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Can a child have two names?

It is quite common for parents to give their child two names, whether it be a first and middle name or hyphenating the last name. There are no laws in the United States prohibiting a child from having two names, so it is perfectly legal for parents to choose more than one name for their baby. Here we will explore the reasons parents may choose two names, the process for including both names on legal documents, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of having two names versus one.

Why Do Parents Choose Two Names?

There are a few key reasons parents may opt to give their child two names:

  • To honor family members or friends – Parents may choose to use family surnames or the names of loved ones who have passed away as a middle name to pay tribute to them.
  • To give their child options – Some parents want their child to have options for what they go by day-to-day, so they choose a more formal first name and a nickname-style middle name.
  • Hyphenating last names – When parents have different last names, some choose to hyphenate their last names together to pass on a combination of both family names.
  • Cultural tradition – In some cultures, it is tradition to give children multiple names at birth.
  • To avoid confusion – If a child has a very common first name, parents may pair it with a more distinctive middle name to avoid mix-ups.

While any parents can choose to give their child two names, it is especially common for parents from Hispanic, Arabic, and Korean backgrounds to opt for two names due to cultural tradition. The possibilities are endless when it comes to finding the perfect combination of names for your little one.

How to Include Two Names on Legal Documents

When you have decided on two names for your child, it is important to know how to list both names on legal documents correctly. Here are some tips:

  • Birth certificate – The birth certificate will have a space for the child’s first, middle, and last name. The first and middle names can be filled in accordingly.
  • Social Security card – The Social Security Administration allows parents to list two first names in the First Name field, separated by a space. The middle name field can be left blank if two first names are used.
  • Passport – Like the Social Security card, a passport lists two names together in the First Name field, while the Middle Name field is left blank.
  • Medical forms – Health forms will have a space for first, middle, and last that can be filled in as the legal names are listed.
  • School enrollment – School registration and standardized testing forms will likely have fields for the legal first, middle, and last name.

The key is being consistent in listing your child’s first and middle names in the appropriate fields, just as they are listed on the birth certificate. Make sure you understand each document’s naming fields when filling in two names.

The Pros of Giving a Child Two Names

Deciding to give your child two names comes with several potential benefits:

  • Honoring loved ones – Using family surnames or the first names of relatives who have passed away in your child’s name is a touching way to pay tribute.
  • More nickname options – With two names, your child will have more nicknames to choose from based on their first, middle, and combined names.
  • Avoiding mix-ups – A more uncommon middle name can prevent confusion when other kids share your child’s common first name.
  • Flexibility – Your child may appreciate having options to go by their first or middle name in different settings.
  • Link to heritage – Hyphenating or using traditional names from your culture preserves a family’s background.

Having two names can be a great way to give your child options while also paying tribute to your family’s history.

The Potential Cons of Two Names

While there are many benefits to two names, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Lengthy signature – Signing a longer first and last name combo can be tedious for your child.
  • Filling out forms – Having an extra name field to fill out on documents takes extra time.
  • Confusion – Some people may accidentally call your child by their middle name instead of first.
  • Misspellings – The more names you have, the more chances for someone to misspell one.
  • Identity questions – Your child may get asked frequently whether they go by their first or middle name.

While not deal-breakers, these are annoyances that some parents want to avoid by just giving one name. However, the positives often outweigh the hassles.

Should My Child Use a Hyphenated Last Name?

When parents have different last names, one option is hyphenating both last names together for their child. Here are some things to note about hyphenated last names:

  • It memorializes both family names going forward.
  • It can be lengthier and cause some logistical issues on forms.
  • Your child can choose to drop part of the hyphenated name later if desired.
  • It may cause inconsistencies if future siblings don’t hyphenate.
  • Some countries legally limit the number of letters that can be in a last name.

Hyphenating is a personal choice each set of parents must make based on their reasoning and cultural norms. Some find it is a fair compromise.

Hyphenated Last Name Statistics

Here are some interesting statistics on the prevalence of hyphenated last names in the U.S.:

Year Percentage of Babies Born With Hyphenated Last Name
1960 0.9%
1985 2.3%
2016 3.6%

While not yet wildly popular, hyphenating last names is a trend that has steadily risen over the past few decades and allows parents to blend their family lineages.

What Order Should Two First Names Go In?

If giving your child two first names, the order you place them in can make a difference. Here are some common naming conventions:

  • First name first – The more formal first name typically goes first and preferred nickname second.
  • Shorter name first – It often flows better to say and write the shorter name before the longer one.
  • Alphabetical order – Some parents put the names in A-Z order, although this isn’t as common.
  • Most important name first – If honoring a loved one, that name often goes first.

At the end of the day, order comes down to personal preference and what sounds best. You can experiment with different orders out loud to see which flows best with your last name.

Popular Double First Names for Boys

Here are some top examples of double first names for baby boys:

  • William James
  • John Michael
  • David Alexander
  • Daniel Robert
  • Samuel Lucas
  • Benjamin Thomas
  • Matthew Ryan
  • Nicholas Andrew
  • Zachary Joshua
  • Joseph Patrick

Popular Double First Names for Girls

Here are some top examples of double first names for baby girls:

  • Mary Elizabeth
  • Sarah Marie
  • Emma Grace
  • Olivia Rose
  • Sophia Isabella
  • Ava Lynn
  • Emily Claire
  • Madison Mae
  • Charlotte Anne
  • Abigail Joy

Can a Child Drop Their First Name?

Once your child is older, they have the choice to go exclusively by their middle name if they prefer. Legally, your child’s first name will remain the same on all official documentation like drivers licenses, passports, and school enrollment unless the name is officially changed via the court system. However, informally, your child can choose to introduce themselves by their middle name and ask people to call them by that name in social settings.

Many kids with common first names like Sarah or John opt to start going by their middle name more often if they have multiple classmates with the same name to stand out. Just make sure your child knows any nickname preferences by the time they start school.

Can a Child Drop Their Middle Name?

Just like with the first name, a child isn’t required to go by their middle name in social situations, even though it will stay on legal documents. If your child prefers their first name only, that’s perfectly fine. The middle name will still be there if they ever want to use it.

Some parents intentionally give lengthy or eccentric middle names with the idea their child will never actually go by that name day-to-day. But if your child’s middle name has important familial meaning, make sure they know the history so they appreciate having it, even if unused.

Can a Child Legally Change Their Name?

Once a child becomes an adult, they have the right to legally change any part of their name through the court system. The steps to legally change a name differ somewhat by state but typically involve:

  • Filing a name change petition with the court
  • Submitting fingerprints for a background check
  • Placing a notice of the proposed name change in local newspapers
  • Appearing in court to approve the name change
  • Filing the court order with vital records agencies

This process allows an adult to officially drop their first, middle, or last name from all legal documents and records. Some reasons adults may change their names include:

  • Marriage – Taking a spouse’s last name
  • Divorce – Dropping an ex-spouse’s name
  • Transgender identity
  • Personal preference
  • Hiding identity

Name changes can help reflect major life events and transitions. As an adult, the name chosen as a baby no longer has to stick if unwanted.


In the end, giving your child two names provides more options for paying tribute to family or cultural heritage while also giving your child flexibility in identity. The process of including both names on legal documents is relatively straightforward. While there are some minor logistical hurdles, the personal meaning behind two names often makes it well worth any hassle for parents and children alike. Allowing your child two names gives them space to shape their own identity in the years ahead.