A majority of Americans are given a middle name when they are born. The origins of giving children middle names dates back to the Middle Ages, when parents struggled between giving a baby a family name or the name of a Christian saint. So they opted to give children a given name first and a baptismal name second with the surname last. This practice carried over to the United States from Europe and became widespread.
Because of this, many of the most popular middle names in the States and in Europe are storied and historic, often tracing their roots back to religion or royalty, the latter having employed multiple middle names to signify their class and status.
While first names can be quite trendy and rise and fall in popularity, middle names are much more steady in their status. That's because middle names are still often the place where parents honor a relative or use a traditional family name from their heritage. According to genealogy site Ancestry.com, the following are some of the most common middle names of all time. Is one of your family names on the list?
The most popular middle name for boys is James, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jacob. The name appears in the New Testament of the Bible and has been the first name of many English kings and American presidents, as well as famous fictional characters like James Bond. Celebrities with the middle name James include Al Pacino, Gary Cooper, Tim Curry, O.J. Simpson and Bill Murray. Celebrities have begun using it as a middle name for girls as well, with Audra McDonald, Nev Schulman and more giving the middle moniker to their daughters.
The most popular middle name for girls is Louise, the French feminine form of the male name Louis. The name has traveled across languages and cultures, having variations in German, Portuguese, Russian, Estonian and even Maori. Celebrities with the middle name Louise include Aretha Franklin, Meryl Streep, Madonna and Princess Caroline of Monaco.
John in the English form of a Hebrew name found in the Bible and meaning "the grace of God." It was brought back to Western Europe after the Crusades and became extremely popular, inspiring other language's iterations such as Johann, Ian, Ivan and Sean. Famous people with the middle name John include President Donald Trump, Jerry Garcia, Robert Downey Jr. and Steve Nash.
Originally a Germanic name, Rose became popular in the 19th century in reference to the flower. Many people over the years have picked the romantic name for their daughters. Sylvester Stallone gave all three of his daughters the middle name Rose, calling it a great "neutral" middle name. Both McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman of the 2012 Olympic gymnastics "Fierce Five" have the middle name Rose, as did Princess Margaret and iconic burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee.
William comes from the Germanic name Willhelm, which combines the words for "will" and "helmet." It is associated with guardians and protection and became a popular name in England after the Norman conquest by William the Conqueror. The name was passed down through many generations of royals and commoners alike and inspired other names such as Liam, Willa, Guillermo and Bill. Celebrities with the middle name William include Tom Selleck, Henry Cavill, Stephen Hawking, Jimmy Johnson, Bear Bryant and Johnny Carson.
The English name Grace, derived from the Latin word gratia, means "God's favor" and also refers to elegance of movement. The Three Graces in Greek mythology were the goddesses of charm and beauty. The name came to America from England through the Puritans who used the name in reference to the Christian virtue. Puritans also popularized other virtue names like Mercy, Constance and Justice. Celebrity parents Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, and William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman all gave their daughters the middle name Grace.
Thomas comes from an Aramaic name meaning "twin" but became popular in the Christian world because of the martyred Biblical apostle named Thomas as well as St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, and St. Thomas Aquinas. Musicians Jason Mraz, Frankie Avalon, Davy Jones and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard all share the middle name Thomas, and some celebrities like C. Thomas Howell and Paul Thomas Anderson are known by their full names.
This timeless name is the middle name of classic stars like Shirley Temple, Mae West, Deborah Kerr and Ella Fitzgerald as well as modern celebrities like Mary J. Blige, Sarah Hyland and Peta Murgatroyd of "Dancing with the Stars." Jane is a feminine derivative of the name John. It's the most popular feminine form ahead of other iterations such as Jean, Janis, Jeanette, Joan and Shavonne.
One of the most iconic people with David as a middle name is U.S. president Dwight David Eisenhower. Baseball greats Mark McGwire and Randy Johnson, KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders and Hollywood stars Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Taron Egerton all share the middle name David as well. David comes from the Hebrew word "beloved" and was the name of the famed second king of Israel.
Another royal name that has remained popular as a girl's middle name is Elizabeth. Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton sported the middle name before marrying into royalty. She passed the middle name along to her daughter, Princess Charlotte. The middle name also belongs to American pop royalty in Whitney Houston and Katy Perry. Elizabeth is another name that comes from Hebrew, meaning "promise of God." There are prominent Elizabeths in the Bible, including the mother of John the Baptist, and the name has more than a hundred variations, including Isabella, Ella, Elsa, Eliza, Elissa, Lisa and Liliana.
Robert is a name of Germanic origins meaning "bright fame." It has been a popular and traditional British name since it was introduced in the Norman conquest. Rupert and Robin both evolved from Robert. Famous folks with the middle name Robert include David Bowie, Chris Evans, Bobby Darin, Peter Jackson, Danny Elfman and Robert Redford, who goes by his middle name.
Anne or Ann is the English form of the French name Anna, itself a variant of the Hebrew and Latin name Hannah, meaning "gracious" or "favored." The simple name has been extremely popular in the Western world, and is the middle name of historic figures such as Mary Todd Lincoln as well as modern stars including Katie Couric, Karen Carpenter, Cindy Crawford, Hilary Swank and Jennifer Garner.
Old English for "wealthy guard," the name Edward was the name of many Anglo-Saxon kings and later kings of England. This traditional royal name is the middle name of businessmen Warren Buffet and Ted Turner; athletes James Harden, Lance Armstrong and Pete Rose; and entertainers Dan Aykroyd, Paul Lynde and Rod Serling.
Inspired by the name of the month, which was named after the Roman earth goddess Maia, May and its alternative spelling Mae are popular because of their simplicity. May is also a diminutive of names such as Mary, Maria Margaret and Mabel, so parents wishing to honor a family member with one of those names but also wanting something new might opt for May. May (or Mae) is the middle name of many famous women, including Louisa May Alcott, Liza Minnelli, Anna May Wong, Shirley Jones, Bettie Page, Brenda Lee and Eartha Kitt.
Meaning "rock" in Greek, Peter was popularized in the Christian world as a nod to the apostle Peter. Variations include Piers, Pierre and Pedro. Famous men with the middle name Peter include Viggo Mortensen, Timothy Dalton, Yogi Berra, Ed McMahon and Flea from the band Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Marie is the Czech and French version of Mary that has become popular around the world and across languages and cultures. Diarist Anne Frank's middle name was Marie, and it's also the middle name of Czech-born Ivana Trump and her daughter Ivanka. Other women with the middle name Marie are Gloria Steinem, Selena Gomez, Jessica Alba, Vanna White, Megyn Kelly, Joan Jett, Carrie Underwood, Marie Osmond and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Lee is one of the most common middle names for boys, with plenty of celebrities being known for this middle name, including David Lee Roth and Jerry Lee Lewis. The name was a common family surname that was turned into a middle name to honor relatives. Plenty of female stars also have this middle name, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Jacqueline Kennedy and spouses Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi.
One of the most popular girls names in the world, for both first and middle names, Mary's popularity also comes from its use in Christianity and Judaism. Mary is the Latin form of the Greek name Maria, which is itself based on the Hebrew name Miryam. There are different theories about the name's meaning, but one of the most common translations is "bitter" or "rebellious." Mary has been the name of some spitfire women including Vivien Leigh and Amelia Earhart as well as celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Joan Cusack and Kris Jenner and Kourtney Kardashian.
Christopher comes from a Greek Christian name meaning "carrier of Christ." It's been an English name since the 15th century, and many popular figures today have it as a middle name, including Will Smith, Johnny Depp, Ed Sheeran, Conan O'Brien and Drew Brees.
Amy comes from the Old French word amée meaning "beloved." It was popularized in the 19th century in part by Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel "Little Women." To this day, it continues to be a popular first name and middle name for girls.
Alexander is a name with noble history. It comes from the Greek for "defender of man" and was the name of biblical characters as well as another name of the legendary Greek hero Paris. But its rise to fame can be attributed to conqueror Alexander the Great. Today, it's the middle name of Prince George of Cambridge as well as other accomplished men such as actor Cary Grant, author A.A. Milne and NBA player Klay Thompson.
While its origins are murky, Catherine was popularized due to its Greek meaning of "pure" and its association with the 4th-century Christian martyr, whose name was spread by crusaders upon their return to Western Europe. The name was later used by royalty, including Catherine the Great of Russia. Many strong women have since been given the middle name (or its variation Katherine), including Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers, Claire Danes and first lady Pat Nixon.
In Hebrew, Michael means "Who is like God?" — with the implied answer being "no one." Michael is the only named archangel in the Bible. He is portrayed as a protector and is the patron saint of soldiers. The name was popularized along with the spread of Christianity, making its way to Europe in the Middle Ages. Michelle, Michaela, Miguel, Mick and Micha are all variations of Michael. Many modern tough guys bear the middle name Michael, including John Wayne, Kevin Costner, "Baywatch" icon David Hasselhoff and superhero movie stars Chris Pratt and Hugh Jackman.
A shortened form of Katherine, the name Kate has been around in Europe since the Middle Ages but originated in Greek meaning "pure." Examples of stars with Kate as a middle name are Jennifer Hudson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Asia Kate Dillon and Elsie Fisher.
Daniel is a Hebrew name meaning "God is my judge." The name was popularized in Europe during the Middle Ages thanks to the biblical prophet named Daniel. Daniel is a popular middle name sported by famous actors, musicians and athletes, including Jon Hamm, Louis Armstrong and Arnold Palmer.
Meaning victory, the name Victoria has become associated with European royalty as many queens and princesses since the reign of Queen Victoria have born the name. In fact, Princess Eugenie's middle name is Victoria, which she shares with celebrities Joy Behar, Kim Cattrall and Elizabeth Montgomery. Fictional characters such as Lorelai Gilmore and Ramona Flowers even have the middle name Victoria. Many of these middle names were inspired by Queen Victoria of England, whose loyal subjects also attached her name to Victoria Falls, Lake Victoria and many more of the most incredible landscapes in the whole entire world.
More From The Active Times: