Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson.
—Mark Twain, American humorist

A name is one of the most lasting gifts bestowed upon a child. Most cultures have naming traditions that range from passing along family names to waiting for a period after birth before naming a child to giving an additional or new name as part of a rite of passage later in life. Here are some ways you can focus on your children’s names as a way of building cultural competence, self-esteem, family communication, and other strengths.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Incorporate your children’s names into familiar songs, such as the folk tune “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
    • Create a special sign bearing your child’s name. Hang it over your child’s bed or crib, on a door, or in another special space in your home.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Share with your children the stories of how they got their names. If you don’t know the meaning of their names, look them up together at a library, bookstore, or on the Internet.
    • Incorporate your children’s names, their meanings, and how you chose them, into art projects.
    • At a library, bookstore, or on the Internet, look for storybooks that include your children’s names. Some book publishers even take orders for custom books that include a child’s first and last names.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • If your children prefer nicknames to their given names (or vice versa), discuss their reasons with them. Listen closely to what they have to say, and then explain why you will or will not use their name of choice.
    • When giving gifts for special occasions or accomplishments, consider monogramming or engraving them with children’s names and a reminder of why they were given.
    • If you plan to change your own last name, because of marriage or for another reason, include your children in deciding whether or not their names will change as well. They may have very strong feelings about the issue and talking about it in advance is a great way to show that you honor and respect those emotions.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Ask your teens’ friends about their names: how they got them, what they mean, if they have any nicknames.
    • Regularly retell the stories of how your children got their names, either to them or in their presence.
  • As your children near rites of passage such as earning a driver’s license or applying to post-high school programs, they may need to access their original birth certificates. If appropriate, look at them together noting parents’ names, children’s given names, and so on.

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