Choosing a first and middle name is an important job for parents expecting a new bundle of joy—and also for people looking to rename themselves. There are countless combinations that could be used, including foregoing the middle name altogether.
First and Middle Name Combinations
There are literally countless name combinations that a person could settle on for a child. Across history, there have been a few different approaches that people use when trying to find the perfect combination.
The History of First Names
First name, given name, or forename—they’re all one in the same—is the name that we are typically addressed as. First names were introduced between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago as a way to differentiate between people in the same clan or family who would have the same last or surname.
The oldest recorded name dates back to around 3400 to 3000 BCE and was found in modern-day Iraq. The name “Kushim” was written on a tablet, and it is believed that Kushim was an accountant. There are 18 tablets bearing Kushim’s name that record the sale of various goods.
The History of Middle Names
Middle names were recorded in Italy as early as the 13th century among nobles and elites, and their use became more prominent during the Middle Ages. The Italians introduced and widely popularized the use of middle names as we know them today as parents wanted to add the name of a saint to their child’s given name. Many ended up giving their child a first, given name and adding a saint’s name at baptism.
Over the next 200 years, middle names spread to other parts of Europe and became more common throughout the classes.
The Rise of Middle Names
By the early 19th century, it was recorded in France that 37 percent of boys had a middle name. Ninety years later, the use of middle names in France rose to 46 percent of boys.
During the Revolutionary War, only about five percent of the population in the United States had recorded middle names. But by 1900, almost everyone born in the U.S. had a middle name.
Popular First Names in 2021
Each year, the United States Social Security Administration releases the most popular baby names for that year.
For 2021, the top ten most popular male baby names were:
In 2021, the top ten most popular girls’ names in the U.S. were:
Popular Middle Names
While there is not as much data related to the usage and popularity of middle names, there has been some research conducted to see what the most common middle names are in the United States. The names below are placed in their rank along with all variations of the spelling of that name. For example, Lee and Leigh are ranked together to make the fifth spot on the list.
10 Most Popular Boys’ Middle Names
10 Most Popular Girls’ Middle Names
Baby Name Combinations
When selecting a first and middle name combination, many want the two names to flow and sound nice together, and with the baby’s last name. There are some tips and suggestions that may help you when searching for the perfect combination.
Number of Syllables
Having a complimentary number of syllables usually makes name combinations flow and sound well. For example: A one-syllable first name with a two or three-syllable middle name like Emma Grace or Noah James.
People may overlook the first name/last name combo but that might be the best place to start when deciding on a first name. If the last name has four or more syllables, using one or two-syllable names for the first and middle names may be the way to go. Otherwise, it can create a very long name as a whole.
Look at Current and Past Trends
As mentioned, the Social Security Administration (SSA) releases the most popular baby names every year. The SSA has name records going back to the 1880s, and looking at past trends might give some interesting inspirations to add to your name list.
Depending on what you are searching for, avoiding current trends and thinking about what having that name might be like as an adult is important. If the name has been on the top ten list for many years, chances are your child won’t be the only Olivia or Liam in their class.
Naming Babies Around the World
Across the world, you can find cultural traditions that dictate when and what a baby is named. In some places, what a parent can and cannot name a baby is even dictated by federal law.
In Greece, babies are traditionally named either seven or ten days after they are born. In the case of a first-born son or daughter, they are typically named after their paternal grandparents. Many Greek people are named after saints as well, so in addition to celebrating their birthday, they also get to celebrate their saint’s name day.
Germany has a great deal of restrictions on what a person can and cannot name a baby. German first names must be approved by the population registry. Names have been rejected in the past due to no clear gender for the name or the use of a last name as a first name. Each time a parent submits a name there is a fee of 12 Euros, so many parents opt to select a pre-approved name.
Similar to Germany, Iceland has some restrictions in place when naming a baby. Iceland introduced the Icelandic Naming Committee in 1991. There are naming rules that parents must follow, such as a name must be given in the first six months, the child cannot have more than three given names, and you must use a name that has already been pre-approved and on the naming committee. If a parent wants to give their child a name that is not on the list, they can pay a fee and submit a request—but it could be rejected.
The Japanese naming ceremony, known as a shichiya, is when families celebrate the birth of a new baby. The ceremony occurs when the baby is seven days old, and this is when their name is officially presented. The baby is presented with a sign—called a meimeisho—that has their name on it. The meimeisho is typically hung above the baby’s crib or in the family’s shrine.
Additionally in Japan, the Japanese Imperial Family does not have a surname. They only have given names and there are no family names that are passed down. If a woman marries into the Imperial Family, she loses her last name and is only recognized by her given name or names.
Finding the Combination That’s Right for You
While there are so many name combinations out there, finding the one that is right for you or your child is no small feat. If you’re stuck between a few names, try putting them into our random name picker and see what you get. Maybe you’ll stumble upon the perfect combination!
Emily is a freelance writer and teacher. Originally from New York, Emily now lives and works in Europe.