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Name Your Child the Traditional Way

Updated on February 7, 2013

Choosing the Best Name

Come on Mom and Dad, give me a name that I can live with!
Come on Mom and Dad, give me a name that I can live with! | Source
So many names to choose from!  I need to take a nap....
So many names to choose from! I need to take a nap.... | Source

Pick a Name, Any Name...

Unless a child's name rings in your ear since who-knows-when, picking a name for your child can be a bit of a formidable task. There are books to consult, online name guides and helpful advice from family and friends. The ultimate decision rests with the parents or legal guardians.

Its not unusual after months of planning, that after seeing the baby, the name changes once again. Maybe the first name didn't suit the newborn. Not always, but in many parts of Europe, the traditional way of choosing the child's name was by honoring the grandparents, in hopes that someday the same honor would be offered them in return. More than likely, the favor / tradition was returned.

I suspect this was also done in the United States during the 50s and the 60s. While watching an episode of Mad Men, I noticed that Dan Draper's wife named their third child Gene after her father, which would make sense according to "the formula".

The Formula - First Child

The Custom

The idea of descendants and ancestors is not a new idea. It was a matter of respect AND hopefully getting help with childcare. It also was a matter of continuing the line on both the male and female genders and hopefully receiving a piece of the family property upon the death of the grandparents.

First CHILD - MALE or FEMALE is named after the Paternal Grandparents.

Second Male or Female CHILD is named after the Maternal Grandparents.

This name can be the exact name of, or a derivative name of the Father's Mother or Father's Father / Mother's Father or Mother's Mother.

If the first and second child is the same sex, then the mother's parent's are in line.

Playing the Name Game

A Few Examples:

My son, Blaž, the first child, was named after my husband's father, who incidentally had two names, Ante Blaž. (Ante is like Anthony, and Blaž is like the French Blaise - as in Pascal - or the Spanish Blas or Blasco.) Blaž's first cousins were also named for their grandfather, with alternative names chosen. The first was born in Holland and named Anton, and second was named Antonio.

The grandfather was given two names for a reason! The first of his two names was to honor his maternal grandfather, Ante, and the second name was chosen because he was born on the saint's day of Saint Blaž, (February 3rd) an important holiday observed in the Mediterranean.

The husband's parents are nearly always honored first, with exceptions being when a parent recently died or if one grandparent already has a slew of namesakes. But combinations are always possible. Double names like Ana Maria (one for each grandmother) or Ivan Pavao (John Paul) are certainly not unheard of.

I also know of cases where a young boy was named after a beloved grandma who died and so on. Everything is possible. The key issue here is Respect.

I am who I am

"You want to call me... WHAT?!"
"You want to call me... WHAT?!" | Source

Variations on a Theme (or Chip off the Old Block)

Original Name
Male Options
Female Options
Anna, Anne
This is just a sample of variations that people come up with in order to honor the "oldies" while having pity on their young ones. Šime, or Simon can be modified to Sam, for example.

Second Child - Mother's Parents

Now the wife has her say about the next round. Actually she most usually decides or vetoes the choice - but now her parents are the names in focus.

If the second child is a boy, then the mother's father can be honored. It can be his name or a variation of it. For example, if he is Pero, a common Croatian name, they can go with Peter or Pierre.

My friend chose Pedro, a Spanish name for her son, and that is all considered honorable and acceptable. The Grandfather (father's father's name) is also "Pero".

Incidentally, her name is Nikolina. The second daughter of the family, instead of being named after the mother's mother (as she could have been) she was named after her uncle, Nikola. She should have been named Klara after her maternal grandmother, but since she was not, she named her own daughter (first child) Lara, a derivation of Klara. Y'see?

Plan B - Croatian Calendar

When a family has four or more children, or they simply hate the names they have to work with, there is always Plan B. What is Plan B? Name the child after the beloved Aunt, Uncle, Godparent, Saint's Name and so on. A baby girl was named Lucia because she was born on St. Lucy at the beginning of December according to the Catholic calendar. Each day shows three or more saint's names and that is an option when the parents come up empty handed.

My aunt Sylvia was named after St. Silvester when she was born on New Year's Eve. The fourth of five children, they were running out of ideas, and besides, they liked the name :). It's not exactly strict, either. If there is a famous saint, like St. Valentine born in the general time frame "the day we left the hospital" "the day we checked in" "the day the baby was born" - or simply in the same month - that is all absolutely fine. The child may be named Valent, Valentina, Valco, Valerian, and so on ad infinitum.

Saints Days on the Catholic Calendar

I photographed a Catholic calendar since I couldn't find anything online.  For example, the saint for 16 August is St. Roko, which isn't a bad name for a boy.
I photographed a Catholic calendar since I couldn't find anything online. For example, the saint for 16 August is St. Roko, which isn't a bad name for a boy. | Source

Other Ways to Pick a Name

Some families make a twist on the tradition. First child you pick, second child I pick the name...

My daughter, the second child, honored both grandmothers in that one and the other's names are represented in her name.

Named Jelena (pronounced YELENA), she honors my husband's mother Jelica (YELICA) and my mother Helen. Four letters of each grandmother's name is in her name, so both should be happy (and they are).


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    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image

      Anastasia Kingsley 5 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      Thanks for your comment, Farmloft. You brought up a good point - name confusion. Imagine two brothers with having same sex children, boys or girls. By following the formula, the first cousins have similar if not identical names. Our neighbors family for example. Grandma Margarita, two sons, and two grand-daughters, Maritza, the second Margita. So where there is a will there's a way. Another remedy is by using nicknames - which are more popular than the given names for males, in many cases. Regards, ECAL

    • farmloft profile image

      farmloft 5 years ago from Michigan

      Interesting to know...My children had first names of deceased relatives and middle names of living ones. I don't think bad or good luck had anything to do with it. Married into a large family and we just tried not to pick a name that someone else already had - at one time there were 5 people with my same name, and it has caused a few problems :)

    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image

      Anastasia Kingsley 5 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      Hi Patty, what a clever idea, putting two names together. I bet your sisters felt honored. I know a family of five girls who were all named after the mother's best friends throughout childhood. Love is a gift and it's nice when it's recycled from generation to generation. Appreciate your comment!

    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image

      Anastasia Kingsley 5 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      Hi Sid Kemp, how intriguing, to not give them bad luck. I like the other tradition of passing down the mother's faith to the children. I like these traditions, they make sense in one perspective or another. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Cheers from Croatia, ECAL.

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Interesting Hub!!! My oldest daughter, Chrishell, was named after my 2 younger sisters Christina and Michelle. Each of my children have a name or at least a middle name from relatives to carry on their name.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thank you for sharing these wonderful Christian naming traditions from Europe and earlier times in America. The Jewish tradition is a bit different - babies are not named after anyone alive, as it is considered bad luck.