Should Children Be Named After Grandparents?

Family with grandmother on the beach
Oliver Rossi/Stone/Getty Images

Naming children after their grandparents is a time-honored tradition in some cultures and in some families. In others, parents wish to give their children more unique names. Here are some common baby naming customs that take grandparents' names into account.

The Jewish Tradition

Giving children the name of a grandparent or great-grandparent is a Jewish naming custom. Among Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern European origin, the tradition specifies that children should be named after a recently deceased relative.

Among Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern origin, children can be named for grandparents either living or dead.

Jewish parents also commonly give their children both Hebrew names and secular names for "everyday use." The secular name is often similar phonetically to the Hebrew name. For example, a girl named Miriam after a grandmother might be given the name Mariel.

In Greece and Other European Countries

The Greek naming tradition is similar to the Jewish one, except that Greek tradition dictates that the first son is named after the paternal grandfather and the second after the maternal grandfather, with daughters being named first after the paternal grandmother and then after the maternal grandmother. Of course, in large families, this system results in many children sharing the same names. Parents have modified this tradition in various ways. Some give their children the traditional names at baptism but put a different name on birth certificates.

Other families may choose to give their children unique middle names and call their children by those names.

Many other countries, including England, Turkey, Portugal, and Spain, used to follow a pattern similar to the Greek one, although often the maternal grandmother preceded the paternal grandmother in the naming order for girls.

In these countries, modern naming practices have largely superseded these traditions. A knowledge of naming patterns may be useful to genealogists, but the patterns are little followed today.

More Traditions

In India, some communities, particularly in South India, follow the same tradition as the Greeks, with one difference. If the grandparent is still alive, the child is given another name for everyday use. To call the child by the name of a living grandparent would be disrespectful.

Many American and Canadian families recognize their grandparents by giving a grandparent's name as the middle name. The grandparent is honored, but the child still has his or her own name. Recently it has become popular to use a grandparent last name as a middle name, which works as long as the grandparent and the child don't share the same last name. Charles Connor Connor would be awkward!

In regard to names, grandparents should respect the parents' decisions. If a grandparent's name is not chosen, it may have more to do with the grandparent's name than with the individual. If the grandparent's name is very common, like John or Mary, the parents may decide to choose something less popular. Baby names tend to follow trends and names that were once commonly used may seem antiquated for a new child.

If your child is expecting, it's a good time to brush up on the proper etiquette for when you hate your grandchild's name.