Petrus the eighth
Why would you give your child your name when he cannot – and should not – be like you?
Friends of mine recently announced the arrival of a new baby in their family. The child is a boy and the poor little thing has been named Stephen. It’s not the name I mind; it’s the burden of expectation that’s been placed on those tiny shoulders.

The infant’s father is Stephen and so is his grandfather. For seven generations the first son has been called Stephen and for two generations before that, Stefan. One daring Stephen, in small acknowledgement of his son’s individuality, called him Steven, with a ‘v’, but that’s as far as the rebellion went.

Modern philosopher Eckhart Tolle talks at length in his best-selling A New Earth (Penguin) about the ego and its primary interest in self-enhancement. Why do we feel such a drive to have children? Are we just satisfying the needs of the ego? It’s quite shocking to think that we might be more invested in preserving ourselves than in nurturing new life, but this is often the case.

On some deep level, children who are given their parents’ names (think Ivanka and Donald Trump Jnr, for example) probably sense a requirement to be more than just themselves.
 ‘Children come into this world through you but they are not “yours”. The more expectation you have of how their life should unfold the more you are in your mind instead of being present for them,’ writes Tolle.

This would not be welcome news to another family I know, where the name Petrus is so entrenched that it’s even woven into the carpet that covers the entrance hall of the grand old family home. Every Petrus has gone into the same business as his forefathers, following the path carved out by men who want their influence to live on.

What would happen if the next little Petrus decided to be a poet in Peru? Flying to the moon might be an easier option, but if he were to break free, or, God forbid, turn out to be gay, his brother would shoulder the family responsibility and start a new Petrus line, and the wayward Petrus would be consigned to the closet with the other family skeletons.

But it’s not too late for enlightenment. A hulking 18-year-old, Geoffrey the seventh, squirmed every time his family referred to him as Little Geoff to distinguish him from his father, Daddy Geoff. So his friends took the matter in hand and started calling him George. To his credit, Daddy Geoff said some time later that he regretted putting the pressure of tradition on his son; he realised it had influenced him to conform in ways that didn’t suit him.

Released from the grip of the family tree, George followed his heart and found his own direction. Released from the definition as ‘daddy’, Geoff found new and spontaneous ways to relate to his adult son. George signed his marriage certificate with his new name, and he and his wife are now expecting a daughter. They both love ‘Georgina’, but they agree that that’s a name they’ll never use.

Do you think family names create heavy expectations? How did you decide your child’s name?

For more by Catherine Eden, visit her website,

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