Culture family

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.

hmm... thoughts illustrations

Moments of Awe

Awesome is one of my favorite words. While my day is full of moments of awesome there are only a few moments in life described by the word awe.

Here’s a few…

  • Hearing the words, “I’m pregnant” from your wife. (Trust me, as much “awe” is created the first time at 24 as at 34 when it wasn’t expected.)
  • Seeing the sunrise over the mountains or the sunset over the ocean for the first time. (Whoa, there are colors I never even imagined!)
  • Meeting a starving person who asks if they can pray for you. (Whoa, you mean you can really praise God even when you aren’t comfortable?)
  • The birth of your child. (Whoa, you and me doing that can result in this?)
  • Witnessing 50,000 worshipping God in a city where hundreds of thousands just died in an earthquake. (Whoa, how is that possible?)
  • A young lady sharing her deepest fear and how God showed up in front of her peers. (Whoa, her words are more powerful than mine.)
  • The realization that Jesus died for me. (Whoa, the son of God… was perfect… and gave his life for me?)
  • A jet-lag induced early morning walk through a crisply cold city in a foreign country. (Whoa, discovering this place is amazing!)
  • Riding the Maid of the Mist deep into Niagara Falls to feel the full force of gravities simplicity. (Whoa, I’m soaking and exhilarated at the same time.)
  • The moment you realize you both feel the same way and knowing you’ll spend the rest of your life with her. (Whoa, there really is someone just for me.)

There are moments in life so full of awe that words truly defy them. I think that’s the history of the word awe right there. Something happened and a persons jaw dropped and said, “Awe.”

Getting back, recreating them, and remembering them creates years of inspiration.

Oh, that we might live a life inspired by awe.

Church Leadership

When your kids hate church

My kids don’t get excited about going to church most Sunday’s. That’s putting a nice bow on it, isn’t it?

Let’s take the pretty bow off for the sake of this post.

They hate going to church.

Yesterday, I sat in the car with a child who refused to participate. Not all Sunday’s are like that. But sometimes the feet literally stop moving and the tears start flowing. It’s hard to look in your child’s eyes and see them tearfully say “please don’t make me go,” and then force them to go.

I can’t stomach it. That is, clearly, not the type of relational connection I want my children to have with Jesus.

To my dismissive friends– it’s not just our church. It’s pretty much any church we’ve tried out. Trust me, we tried to blame the churches we attended. It’s not their fault. And it’s been going on for a very long time. Yeah, they even hated churches I worked at.

I don’t know any other way to say it. They hate going to church.

[Insert our painfully banging of heads against the wall.]

[Insert the fear of all the comments I’ll get with suggestions for how to make them love going to church. I know, it’s easy for you. Thanks in advance for reminding me I’m a failure.]

[Insert Freudian comments and Freudian comments veiled as Bible verses– trust me when I say we’ve thought them all already.]

As a parent I could get lost in the emotions of this. I mean, how is it that mom and dad can have a first love… Jesus and his church… and our kids aren’t loving what we love?

This is where the rational side of our brains takes over and comforts us.

  • We don’t want them to fake it for our sake.
  • We want to raise independent, critical thinkers. That includes giving them the freedom to question us within the boundaries of our authority over them.
  • We believe Jesus wants to capture their heart, not their body. It’s OK if that takes time. Jesus’ offer to love the church stands the test of time, he is patient.
  • We recognize that there is a difference between rejecting Jesus and not liking the action of going to church. They don’t hate Jesus, they hate going to church.
  • We believe ultimately that it’s more important that the kids go to a church their parents love than one that the kids love and the parents tolerate. I find church strategies that try to hook parents with a McDonald’s approach to kids ministry often have equally crappy methodology elsewhere.
  • We recognize that some of the reason they don’t like church is that daddy used to work at one, like 60+ hours a week. And repairing the equation that church equals dad loving other people’s kids and making other people’s kids a priority over them will take years to repair.
  • We are willing to find expressions of church they might love. We’ve introduced Awana on Wednesday nights. It is is so developmentally appropriate for them that they are really digging it. (Even though it makes dad cringe a bit.) And this summer they will go to camp. For Kristen, Awana was a big part of her middle childhood. And for me, camp was huge from about 4th grade through high school. (Even though letting them go for a week makes Kristen cringe a little bit)
  • We are willing to look in the mirror enough to recognize that being compliant at church does not equate to loving church. When I went to church as a child, I hated it and swore that I’d hate it forever.
  • We aren’t going to give up simply because they don’t count down the days until Sunday. Their attitude towards church doesn’t drive us to make stupid decisions as parents. So it’s not like we’re going to stop going to church as a family.
  • We are willing to lose the occasional battle for the sake of hopefully one day winning the war. That’s a crude way of saying we don’t force them to participate. We expect that they will, but allow them some ability to say no.

Maybe I’m not supposed to talk about this? Maybe writing this makes me look bad? Or maybe, just maybe, my kids are normal?


The Baby-god Myth, Part One

Hi, I'm Rex. I'll be the king of your life if you let me.

If you are a parent or if you work with parents you are well aware that there’s a lot of idolatry of children going on. In this four-part series I plan on exploring this phenomenon, it’s origins, and its impact on our society and the American family.

How did we get here?

People are waiting longer, much longer, to have their first child. The average age of marriage for a woman has crept past 25. (27+ for males) And it’s not uncommon for people to wait until their mid-30s to begin having children. And when those parents finally pop out a kid– a coronation takes place as the child is crowned king of the parents universe.

It is logical that an older set of parents has had longer to dream about being a parent, more impact of cultural ideals, [movies, television, books, magazines] and more mature in the workforce to have higher wages, more time off, and more flexibility.

Old parents

This is a purely cultural phenomenon. The only reason men and women don’t have children in their late-teen to early-20s is because our society requires it. It’s taboo to marry or have kids young now. (Trust me, I’ve got plenty of friends who married in their early 20s and had kids under 25… they bear the wrath of middle-class culture scorn!)

Biologically, this causes problems. Like it or not, the human body is “ready” in the mid-teen years. In human history this is when women started having children. Interestingly, cultural influence have caused females to enter puberty earlier and earlier. But it’s become increasingly taboo to have sex or conceive children in the teen years. Sexual activity is normative for minors yet culturally we frown on teen moms. Biologically speaking– the body is strongest, the reproductive system is the most ready, on and on. There’s no biological reason for waiting to have a first child until late-20s or the early 30s. In fact, human history is built on young mothers of 14-22. Common sense tells us that when you tell your body “no” to reproduction for 15 years or more, your body just might not want to say “yes” when you are culturally ready. Thus, we’ve seen an increase in physical problems with older mothers.

Culturally, this also causes problems. Middle-class American culture tells a woman she needs to go to college and start a career before “settling down” to be a parent. So men and women marry later and acquire more stuff before marriage. (and debt) By their mid-30s, affluence leads them into the baby worship we see today. The American Dream coaxes parents to believe that each generation has to be exponentially more affluent and educated than the previous generation. The problem is that macro-economics doesn’t work that way. Middle-class parents simply can’t raise children to become more wealthy than they are… there is a statistical glass ceiling to what the economy can bear. Economically speaking, we blame Wall Street for the recent collapse of the housing market when, in fact, the Middle-class bought the American Dream on credit. (Interesting article from Time Magazine, Older Parents: Good for Kids? Written in 1988)

We scornfully look down on young parents. We track the teen pregnancy rate in pitiful, arrogant, ignorance of the fact that in most places on the planet a 16-17 year old mother is normative– and our own grandparents would now be scorned in today’s late-marriage status quo. We’ve put so much pressure on ourselves that our kids will have it better than ourselves that from the time children are in the womb we want to educate them and put them ahead of their peer group. Our culture has created this truism. Young mothers are bad or naughty, older mothers are more prepared and nurturing. But is there evidence that this is true? Doubtful.

The Allure of the American Dream

In my opinion, the root of the baby-god-myth was born in the pursuit of the American dream among Middle-class parents. If little Rex is going to be better than well-off mommy and daddy, we’re going to have to push and shape harder than our parents did.

Sadly, the church joins in

This is a chicken/egg phenomenon as each side would argue the other started it. But any church growth expert knows that if you want to attract parents these days you need an amazing kids program. The hope is that if you can attract Rex and keep him happy, a parent will get hooked into participating in the greater church. This is, indeed, born out of an earnest desire to attract and reach lost people. But the churches desire to reach out to the little Rex’s of the community in hopes of hooking parents has lead to attracting parents and staff who buy into a format of church that idealizes the American dream. A thriving kids program is polished, safe, fun, and good for Rex. It’s bigger and better every year. Even if it isn’t, we strive for that in all we do.

And today’s kids ministry ideals are largely devoid of Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The church often gives lip service to this truth. But systematically, we are quick to bail on parental responsibility and claim it as our own since Rex’s parents are too busy shuttling him to soccer practice and it’d be too embarrassing to tie anything scripturual as symbols on their hands. Sadly, church is often merely seen as “the holistic part” of Rex’s college resume to parents who are involved “because it’s good for the kids.”  And little Rex picks up on this, in full knowledge that his parents gods are him and the stuff they are acquiring. We wonder why kids check out of church? Maybe it’s just  the way we’ve raised them?

It would be controversial for the church to stand up to parents and tell them the truth.You are worshipping your children. You are to put God first, your marriage second, and your children third. Children are subservient to their parents!” No– this is heresy in our culture. We all know, intrinsically, that if we were to proclaim that kind of truth the parents and their money which pays for our nice building and staffs would quickly disappear.

Alas, the church is often sad peddler of the baby-god-myth.

More on this later.

Church Leadership San Diego Living

5 Things I Love about my Church

This Easter marks roughly two years since I turned in my Pastor Adam card and went from church staff to church attendee. (I was officially done June 1st, but it was during Easter week  that the offer to come to YS came, which completely changed everything.)

In so many ways I’ve re-learned what it means to be a member of a church. God has shown me hundreds of ways in which my assumptions and desires for people in the pews were flat out wrong.

But, more importantly, the last two years has solidified a deep love and respect for the church universal as well as the church I’m a part of– Harbor Mid-City.

Here are 5 things I love about my church:

  1. They model their bridge building strategy with their staff. When I look at the make-up of their staff– I giggle. A PCA church plant with staff from a huge spectrum of Protestantism. Liberals. Progressives. Conservatives. I jokingly remind them, “In most communities this group wouldn’t even get together to pray… and you guys are on staff together!” I love that they chose to unite around Christ and major in the majors. Let me tell you, this is rare.
  2. They meet at Hoover High School. I’m a huge fan of our location and all the challenges it brings along. I love that we pay to rent part of a high school. I love that we bring 200 adults to a high school campus they would rather ignore. I love that there is a constant tension in the space we use for kids is also a teachers space. I love that part of our being Good News to the community is showing up and worshipping at a place, Hoover, that is so common.
  3. The production value of the service is awesome. Seriously, one of the things I love about Harbor is just how rough the tech side of things are. You would think that I, Mr. Super Church Tech Dude, would be annoyed that every week the microphones are jacked up, the projector is crooked, and they lovingly rock PowerPoint when Media Shout, Easy Worship, or ProPresenter are so readily available. Nope. Every time something goes array in the service I just lean over to Kristen and go, “That’s awesome. I love it.” Because I know the flip side of those blemished moments is not a persons hours of hard work. I know that no one is going to get an ugly stare back at the booth. And I know it’s not going to be an hours discussion at staff meeting. Ultimately… it’s no big deal and it’s treated as such.
  4. They love kids and show it. Most churches get this right. But I have to say that there are two places where Harbor gets this right-er than anywhere else I’ve been. Here are two things I can point to which illustrate this thought. First, early in the worship service they invite all of the kids to come to the front to join the worship band. So about 20 kids come to the front and bang on percussion instruments and dance for two worship songs before heading to kids church. Some people might think this completely ruins those songs. But I love the lesson we are teaching… these kids are a part of the congregation and we need to allow them to participate in the worship. It’s a visual way to say “children are valuable to God.” Second, I love how they handle infant baptism. (This is a theological issue I have NO IDEA where I stand on.) So, they baptize the baby and the congregation affirms their responsibility. [All very normative.] But Stephen has started this little thing which I hope he continues. He leads the parents to the center of the auditorium and invites the congregation to quietly sing “Jesus Loves Me” as a lullaby to the baby. I doubt it leaves an imprint on the baby but it certainly leaves an effect on the parents and the congregation!
  5. They value all people. I wish this were the case in all congregations but sadly it is not. Two quick ways this plays out on Sunday. First, we are an ethnically mixed congregation. We have a Spanish-speaking pastor and an English speaking pastor. Each language group is given equal value. (Not time) The only thing we separate for is the message. (Because translating that would be exhausting!) But for the majority of the service we have both groups together and it makes for a fun cornucopia. Second, we work hard to put everyone on an equal playing field socio-economically. El Cajon Blvd, where the church meets, is really a dividing line between the have-nots to the south and the have-alots to the north. There is a conscious effort to blur those lines on Sunday morning. I don’t have any idea how they pull it off… but it’s something I love about my church.

Those are some things I love about my congregation. What are things you love about yours?

Culture hmm... thoughts

So, you’re done?

At lunch yesterday 3 guys sat around the table getting to know one another better. In the course of the conversation we chatted about kids. Each man had two. The guy sitting next to me affirmed that two was enough for his family and barring a medical miracle, they were done. The guy across the table said that he and his wife hoped for one more. When they found out I had a 5 (Paul is 6 next Saturday) and an 8 year old, they said… “So, you’re done, eh?

I have to be honest. Now that Paul is almost 6 it’s at that point where— adding  a third would be like starting a second family. At the same time Kristen and I look at each other and joke about a third child all the time. Truth on that is, we usually say it in the most sarcastic way possible when Megan or Paul is having “a moment.” You know, the type of moment so horrific that you label it as birth control. You know, temper tantrums at the Capital building, or in Battery Park, or the one in a hotel recently in which I was certain someone would call the cops.

There’s a more personal angle to this. It’s hard for me to acknowledge that I’m somehow old enough to be done having kids! The crazy thing is that some of the people I went to high school think that 33 is the time they should get married and start a family. When people find out Kristen and I met when we were 18, got married at 21, and had Megan at 24, they feel uneasy about that. They say, “Oh, you were just babies!” We look at our peers and think, “You waited until your 30’s to get married? You’re so old!

9 out of 10 times I just roll with the joke that Kristen and I got married as children. But every time that comes up I am overcome with self-righteousness… No, we were the normal ones. No, we were the ones making the good decisions at 19, 20, and 21. No, we were the ones who didn’t buy into the middle class notion that you have to be a certain age to fall in love or get married. No, we were the responsible ones while all of our classmates were focused on keggers and messy college relationships which required years of recovery and regret. Indeed, we were young and naive about life. But who isn’t? How dare people tell us we were immature to marry at 21! [Steps off soapbox, hands microphone back to street preacher and walks away.]

I’ve done enough pre-marital counseling to know tt doesn’t matter what age you get married, you’re always ignorant about what you’re getting into!

Something is completely broken in our culture when we begin labeling adults (18-22) as too young to be adults. It’s jacked up to say people old enough to serve in the military are too young to be in adult relationships or make adult decisions. What’s next? 30 is too young to get married and have kids? What else will our culture throw in the way?

Why is it that middle class white people consider 24 to be on the young side to have kids? [Physically, that’s prime time.] And yet people in the city would say… “Wow, you were 24 when you had your first kid?” The answer is culture. In affluence we keep our children immature a lot longer. (Just look at the super affluent British royal family, Prince Charles still acts very much like a 17 year old, doesn’t he?) When you are affluent you don’t have to grow up because you don’t have to feed yourself, clothe yourself, or make enough money to pay the bills. Part of what matured Kristen and I in our early 20’s was precisely that. We needed real jobs to pay real bills. We had responsibilities. We made a lifestyle choice that kept us out of clubs. A few years into marriage we knew we made enough money and were stable enough to start a family. In essense, we were not developmentally delayed like our affluent classmates.

So, does 33 with a 6 and 8 year old mean we’re “done” having kids? It kind of looks that way doesn’t it?. I know I don’t want to go back to baby seats, puke, dirty diapers, and finding half-eaten Cheerios tucked behind the couch! Maybe we should just focus now, in our old age, on helping our friends with their babies?

Church Leadership family

A Favorite Thing About Harbor

Each Sunday, during the worship service, our church invites all the children to come up and play instruments during one of the songs.

Too often we push the children of the church away from the adults and I think that’s a real mistake that accidentally sanitizes intergenerational worship. This small action each week is symbolic of a place that provides voice and value to all equally. I love it! The leaders are crazy enough to think that they can change City Heights.

Pint-Size Jam Session from Kristen McLane on Vimeo.

HT to Kristen