My son's middle name is Joseph. Joseph is and was also the middle name of my son's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. (His 3rd great-grandfather had the first name of Joseph, and was the first of the Schroeder line to be born in America.) My husband and I wanted to make sure that this name and tradition lived on, and we wanted him to feel connected with his ancestors, so we deliberately chose Joseph as our son's middle name. Now, every time my son has to tell someone or fill out his full name on a form, this subject of having a name that was passed down comes up, and it's just another opportunity of reminding him of the origins and meaning of his middle name.
Maybe your children or grandchildren are not named after anyone in particular in your family. That's ok, because, chances are, there is someone in your family tree - maybe even someone the child knows - who has been named after an ancestor. Start your discussion with that person. Show a child that person's pedigree chart, so that they can 'see' the relationship of that person to their namesake(s).
Also, talk with your child(ren) about the naming traditions that make up the different cultures and ethnicities of your family tree, and then try to find examples of those traditions in your pedigree charts. For example, my great-grandfather was born in Poland and his given name was Dominik. His birthday was August 4, which, at the time of his birth, was the feast day of St. Dominic. In the late 19th century, naming children after the saint on whose feast day they were born was common in Roman Catholic communities. Some cultures regularly name children after grandparents or godparents, give names based on birth order or appearance, or determine given names based on the positions of stars and planets at the time of birth.
Family naming traditions are as vast as the cultures on Earth. Not only that, but each individual family, like mine, might also have some sort of naming tradition that is passed down through the generations. There are a few picture books that I recommend, as ways in which to introduce the subject of naming traditions with children. Reading these books with children is also a great way in which to introduce naming traditions of cultures that many American children may not be familiar with.
René Has Two Last Names by René Colato Laínez: Rene has just moved to America from El Salvador and becomes discouraged when his new teacher leaves off one of his last names, because he feels like he is losing half of his family when it is not included. He uses a family tree assignment at school to show his teacher and classmates what his two last names mean to him and his family.
©2018, Emily Kowalski Schroeder