June 28, 2013 at 8:14 AM ET
When Kim Kardashian and Kanye West revealed their daughter’s name last week – North West – the moniker got as much attention for its direction-inspired twist as it did for what it was missing: a middle name.
While mom and dad both have them (Kimberly Noel and Kanye Omari), baby Nori, as she will be called, goes without.
“I can only think that they chose no middle name because they really wanted to emphasize the pun quality of North West … They wanted to be sure that she had to introduce herself as North West,” says Pamela Redmond Satran, founder of Nameberry, a baby name website and author of several books, including “The Baby Name Bible: The Ultimate Guide by America’s Baby Naming Experts.”
So what, we wonder, is the deal with middle names? Why do parents who give them, choose them? And is it unusual for those, like Kimye, to dismiss them?
It’s custom, says Frank Nuessel, a professor of modern languages at the University of Louisville and the editor of “Names: A Journal of Onomastics” (which is what lay people call the study of names).
In the United States, children traditionally have middle names. Before parents gave creative monikers to their children, middle names helped people tell the difference between all the John Smiths and Ann Whites, explains Nuessel. Now, parents want unique names, first and middle, for their progeny.
“I would say it is more unusual than it used to be for a baby to [be without] a middle name. The trend has been going toward babies having more meaningful middle names,” Redmond Satran says.
Nuessel agrees; he finds people commonly use surnames or the names of family members who have passed away as middle names.
“It’s a way of preserving the memory,” he says.
Some celebs have been known to go the extra length for their kids’ middle names, with multiple ones that cover all bases.
Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin named their children Apple Blythe Alison Martin and Moses Bruce Anthony Martin. Their middle names are the names of the couple’s parents (Paltrow’s are Blythe and Bruce and Martin’s are Alison and Anthony). Nicole Ritchie and Joel Madden also gave their kids multiple middle names, Harlow Winter Kate Ritchie Madden and Sparrow James Midnight Madden, but this couple picked middle names simply because they liked them.
And, the most highly anticipated baby of the year, the royal baby, will likely have three middle names, a royal tradition. Americans became acutely aware of this during the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981 when the young bride stumbled over Charles Philip Arthur George during her vows. Nuessel says, much like the rest of us, the royals use middle names to honor ancestors. But, people don’t just honor loved ones with middle names, says, Redmond Satran. She sees middle names, such as Landry or Palin, that honor people parents admire.
For many parents, middle names arise because the couple cannot decide on one name—the top two become the child’s first and middle name. But, indecision between the two names also can lead to a child being without a middle name. Harry S. Truman is a famous example. His parents couldn’t choose a middle name and opted for "S," which stood for nothing.
And then, there’s also the “it just sounds right” reason for choosing a child’s middle name.
“[It] is euphony or a pleasant sound. You want to [pick] something that when you put the whole [name] together it sounds good,” explains Nuessel.
Well, North West does have a certain ring to it. Redmond Satran says the name reminds her of the name of the philanthropist, Ima Hogg, who also lived without a middle name. There was a rumor her father bestowed this name on her to curry favor with Texas voters while he was running for governor. Hogg became one of the most respected women in Texas and proved a parent’s love of puns doesn't have to hold one back.