Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Name Game: The Power of Identity and the Family


We once knew a couple that named their son and daughter after themselves.  The son and daughter carried the father and mother’s exact name (respectively).  Placing a phone call to their home caused somewhat of an identity crisis. You might ask to speak to “Laura ______”, and you would have to clarify which “Laura _____” you wanted, (mother or daughter).  

What is a name?

Names are symbols that describe people, places and things. When it comes to family there is often great emotional connotation associated with a name.  Anciently it was believed...
that to know the name of something gave you power over it.  This began the belief in the need for two names, one that was common and one that was private and sacred. Also, some cultures believe that your name should change as you evolve. Names elicit emotional power that connects itself to a family’s hopes, dreams, loves, tragedies, and optimism.  Many times this energy is directed toward the naming of the next generation.

Our name marks our time and place on this earth. Before we receive our name it seems we have no place in this world but once we are endowed with a name, we are given a beginning that is all intrinsically connected to family. 

What is the power of a family name?

Maybe you name your child for your great- great- great- grandfather? How could someone that lived four generations before you have any effect on your son’s life?  Names have become one significant way that we pass on family and cultural values to the next generation.  We want our children to remember their cultural connections to distance lands, or maybe we have great pride in a family members accomplishments or character traits? In either case as a teen begins to understand the world around them they begin to also understand that their name not only reflects their past family but also the power of their future life.

Why do Teens often change their names?

I have been considering how names affect teens as they develop their own sense of identity.  My father’s parents called him by his middle name their entire life, but after Dad left home he chose to have business associates, friends and immediate family call him by his first name.  As our oldest son found his sense of identity, he politely requested we no longer use the familiar childhood nickname, (a shortened version of his first name), but that we rather call him by his formal first name.  And lastly, in that last two years our youngest son has gone from being called by his first name to having the entire family call him by his middle name.  It has taken me the entire two years to become comfortable with this, but because he shares a first name with his father I felt that it actually saved us all a great deal of confusion.

Consider that our name is the “tag” (so to speak) that monitors the beginning, the middle and the end of our life. It becomes associated with our actions, our attitudes, our gifts, our pursuits and our mistakes.  I don’t believe it is a coincidence that teenagers begin to recognize the power of name recognition as it connects to their own sense of self.  Could this be why so many teens transform themselves with a “new” name? A newer version of their name, or a renewed use of their given name allows them to gain a sense of control over their own lives.

Does your teen understand their place in your family? Are they just a daughter? Just a son? I think that many parents name their children with the intent of passing on family values, but as the years go by many forget to take the time to teach their teens why they were give a certain name?

Consider the young couple that named their child   "Adolf Hitler" and then were surprised at the social hatred the child experienced (Adolf Hitler Campbell).

How do you help your teen understand the value of their name?

How do you help your child perceive their name in a positive light?

Why is it important for families to associate family strength with their name?

What did you consider when you named your child? 

                    by Linda Shaw 

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