dallas as her daughter’s middle name to honor the city’s incredible hospitality after Hurricane Harvey.

Middle names are often a means of compromise for parents who can’t seem to agree, as was the case with musicians Ashlee Simpson and Peter Wentz who named their son Bronx Mowgli after neither would concede to the other’s first choice. Though the middle name seems like a consolation prize if your goal was to be first, some parents prefer its understudy role and embrace the opportunity to flex their creative muscles. It’s like a braver, livelier, more whimsical version of your child’s permanent identity.

Another option is to use the middle name as a generational connection, passing down one specific name as an intangible keepsake. This works well for indecisive parents who have difficulties coming up with one name, let alone two.

My own family has done this with my middle name, Louise. While I wasn’t crazy about the name as a kid, as an adult, I cherish sharing something with my grandmothers, aunts, a niece, and now my daughter.

Parents-to-be are inundated with major decisions on every front – from feeding, to sleeping arrangements, to childcare, to finances. They need to find a good doctor, read up on the latest safety concerns, figure out how to install a car seat, and stock up on baby clothes, the right gear, and supplies.

On top of all this, they need to come up with a name that blends with the last, has meaning, carries tradition, and won’t lend itself to embarrassing nicknames in grade school.

No pressure, parents! Your kids can always go by their initials.

Parent Co. partnered with Babybay because they know some decisions are more difficult than others.

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