The Name Game: Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part 1
Now that I have entered the third trimester of my pregnancy, we are renewing our efforts to pick a name for our Baby Monkey. It took us forever to decide on a name for our older son. In fact, we didn’t settle on one until a week before he was born, though my husband was on the fence until the very end.
As it turned out, my labor went much more quickly for our little Monkey than we had been told to expect for a first baby, so we almost didn’t make it to the hospital on time. As we zipped down the highway at 90 mph, my husband – terrified that he would be delivering the baby on the side of the road – kept yelling, “That name you like? I love it! It’s great! You can name him that! Name him whatever you want! Just don’t push!!“
We are hoping to best that deadline this time around, plus I suspect my husband is going to park me at the birthing center a full two weeks before my due date. (We made it to the hospital on time, by the way, though just barely 😉 )
Choosing a baby’s name is never easy, but the process is further complicated in a bilingual household. We wanted a name that wouldn’t sound “weird” in either language, and it needed to be something relatives on both sides could pronounce. And then we also had to choose a name that would sound good with our Spanish last names. Whew!
To help us out, I thought it would be fun to hear stories from other multilingual/multicultural families about how they chose their children’s names. They were all so gracious in sharing their adventures. In fact, there were so many great stories, I have decided to divide this into two posts. Here is part one – Enjoy!
I thought we had a challenge choosing a bilingual name – Valerie and Alex of Glittering Muffins are part of a trilingual household (French, English, and German)!
Cordelia of Multilingual Mama also tried to find a name that worked in three languages (French, Spanish, and English). Yet she writes, “Sigh, in the end the ones that work we didn’t like and the ones we like were always weird in at least one language. But you know what? Relatives learn to pronounce and accept 🙂 Just go with what you love.”
Certain language combinations present particular challenges. Daria of Making Multicultural Music writes that “the hardest part for us was that Spanish, Greek, German and Slavic have different diminutives… We had to consider what the name would turn into in each when you added the “Ito” or “chen” or “oula” … After too much consideration, we just went with our first choices – Kyra or Anya and Josef Anthony after his grandads.”
Varya of Little Artists writes, “We didn’t choose the names for their meanings, but something that would be easy to say in Russia, English and Chinese. Though I tell you – in Arabic Te-sa doesn’t have a very good meaning and neither in swahili!”
Picking names that work in both languages can be a real plus with the extended family. David and Mariela of Sacramento eventually settled on an English first name (Sophia) and a Spanish middle name (Luz) for their daughter, since “dad’s a Euro-mutt and mom is Mexican.” They had originally considered a French middle name but settled on Luz, “which coincidentally (read: was absolutely intentional) is mother-in-law’s middle name.” Yet they write, “it turns out there was an added benefit to the names we chose. Abuelita and abuelito (grandparents on mom’s side) speak Spanish only and have had difficulty with the American grandkids’ wacky, non-Español-ish names. However, as it turns out, Sofia Luz is the same in English and Spanish, which earned us some brownie points with the abuelitos.”
Many parents try to honor their children’s culture heritage when choosing names. Berglind in New York writes, “My daughter’s first name (Brynja, pronounced Brin-ya) is Icelandic and her middle name is Arabic (Amina) and then her last name is Norwegian (Birkland) so her scandinavian and her middle eastern backgrounds are all represented. I can’t tell you how much it meant to my family back home in Iceland (where I haven’t lived since I graduated from high school almost thirteen years ago) that our daughter has an Icelandic name (and speaks Icelandic).”
Kertu writes, “We are an Estonian (me) and Kenyan (my husband) family, and all our children’s names, as we decided, celebrate both of our cultures. So our girls have Estonian first names and Swahili middle names. Our son is named after my husband, for his first name and I chose his second name, which is Estonian. Our son’s second name is Hannes, that was the name of the first Estonian Baha’i. By the way, my husband and son are both called Nelson, the older one after Nelson Mandela.”
Gina of Connecting Famiglia and Seoul and her family became multicultural in a special way when they adopted a little boy from Korea. She writes, “It took us a while to come up with a name for our little guy. His Korean name was Park Jinsung (their surname comes first). We wanted to keep a part of his name, so we used Jin as his middle name, which means treasure in Korean. We finally agreed on Grady for the first name which means renowned.”
Different cultures also have their own customs about choosing children’s names. Tallulah of Bilingual Babes is from the UK, and her husband is from Ghana. She writes, “As my children are Ghanaian they automatically ‘qualify’ for Ghanaian names according to the day of the week on which they were born, so Schmoo is Abena (Tuesday) while Pan-Pan is Kojo (Monday). Other than that we chose first names that we loved. My daughter’s is from a favourite film and gets mispronounced at her French school, while my son’s is from Brittany, so he fits right in.”
Erin in Iceland shares that in that country honoring the local culture isn’t just nice to do, it’s the law! “We googled boys names when we were looking for names. the names had to work in icelandic, english and finnish and finding names that would work in all three countries was a puzzle. one of the names had to be icelandic according to law. after a lot of searching, late nights, and thinking we’ll never reach a conclusion, we chose the names Darian Adam and Nicolas Aron. the second names are both accepted by icelandic law but are international. Darian is Gaelic and means “precious present” and Nicolas means “victory of the people”. and since having children for us was not an easy process, the names are very appropriate.”
Giving children names from a particular culture can be a way to demonstrate one’s love for that country. Hailey in South Africa writes, “My husband is Xhosa (same as Nelson Mandela) and I’m a peachy Californian. We gave our kids Baha’i first names (Tajalli and Dayyan) and Xhosa middle names (Thandazani and Nkosinathi). Their first identity and culture we wanted to promote was their Faith and then their South African roots since that is where we live. Black and mixed South Africans love calling them by their african names. I think it makes them happy as it shows a celebration and acceptance of their Africaness although they have a peachy mom. This is very important teaching because it shows we have completely overcome the ‘white is better’ mentality that is still epidemic.”
Dealing with Negative Associations
Yet honoring one’s heritage can be complicated in today’s charged climate, and parents often have to consider all of the implications a name can have in different cultures. Michelle in Minnesota – herself half Iranian and half American, married to a man from India – writes, “My son’s name was originally going to be Roshan Alexander but everybody asked how I thought he was going to get a job with a foreign name, so we changed it to Alexander Roshan but everybody except for 2 of his first cousins call him Roshan. It is both Persian and Hindi, with the same meaning, so that part works well. Most names my husband came up with were problematic for me, because in India, names generally communicate religion, caste, and region, and I did not want any of those things (but especially the first two.)”
So many things to consider! Still to come, honoring family and choosing names with meaning!
Be sure to watch for Part 2 of this series, coming soon!
Thank you to everyone who shared their stories here. What a lucky bunch of kids, to have such thoughtful parents!
How did you choose your child’s name? We’d love to hear your stories, too, so please share in the comments!