Naming Conventions: Cultural and Family Considerations for Naming a Child

Naming a child is a big deal. Especially since there is a high likelihood they will be stuck with it the rest of their lives. In an ideal situation a person’s name is one of the top three or four things that they build their lifelong identity around. (Gender, faith, culture, to name a few others.)

But selecting a name isn’t just about the identity of the child will take on for themselves. It’s also about a few other things…

  • Since the parents chose, the name reflects the parents initially as much as the child indefinitely.
  • The child’s name isn’t alone as it is in pairing with its siblings and other members of the family. They need to make some sense as a group of names.
  • The child’s name has to fit in culturally with it’s peers. Picking a name that is too popular could result in them not having a distinct name. Picking a name that is too obscure could lead to no one knowing what planet you came from!
  • Some names generate stigma just because of other famous people by that name. Some names you say and others automatically associate that name with a serial killer or a rock star.
  • Naming of a child can be a wonderful way to honor a person.
  • Within your friendships you need to make sure you aren’t naming your child someone else’s “dream name.
  • As a parent, you’ll be uttering this name for the rest of your life. So it needs to be something you like saying.

Here’s how we picked our first two children’s names:

Megan Elisabeth – The first Christmas that Kristen and I were dating I bought her a pearl ring that meant a lot to us. Though we only knew one another for 6 months we knew we’d be together for a lifetime. The ring had three tiny pearls. One for each child we’d hope to one day have. (Crazy, I know considering we always wanted three, stopped after two, and then are now having the third.) So as we debated what to name our first child, it kind of all got settled in the symbolism of the name Megan. Greek for pearl. Then I made an executive decision and told Kristen I wanted Megan’s middle name to be Elisabeth, after her. My hope is that one day Megan will grow up to be a woman of God like her mom.

Paul Garret- This name came long before we were married. Paul & Garret are the patriarchs of both of our families and we wanted to honor them by naming our first son after them. Paul McLane was a man I never met as he passed away a few years before I was born. But I grew up under the legend of Paul McLane. It was clear throughout my childhood that my grandfather was the person who helped hold the whole thing together… and when he passed the whole thing just kind of started spinning out of control. I want my son to be the kind of guy that holds things together. Garret is Kristen’s grandfather. When we met I instantly liked him. I man of few words and great wisdom. To illustrate this man’s heart fast-forward to his final impact. Nearly 1000 people came to visit Garret (Barney, as everyone knew him) at his funeral. And as I stood by and listened to stories they all had the same thread. “You probably don’t know me, but your husband helped me when I was in trouble. He leant me some money to pay my rent.” (Or drove them to the doctor, or visited them when they were sick, or prayed for them when they came to the church after hours and he was gardening.) Oh, that my son would be like his grandfather… quietly serving the Kingdom of God.

So, when it came to the third child… we were at a loss.

We had all of this in our minds. And we struggled for nearly six months to find just the right one. Weighing all of this together takes something that seems so infinite and narrows the options. Literally, we talked about it from the day we found out we were expecting #3 until about 2 weeks ago. We tried a lot of things out, thought about it, sat on it, then kicked it to the curb.

But we’ve finally landed on a names we both love. Weighing in the family considerations, cultural considerations, and even historical considerations. (My family has been in the United States for a long, long time!) We can’t wait to reveal the name. But, of course, we are waiting until he’s born.

Addendum #1

From 1995 – 2002 I worked for BlueCross BlueShielf of Illinois creating tens of millions (no exaggeration) of ID cards. In that, I noticed some crazy naming conventions which have totally shaped how we name our children. Here’s the most obvious one.

The weird name rule: (About 90% of the time, this is true) If a couple has two normal names they are bound to name their first child something abnormal. But if one of the two of them has an abnormal name, their first child’s name will be normal.

Example #1: Tom and Susan… will name their first child Zoe.

Example #2: Tom and Zoe… will name their first child Susan.

Addendum #2

If you are a web nerd like me, it’s also important that the child’s domain name be available.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.


  1. OK, so case in point for Add #1! LOL They say that having an unusual name builds character, but that is kind of like saying that if it tastes bad, it is good for you.
    For #1 normal name, but we messed w/ the spelling. And we intend for both of them to go by the whole name, until they can pick or identify w/ and possibly earn their own nicknames. I would also propose that it is more difficult to name subsequent children than the first one. 😉

    1. It most certainly is harder to name subsequent kids. Sheesh… half of our problem came from going, “Megan, Paul, and ____.” It has to sound like it fits in!

  2. This is hilarious. My wife is due in March (our fourth) and we CANNOT come up with a name for some reason. I even put a poll of some possible options up on my blog and we still can’t decide. Part of it is our problem, though. We just keep coming up with possible vulgar and/or profane nicknames he might be called for every name option we come up with…

  3. But you and Kristen have normal names…. Is it time for an abnormal one? I’m rooting for Ezekiel or Hezekiah. I like Hezekiah a lot… Mainly because it means “to gather one’s strength” in Hebrew.

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