Double names on paper

I wrote recently about mash-up names and feminine first names with a masculine middle and this is related but yet a different angle — how does one deal, on paper, with having double names? By which I mean, if you were going to give your child two names that he or she would always go by, how would you decide to spell it and why?

I mean, I know a MaryAnn and a Mary Beth, a Roseanne and a RoseAnn, even an Elisa Beth; I’ve seen Marykate and Mary Kate, Marylee and Marilee. Maybe the daddy of them all for us kind of namers are the little boys honoring JP2 — I’ve seen JohnPaul and John Paul and John-Paul and Johnpaul. It all kind of makes me a little crazy because I love the idea of double names and could totally come up with some pretty fab combos, but (and maybe this is writer/editor me) how names look on paper — either written out on top of a school paper or signed on a check or filled out on a form — matters to me. I just want to know how am I *supposed* to do it?

Mary Beth, on paper, could result in a person getting called just “Mary” (perhaps assuming the “Beth” is a middle). (Actually, this happens even when hearing it out loud too, so …)

MaryAnn will forever confound people who, like me, want to get it right. (I do now with the MaryAnn I know, but it took a while.)

John-Paul’s hyphen is meant to keep the elements together, but may end up being more of a headache — do forms even take hyphens? Does it come across as overly stuffy or too particular, especially for a boy?

I know a little Marie-Therese, which I just love, but if I were her mother and I’d carefully selected such a beautiful name for her, I think I’d really hate people assuming they can shorten it to just “Marie.” Or maybe little Marie-Therese would shorten it herself when she got older, not because she wanted to but because she was tired of the hassle?

And how would you write your initials, if you had a hyphenated name? Would Marie-Therese McMahon be M-TM? Or MM? Are two names connected by a hyphen considered two names (hence initials M-T) or just one big one (initial M only)?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. 😉 Or at least, they knock out certain name contenders for me, because I just can’t come to a peace about how to write them. I really wanted John Paul (I think that spelling?) for one of our boys, but my husband’s a convert and he thought it might be a bit much for his mom to handle (especially since the boy I particularly wanted to name John Paul was born only a couple months after my husband became Catholic) — now I think, maybe I dodged a bullet? Would I have always been unsettled about whichever spelling of John Paul we decided on? Would he have finally succumbed to being called just John? (Nothing wrong with John! Just … it wouldn’t have been his name.)

This is when it’s somewhat burdensome to always be considering every aspect and angle of naming. This crazy mind of mine, it’s a blessing and a burden. :p

Please tell me, how do you handle names like these? Or what have you seen others do?


21 thoughts on “Double names on paper

  1. My sister is Mary Alice (my mom is Mary so it helps with some confusion). Her middle name is Alice, I think I would have added an additional middle name just because it seems like she doesn’t have one! But she seems to like it (and as an aside, there was a Mary Alice on one of those cake decorating shows).

    A friend of mine goes by Anne Marie and she says it’s annoying when people add a hyphen or remove the space, but she seems to like her name otherwise, and people get used to it.

    This is definitely an interesting topic, I’ll have to ask my mom how she decided to name my sister without a hyphen.


    • Oh yeah, Duff’s show right? Mary Alice is such a pretty combo, vintage-y and sweet, it was nice to hear it on the show. You bring up another good question though — to middle or not? I like a child to have options — different nickname options, ability to go by first or middle, etc. — and a double first name would seem to epitome of that — the bearer could consider it his/her full first, or could fashion it as a first-middle if that seemed more suiting … but then, if it’s a full first name, would he/she feel the loss of a middle? Or would adding a middle be too clunky? But then, loads of people have two middles (including three of my sibs) and don’t wind up in therapy because of it … a post for another day!

      I do actually consider one of my boys to have a pseudo double first — I call him by his first and middle a lot, because I like the combo, and I sort of consider his first name almost a nickname for his full name. But that’s just me, and my hubs thinks I’m crazy, and my son is just FirstName with everyone but me. Like I said … a blessing and a burden, this namey head of mine!

      I’m very interested to hear what your mom says!


  2. I know at least two John Pauls and they go by…John Paul. I am not sure if either has a middle name but I like it. My daughter has two middle names which I ended up hyphenating because I didn’t want her to have two middle initials (if that makes sense.) So her initials are MKG instead of MKMG. As you know, I really debated it but I am sure I have just confused future office employees for her. LOL.


    • I do love it, so so much. I think John Paul would be my preferred visual representation. I would be interested to know if they have a middle! A mom emailed me the other day actually, saying she was considering John Paul as a first name and asked if I thought it sounded okay with the middle she’d chosen … I think I’d do that, choose a middle also.

      Your MKG has such a gooorgeous name!! You know I love it!! 🙂 I’ll have to post about this soon, because my youngest sis has a hyphenated double middle — but because Mom thought the second middle would be less likely to be dropped from official forms and that kind of thing if it was hyphenated. (It hasn’t worked.) She does her initials EM-ST, so includes the hyphen, because she doesn’t want the second middle to get ignored. It’s such a personal preference, so I guess my wish for some sort of universal convention is unrealistic and inappropriate anyway.


  3. John Paul is a family double name… we have two, a father and a Jr (which incidentally makes my nephew a “JPII,” haha!). I have found that the mother really “rules” when it comes to establishing a name.. whatever she calls the baby, people *tend* to step in line, and the name sticks. Another advantage of John Paul is that it’s two, one-syllable names, so it doesn’t feel long and is easy to say. Both of the John Pauls go by “John Paul,” and it would be weird sounding to call the elder just “John” to many that know him. The mother of JP, Jr., though, *does* occasionally call him, “John,” so his name does get shortened by many (yet still somehow, he hasn’t totally lost the “Paul” even in that scenario). The elder also goes by “JP,” which helps solidify the double name for him.

    I think perhaps one way to solidify the name on paper is to give a separate middle name. So maybe “John Paul Anthony Smith”… I am also a writer and editor, and that would make me pause and consider that “John Paul” is actually his first name. Also, St. John Paul II is SO famous, that the double name connection would probably click readily for many. More obscure double combos might suffer from automatic shortening more.

    Our daughter’s name is often mistaken for a double-name smoosh. In fact, I am pretty sure my husband thinks it is one, haha, because when texting he abbreviates it to “JA”… I am always wondering who “JA” is! (I abbreviate her name to just “J”). And people are always trying to force it into being a double name by spelling it that way by adding a very awkward “e” to the middle of the name (to “complete” the “first name”… similar to people spelling “Julianna” like “Julieanna”… so sometimes you get a double name even when you didn’t ask for one, ha!).


    • Hmm I like your thoughts and experience re: John Paul! I do think “the mother really rules” and I’ve wielded that power a bit in my own family with certain of my boys that I don’t want called certain things. It does work!

      I think you’re right too that John Paul is such a well known double name that many people wouldn’t blink at it.

      That’s hilarious that your hubs initials your daughter JA! I would do J too, just like you, because yes! It’s one name, not a double. But I could totally see my hubs being like yours.


  4. I don’t like hyphenated names unless it’s a hyphenated last name. They just look awkward to me.

    We choose to mash two names together and have a Ruthmarie. It’s very clear it’s one name, not two.


    • I like Ruthmarie, pretty! It is very clear, you’re right. I’m not sure I would use a hyphen myself, for a regular double first name, but I do love how the French do it. Marie-Therese, for example. Jean-Pierre. Ooh lala! 🙂


    • I am firmly in the no-hyphen camp. We were about to do a double middle name for our last baby had it been a girl and I was just going to make it be two names. If the initials got shortened to just the first, that would have been ok. (IMB instead of the full IMTB, which kind of looks like a Myers-Briggs personality type! Ack! I never noticed that before!)

      If I were to name a child John Paul (which I wouldnt; I already have a John with a different middle name), I would just leave a space, and then do a separate middle name. If I wanted to combine Mary+Anne, however, I’d go with the traditional Marianne.


  5. But on a baby announcement, without a hyphen, will anyone understand that the two names go together? We have friends who have given their babies multiple middle names; what distinguishes between that and a double first name? This is hard for me, because I have been considering a hyphenated name as a way of coming to terms with a family first name I do not otherwise like.


  6. We have a John Paul Landon. He is 6 and has always gone by John Paul. Love his name soooo much 🙂
    Btw I just found your site and love it. I could use a baby name consultant with our 5th 😉


  7. We only have one of our own, so far, Mary Margaret and I explain that is her first name and Rose is her middle name. We do call her silly nicknames like MareMee, MareMarr, Mare, etc. but we really call her Mary Margaret. With others I usually ask. We have a lot of families in our area who are of Spanish, Portugese, Mexican, and South American heritage and many of them have double first and last names, so I just ask! Some of them really do go by all of them, like Jose Ramon and some just go by the first one like his sister Maria. One friend from the parish has a long family history of Mary ____ names so grandma is Mary Jo, my friend is Mary Beth and her daughter is Mary Cate. All go by both written separately as above. I love it!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. We did have trouble with her Monogram — one thing says Mary M the other says just MM while the other kids’ say Lily, Cole, Annie, Blaise, & Urban :/

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It just occurred to me how many double name guys we actually know, too! John Paul (several) a 13 year old John Mark, my brother in law and nephew are both Jon Andrew, senior goes by Jon, junior had always gone by Andrew until they moved to GA and my sister in law got WAY into that and started going by Kathleen instead of Kathi and started calling her son Jon Andrew 😛 His Facebook says he’s Andrew, though! I also know a John Joseph newly born as well as a Johann Felix from Germany. There’s also always Jean-Luc Picard 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m pregnant with a girl and I want to name her Piper Marie , but I’m sure how I would spell it on her birth certificate. I don’t want people to think Marie is her middle name when she spells it one paper and I’m not sure how comfortable with a hyphen . So would I go about spelling it PiperMarie,
    Piper Marie, Piper-Marie, or Pipermarie? Please do help if you know the answer.🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Congratulations on expecting your baby, Alexa! Piper Marie is so pretty! If you want people to know that Marie is the second part of her first name, and not a middle name, then I think Piper-Marie might be your best bet. You could do PiperMarie/Pipermarie — it’s the same idea as Maryann but much more unusual, so you’d probably have to explain it frequently, but if you don’t mind that, then go for it! It’s really whatever you feel most comfortable with. Even Piper Marie, no hyphen is fine, you’ll probably just have to explain it frequently, but as long as you’re firm and consistent each time it comes up, I think it’ll be fine.


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