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Monday, May 2, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: Should Girls Be Given Middle Names?

Sherry writes:
I have a last name that is a very common first name for girls. I have friends in similar naming situations with the last names of Gale, Mallory and Shirley. (Though, I must say my last name is even more commonly a first name than any of those!)

My husband has two brothers with children- one has given his daughters middle names, the other has not. Of course, the theory for the non-middle-name givers is that the daughter's maiden name will become her middle name when she marries.

My maiden name did NOT become my middle name; I kept my original middle name, so now I have three first names.

Anyway, what does your readership think? Do girls get middle names? What if their last name will one day turn into a perfectly suitable middle name?

I absolutely think girls should be given middle names---or rather, that their "being a girl" shouldn't make their naming structure different than the structure we'd use for a boy. Some girls won't marry. Some girls who do marry will keep their own names. Some girls who marry will want to call themselves First Middle Married instead of First Maiden Middle. Some girls who marry will want to hyphenate their surname. Some girls who marry will have reason to want to disassociate from their family, rather than treasuring the surname in the middle name slot. Some girls who marry will want to use their married name socially but their maiden name professionally.

Giving a girl a middle name won't affect her choices later on: she still can, when she marries, drop that middle name and put her maiden name there instead. Or she can do what I did and add the maiden name as a second middle name. OR WHATEVER. But in the meantime, and in all the decades before she marries (if she does marry), she has a middle name, and it's useful to have it. In the U.S. it's useful because the naming culture is so strongly middle-name, I have even encountered the occasional computer form that won't let the middle-name slot be left empty. (Obviously this is a flaw with the form, and it should be FIXED, not allowed to dictate naming practices. I mention it only to illustrate how much "having a middle name" is culturally assumed.)

It's also useful if the girl is one of two with her first name in her class or in her extended family: some might prefer to be Abigail Louise, rather than Abigail M.

It's also useful for a girl who doesn't feel like her first name fits her, but doesn't really want to CHANGE her name, either: she can easily go by Louise, or by A. Louise.

It's also useful for differentiating among the near-inevitable case of more than one person in the country having the same first and last name combination. For tax forms, resumes, all legal documents, it's handy to have an extra identifying item. Not essential, and of course the other person might have the same middle name or middle initial---but still handy.

Plus, it's fun to choose a middle name, for those of us who enjoy baby names. And it's a good place for naming compromises: one parent gets his/her first choice for the first name, so the other parent gets more say in the middle name, that sort of thing. It's also an excellent place for a namesake name, especially if the name in question is not one that the parents would want to use in the first name slot. And it's a great place for any other name that the parents don't want to use in the first name position because of initial problems or popularity (either too common or too out-there) or any other similar issue.

And it gives her a classic 3-letter monogram.

And of course it is classically used to inform the child that he or she is in trouble: "Abigail Louise, you get in here RIGHT NOW and pick up that mess!"

I don't think it matters one single bit if the surname happens to be an established first name as well: either way, a middle name is useful, and leaving a slot free for when she marries is making too many assumptions.

Note: None of this means that I think people MUST give children middle names, or that it is somehow required---and of course things are done differently in different cultures and/or family traditions, and there are other reasons why a middle name might not be used (I had an acquaintance whose family had a tradition of letting the child choose his or her own middle name at a certain age, which I thought was charming). I mean only to answer the question about whether girls in particular SHOULD NOT be given middle names, in order to leave a space for their maiden names when they get married.

What do you all think? Should girls not be given middle names, in order that they can use their maiden names as middle names later on? Does it make a difference if the maiden name is a girl's name?


lifeofadoctorswife said...

I love ALL of Swistle's reasons for giving a girl a middle name. I personally loved my middle name (although I dropped it when I married) and I loved how it sounded with my first name and surname.

My mother had NO middle name, and that worked for her just fine. But as a person WITH a middle name, I think I would have missed having that little extra thing about myself. Maybe not?

Annika said...

I was not given a middle name. I did move my maiden name to that slot, but I would rather have had a middle name and therefore more options. I'm not MAD about it or anything, but if given the option I would prefer to have one.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything Swistle wrote. To expand on what she said about differentiating your child from other people with the same name: my husband has a very common name combination; it's not quite as bad as John Smith, but he has worked at a place where FIVE people had the same first and last name. The only way they could get distinct email addresses was by using the middle initial. Also, because of having the same common name as someone else, he ended up on a security list that had him getting flagged for screening every time we flew somewhere. He started buying his tickets with his full name, and he hasn't been screened since.

Lena Phillips said...

My sisters and I weren't given middle names. Our parents struggled enough finding first names and so that is their reasoning for no middle name. I secretly loved being different and not having one, although I often made middle names up for myself when I was in elementary school (it regularly changed, but was always one of my best friend's names). Now that I'm an adult I love that I wasn't given one so that I could use my maiden name in the middle name slot, or rather, keep my name as it was but tack on a married name. I realize that can still be done even when when having a middle name (i.e. Emma Grace Williams Nelson), but I'm not one for run-on names.
With all of that being said, we gave our daughter a middle name without question and plan to with all of our children.
I'm a walking contradiction.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's putting a lot of pressure on the girl to expect her to switch her maiden name to the middle name slot. She may not want to keep it once she marries, she may decide not to take her new husband's name, etc. In short, I think it takes away her ability to make the decision for herself, if that's the sole reason behind nixing the middle name.

On a side note, I, too, have a very common girl's first name as my maiden name (along the lines of Jennifer), and have always entertained the idea of using it as my future daughter's middle name. I think it's a lovely way to honor the maternal side of the family (even if I think my maiden name does screech "Hi, was born in the 80s!").

StephLove said...


Anonymous said...

I have never heard of dropping the middle name when taking on a married name!

Rachel said...


Brenda said...

I dropped my middle name when I got married. My middle name is my maiden name and last name is my marrried name. I go by my maiden name professionally and personally my married name. It just works for me. Surprisingly all my husbands suggestion!

I say give a baby a middle name if fir no other reason then a monogram.

Ashley said... seems pretty sexist to assume that girls shouldn't have middle names because they're going to change their name when they're married. I never changed my name, and when I do, it will be hyphenated. I'm certainly not getting rid of my middle name!

If you're going to opt out of a middle name for your child, do so because you just don't feel the need to give a middle name- not because you're assuming your daughter will conform to a specific naming system you've picked out. (I'm saying "you" as a general term, not specific to Sherry- I think she is wise to write in!)

Anonymous said...

My mother dropped her middle name when taking my father's last name, but that was mainly for logistical purposes---it was the 70s and systems were not really set up for multiple middle names. Today, I don't think that's an issue to the same extent---our state has suggested policies on how to choose middle initials, etc. Most of my female friends either kept their maiden names (vast majority) or took their husband's name but kept both middle and maiden so that they have (and in several cases use) four names. I don't know of anyone in my generation who dropped a name.

That said, it was definitely tradition in my dad's family that boys got middle names and girls didn't, for that very reason. It ended with the generation born in the 50s---my dad and all of his cousins gave their daughters middle names. Consequently, I tend to think of it as a somewhat dated tradition, but that's just my experience. I like having a middle name, though! My parents followed the tradition in my mom's family instead, which was that each child got a first name that was his or her own and a middle name from a beloved family member---so I love that connection to family. That's what we plan to do for our own children, too.

Patricia said...

A poll would have been easier for this one, Swistle.;) I vote 'yes': girls should be given middle names -- for all the reasons you stated.

Swistle said...

Patricia- I couldn't come up with a good way to phrase it, or I would have!

Beth said...

Am I the only one who bristles (slightly) at the use of the term "maiden" name? I know that is the typical term that we use for a woman's given last name, but it always seems dated and a bit sexist to me. I didn't take my husband's name when we married, but I never think of it as my "maiden" name- it's just my name. I think "given" name is a better term. I hope it catches on, eventually. That said, of course I think girls should have a middle name if the parents are of the mindset to give children a middle name. Gender shouldn't play a role in the decision.

Swistle said...

I did find it awkward while writing the post---and "married name" isn't much better, is it? "Given" won't work, though, I don't think, since that's the word we use for the non-last-name names. Men just call it their last name; I'd think women, too, could call it a last name in most circumstances. "Family surname" or "original last name" might work, too---although in any situation where there's already an established term (in this case, "maiden name"), a different term for the same thing will cause confusion until/unless it's widely adopted.

Anonymous said...

Agree completely. Also, I am from the upper midwest and the vast majority of women my age in my social circle have picked a brand new last name (not taken their husbands - the husbands changed their last names too) or kept their own last name. Taking the husband's last name just isn't as common as it used to be. Neither, for that matter, is traditional marriage (she could be gay, single, decide not to formally marry, etc.) but not giving her a middle name for the reason that her "maiden" name would take that spot is so assumptive its almost offensive - to me, anyway.

Lastly, middle's are awesome, and you can add and get nicknames with them (initials like CC, adding part of it so instead of Mary you get Mary Beth etc.) and you can honor people with them, and you can honor other cultures with them if you couldn't get it all in with the first name. I loved how my middle name soften andd dignified my whole name. I think I'd lean more towards two middle names!

vanessa said...

I think it's utter nonsense--not to mention completely sexist--to say that you shouldn't give girls a middle name because they might get married. What? Are we still in...some year in which this seems okay?
This is totally different than not giving your child a MN because it's a naming tradition/culture/etc.
But really. Middle names are awesome. And even if they weren't--for heavens sakes, not everyone gets married and not everyone who gets married takes their husbands name! goodness!

(i feel kind of strongly about this).

Swistle said...

Ooo, I wish I'd thought of Anon's point, above, about how a middle name can soften/dignify/etc. a first name! YES. A middle name can add SPIN that either counteracts the effect of a first name, or accentuates it, or changes the way it comes across. Amelia Louise is a very different name than Amelia Wren or Amelia Sawyer or Amelia Sunshine or Amelia Scarlett.

Anonymous said...

I am from the UK and have honestly never heard of a person replacing their middle name with their maiden name! It is slightly more common for women to keep their surname then double barrel their childrens name with the husbands surname.

But in the vast majority of cases (at least i think so) the women will, on marriage, replace her surname with her husbands one. And that is it!

(middle names are also good identifiers esp if the surname is common - there may be 3 ella smith's born this month but if they each have a different middle name tracing in the future can be easier!)

Joanne said...

It never occurred to me to take my husband's name, but I wouldn't like any deal where I *lost* my middle name - to me that seems like a double whammy - you don't get to have your original last name, AND we're going to take your middle name, too! However, I know women who have done it, and happily, so clearly we all have our own opinions about it. I still think it's really wrong, somehow, to make a decision about what a woman will do when she is a baby, or before.

Also, I just love choosing a middle name, for the reasons Swistle says and because - well, I just think of my kids' names as being incomplete until they have a middle name. Veronica is completely different than Veronica Lucy, to me. That might just be me and my Irish Catholic upbringing, where everyone used to be called by their first and middle names, because so many first girls were called Mary (Mary Margaret, Mary Ann, Mary Ellen, etc.). My mother's name is Rose Bridget and no one EVER called her just Rose until she went to (public) high school, she didn't know who they were talking to, ha!

Anyway, I vote not just NO but HELL NO.

Slim said...

I've heard "birth name" as the alternative to "maiden name."

My parents gave me and my sister what I think of as "filler" middle names (mine is the 60s equivalent of "Rose," I think) and my brothers family last names as middle names, clearly assuming that my sister and I would drop them when we got married and use our birth names as middle names.

We both got married. We both kept our middle names. And my full name, bland as can be and including the middle name, is the same as that of someone else in my town. I am the one who has NOT skipped out on my bills, creditors, so please stop calling.

The Shabby Princess said...

When I got married, I took my husbands last name and dropped my maiden name. My maiden name was a word and I never really liked it, althogh it was my nickname for a big part of my life. I also like having a middle name, my middle name was after my cousin and I like that my parents wanted to honor her. I like that!

Christine said...

I think it's pretty sexist idea to not give a girl a middle name because it is assumed that she will get married and use her birth name as a middle and husband's surname as a last; for all the reasons Swistle mentioned.

For what it's worth, I never changed my last name when I got married. Down the line I might do it legally, but socially I accept mail and invitations as Christine , even though I occasionally forget that anyone even might call me that. (Like this weekend when I was added to a list and told the host that I was Christine rather than Christine ).

I like the middle name slot. While mine sounds generic, I was given it after a great aunt that I was fond of. I like that when I give my full name, there's a little bit of her there too.

Christine said...

Ack, stupid html cut out all my quotes. In any case, I varied between Christine "HisLast" and "MyLast"

For what it's worth, I never changed my last name when I got married. Down the line I might do it legally, but socially I accept mail and invitations as Christine "HisLast", even though I occasionally forget that anyone even might call me that. (Like this weekend when I was added to a list and told the host that I was Christine "MyLast" rather than Christine "HisLast").

Karen L said...

Sexist and heteronormative as all get out. There are lots of perfectly good reasons for giving zero, one, or two middle names to any child. But the expectation that a girl will throw away a middle name to make room for her (also likely patrilineal) "maiden" name is not one of them. I'm guessing it's a regional thing, but I've never heard of people tossing the middle name when taking a new last name.

As it happens, we gave my son no middle name (like his father) but we did give my daughter one (like me).

Karen L said...

As for wording a poll, how about:

All else being equal, boys should be given a middle name and girls should not.
Strongly Agree
Strongly Disagree

C in DC said...

And all of this assumes that the girl will get married...

Anonymous said...

OR, if you live in New York State, when you get married they tell you that you cannot take your maiden name as your middle name. I managed to do it by going through SSA first before changing it through the DMV, but I still was yelled at repeatedly, and then again when my son was born. All you are allowed to do is replace your last name with his last name or some combination of the two (some hilarous possibilities there!)

Karen L said...

Anonymous in NY, that's appalling. Here in Ontario, you can pretty much change it how ever you want; it's just that you can change your name for FREE if it's a replacement or combo. And both parties get that privilege. In fact, as long as there is no fraudulent intent, either party can simply assume the other's last name without doing a formal legal name change (and go back and forth between pre-married and married names). You start by showing your marriage certificate to our version of the DMV and they'll reissue your driver's license in whichever combo of last names you want.

Anonymous said...

My mom had a first, middle and last name. When she married my father, she took his last name as hers, dropped her middle name and made her maiden name her middle name. My sister, my mom and I all have the same middle name (my mom's Maiden name). It works okay, but I really wish that the three of us didn't have to share the same middle name.

Anyway, our last name (my dad's surname) is a VERY common girl name from the 1980s and 1990s (when I was growing up) and when I got married, lots of people suggested taking it as a middle name, but I didn't like it. I kept my middle name (that I share with my sister and mom) and my husband and I hyphenated our last names.

I agree with Swistle -- there are a TON of reasons why a young woman would NOT end up putting her maiden name as her middle name. And even if she does (like my mom did) there's no reason that she can't drop her given middle name in order to do so. Not giving her a middle name at all (if your REASON for doing so is so that she can add her maiden name as a middle name when she gets married) is forcing her into a box that she might not fit in. You're setting an expectation for her about her future relationships and choices that is unfair. Plus, if she and all her sisters did that, they'd all have the same middle name (which, I know from experience, is kind of boring).

Either you can choose not to give middle names at all, or you can choose to give middle names to all your children, but you should never choose to eliminate middle names for girls simply for the fact that they are girls and MIGHT choose to take their maiden name as a middle later on. Specifically denying a little baby girl a middle name is the same thing as telling her:

1. We are certain that you will get married and that you will take the name of your husband. (We aren't even considering the possibility that you'll be partnered with another woman, much less that you'll marry a man but that your husband will choose to take your name instead, or that you'll hyphenate).

2. We want you to keep your dad's surname. Period. We don't even trust you with a nice middle name because we know that you might choose to keep it instead of dropping it and clinging to your maiden name instead. We're making it very clear that we WANT you to do this and that we don't think that other options would be palatable. There is a gaping hole in your name for one reason only: so that it will be filled with your father's name when you take the name of your husband.

When you think about it, this is a SUPER patriarchal idea. I would be horrified if my parents did this to me.