How to End a Family Naming Tradition

A reader named Lauren wrote to me a few weeks ago with a great question:

[My husband] wishes to continue a tradition of the first born son having the same name (e.g. sr, jr, III, etc.). I understand his stance on the subject, but I also feel that it may be going a bit overboard. Barring any deaths in the coming months, it would mean that there is a III, a IV, a V, and now a VI (all the same first, middle, and last name), living in close proximity to each other. There are already issues with mistaken identity. What suggestions might I make to keep part of the name, but end the streak?

I think the most effective tactic would be to draw out the “mistaken identity” theme by describing a few worst-case scenarios.

For instance, what if the similar names cause a medical mix-up? Say your son needs to visit the emergency room one day. The medical personnel might accidentally refer to the wrong chart while making a quick decision, and the consequences could be life-threatening.

Or, what if the mix-up is financial? Say one of the men in your family needs to declare bankruptcy a few decades from now. This event could erroneously become attached to your son and haunt him for years, seriously impairing his ability to take out any sort of loan.

Confusion at doctors’ offices, with banks, with the government…all very real possibilities. And I’m sure the confusion will only be complicated by the fact that there aren’t just one or two men with the same name out there, but a half-dozen, all living in the same vicinity. And how many of these men are similar in still other ways (same birth-months, for instance)?

Passing a name down is a fantastic tradition, but if the tradition could adversely affect your son, then it might need to be reconsidered.

Finally, if your husband still isn’t willing to compromise by handing down only part of the name, you could think about giving your son the entire name but adding another middle (preferably before the inherited one). That way the tradition is upheld, but the distinct portion isn’t an oft-overlooked suffix, but a very visible extra name.

Does anyone have any other suggestions for Lauren?

3 thoughts on “How to End a Family Naming Tradition

  1. A friend of mine had to make a similar decision, they used a different variant of the first name and added her father’s name as a second middle name. Instead of John Robert IV, they named the baby Evan Robert Steffen. Still traditional, but less likely to cause confusion.

    Another idea, is there a patronymic form of the name that means “son of name” like Hudson or Bennett?

    Maybe one of these ideas would work for Lauren?

  2. I used to work for a bank. Juniors take the “hits” for Seniors’ misdeeds way too often. This is especially true if the birthdays are close together (both in January, for example). Also, with all of today’s security concerns and identity checks, it becomes harder and harder to keep multiple generations of the same name distinct.

    Plus, in schools today, kids are taught to use their given names, not nicknames. In years past, it was easier to distinguish between multiple people of the same name by consistently using a nickname. That’s much harder to do today.

    One of my friends’ families used a different middle name. So instead of John Michael the 42nd, there would be John Michael, John Henry, John Peter, and then maybe back to John Michael.

    Another family I know alternates generations with John Michael and Michael John, so the names persist but it’s easier to figure out which person is which.

    The other consideration is, how common is the name? Delbert VI is very different from John VI.

  3. As a banker previously I had a JR try to cash Srs SS check, the dupe was high and gave me his SSN card and that was the only way I would have known that it wasn’t his check.

    Why not give VI the same name but add a different first name. IE John David Nathaniel vs David Nathaniel.

    I will say however that I really like the idea of swapping the names that C mentioned.

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