Oct 302012

Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.comLast week we shared some about our journey naming our little Monkeys.  While naming a baby is always a challenge, it is further complicated in households where more than one language is spoken or more than one culture represented.  As a result, we solicited stories from other multilingual/multicultural families about naming their little ones.  We had so many people generously share their experiences that we had to split it into two posts!

You can read some of those stories in Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part One.  We share the rest of the stories below.  Hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

“Girls’ Names are Easier” (So It’s Not Just Me!)

I heard from several others that girls’ names just seem to be easier to choose than boys’ names.  I know that was definitely the case for us.  Kim of Mama Mzungu writes, “I think girls names are generally easier for me, so of course I have all sons. ; )”   Kim has a really funny post about their difficulty choosing a name for our newest boy, including asking readers for suggestions!

Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

Melissa of Where going havo? writes, “We also had plenty of (trilingually appropriate) names for girls and none for boys. Is it just me or are there just fewer nice boy names out there? We were avidly debating every name under the sun up until my ninth month with our second child and first boy last year. We have enough names for two or three more daughters but heaven help us if we have another boy, because there isn’t anything left!”

Honoring Family

A common theme in the naming stories was the desire to honor family.  Soraya of Multicultural Mama shares this beautiful story:  “Before we even knew what we were having one day my husband out of the blue says: Samuel Alberto, that should be the name for our boy. Not only did it work perfectly in English and Spanish (the Samuel part) but Alberto is my Dad’ s name. I always thought we will try to incorporate his Dad’s name since he had passed away. That was so selfless and wonderful from him. I loved him for that. To this day my son’s middle name reminds me of that act of love. It also is a clear tangible way I know my hubby loves and respect what I am.”

Joanna of Mamá de nuevo a los 40 writes, “My first daughter is named Gabriela like a sister of my paternal grandmother, and her middle name is Alejandra like my sister.  My second daughter is Leonor like my mother and Helena for Helen of Troy, since her father’s name is Homero (Homer).  Our third daughter is named Stefanie because it means ‘crown of glory,’ since she was born when I was 38 years old, 18 years after I had my second daughter!  Her middle name is Joanna after me 🙂  Our last child is a boy at last!  My mother had the name Alejandro Eduardo picked out if I or my sister had been a boy.  I thought about using this name, but there are already 4 Eduardos in my family, so he is Santiago Esteban! “Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

Mutale in Illinois and her husband decided to go with family names as well: “I’m Zambian and my husband is American … Our daughter, Chansa (pronounced Chan-sa) is named after my mother’s maiden name. Her middle name is Stephenie after my mother-in-law’s maiden name and my husband’s first name, Stephens. Since we could not name her Stephens, we went with Stephenie.  We named our son Salim (pronounced Sa-leem, and means peaceful) after my maiden and family name, Salimu. His middle name is Joel named after my husband’s father and grandfather. Our son also has the same initials as his daddy (S.J.)”

Sheena in Ireland writes, “I’m a secondary school teacher so the job of choosing a name was HARD. So many names remind you of students! Initially I wanted something unusual but then I realised that the meaning was more important. In the end we named our daughter a familiar version of my mother in law’s name. She was Empia and our daughter is Emma. I love that Emma means universal and is easy to say in almost all cultures. She also has my mum’s name as a middle name. Her second middle name is a traditional name where my husband is from. Family there call her by this name. I love that! She will be able to chose as she grows up. I like the family connections and calling our child after someone inspirational was important. (Both our Mums fall into that category!)”Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

Family names can have special importance in different cultures.  Cindy in Colorado writes, “I’m American (European/white descent) and my husband is African (Ghana). Family names are important to both of us and especially to my husband’s family from a tribal history. Our first daughter was named after both grandmothers (Adufa [MIL’s name] and Anne [my mom’s middle name]). We’re always asked about the meaning of her first name and my MIL says it means “love” (I’m not sure that’s accurate but it works!).  My second daughter we named after my husband and her paternal grandfather (Isabelle [will call her Izzy which is my husband Ishmael’s nickname] Twumwa [female version of my FIL’s name]). If we’d had a boy, it would have been Ishmael [after my husband] James [my dad] Twum [my FIL].”

Choosing Names with Meaning

Most parents also tried to find names with special meanings.  Pamela of Gems of Oneness writes, “for all 3 children, we wanted a name from another language/culture that had a special meaning to us and which sounded beautiful to say.” They chose Native American names for their first two children (daughter Ayana = “eternal blossom” and son Dyami = “eagle”).  They also chose the middle name Mandela for Dyami, after Nelson Mandela. “Eagle to us is like the Guardian with the symbol of the eagle, detached from and soaring above this world, along with Mandela who is a tremendous example of radiant acquiescence, forbearance, forgiveness, nobility of spirit and magnanimity. we really like the Native American connection, as we both served at NABI [The Native American Baha’i Institute] and feel a kinship with the Navajo and Hopi peoples.”Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

For their third child, Pamela and her husband chose Domani, which they were told was “‘African’ for ‘belonging to God.'”  They were unable to find the actual origin but decided to use Domani since “we also have a love for italy and it means ‘tomorrow’ in italian; we chose Biko for his middle name which is named after Steven Biko who fought against apartheid and was brutally murdered. so Domani is our hope for a better tomorrow. when we moved to South Africa we were so delighted and confirmed to hear that in Zulu, Dumani means ‘belonging to God.'”

Kertu and her husband chose “Saara an Estonian version of Sarah, means noble woman or princess in another context, Adamba a Luo name meaning hard-working, Liisa Salama – Liisa, Estonian version comes from Elisabeth “Gods promise” and Salama means “peaceful” in Swahili. Nelson Hannes, where Hannes means “God is Gracious” and Nelson, though just after his dad’s name itself means son if Neil, Neil means champion, so.. Son of champion.”

Ingrid and her husband also chose names based on their meanings: “We think Hebrew is beautiful so we chose Eliora if it was a girl and Uriah for a boy-which both basically mean God is my light or the light of God. (Uriah is also a biblical name).”Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

Chelsea of writes that “I really wanted our boys’ names to have a spiritual quality they could always try to live by but a foreign sound so people would ask them what their name meant … For middle names our boys have 2 each (so does my husband), and each is a family name for each of our families. Grandfathers and uncles are included… and each of these is a man we’d like our sons to look up to for guidance in their lives. All the names luckily have wonderful meanings as well. Each of them has a Samoan name (after my husband’s family members – he’s half Samoan) so this is nice as well.  When people ask what their name means… because we get to talk about how developing spiritual qualities (ie virtues) are so important to us as Baha’is.  And also since they have so many different cultures included in their names, we show our love for the whole world.”

Diana in England writes, “Our criteria for names also included the multicultural link (I’m Bulgarian, husband originally Iranian) and also nice meaning and nice sound of the name, and to make sure it could be easily pronounced in English. We both always liked Anis, since it was short, easy to pronounce, nice combination of vowels and consonants, and has an inspiring meaning of devotion to the Bab. Anis’ middle name is Alexander, after Alexander the Great, as I come from the Macedonian part of Bulgaria so the link is there. Both my husband and I had a great appreciation of the talent of MJ and at his passing we thought Michael would be a nice middle name too — it sounds nice, it means God-like and it puts the English connection as we live in an English-speaking country.Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

“So our son is Anis Michael Alexander.  Our girl’s name, ALEENA, is a true multi-origin name, it comes from French, Old German, Gaelic, Arabic, Slavonic and Greek (meaning mostly Noble, also beautiful, fair, bright light). Again we like the sounds in it. In some countries Aleena is a variation of Elena, and both my grandmother and my mother’s names are also variations of Elena, so I liked the connection there. Aleena’s 2nd name is MAY, meaning beautiful in the Far East, and going back to my husband’s Persian roots – (spiritually) Wine, in old Persian poetry. And the two go well together: Aleena May.”

Alyson of World Travel Family writes that her eldest son “was always going to be Dylan ( son of the sea in Welsh) particularly as he was conceived on a scuba diving trip in Australia (Is that TMI?)”

Coming to an Agreement

And in the end, comes the most difficult stage of all – getting the baby’s parents to agree!  Azarnoush of A toddler, his mum and their recipes writes, “Our son’s name is Faizi Matias. I am latina and my husband is Persian. We couldn’t come up with anything we both liked until I was almost due. I really love the name Matias and wanted to name him that but hubby wasn’t convinced. One day we went to a friend’s house and her mum was talking to me about this Hand of the Cause she loved so much because of all he did for people he encountered but she could not remember his name. We looked in a book and once she heard Mr. Faizi‘s name, she said “that’s him!”. After that we thought the last name Faizi would make for a great name which we found one of the meanings was “gift of God” and then Faizi and Matias together sounded great to us so that was that.  Interesting enough and all by coincidence, Matias also means gift from God .”Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

Juliet in Illinois writes that she and her husband couldn’t agree on a name for their second child until the very end of her pregnancy.  “Finally I was in labor, between contractions, we were slow-dancing together in our dining room, and he said, “I still really like ‘Diego’.” And I said, “Let’s go with it.” I also discovered after naming him that my son’s name means Learned, the meaning of Diego, and Ruben means “Behold, a son,” significant for us since we had wanted a boy during my pregnancy and I had even dreamed he was a boy before I ever suspected I was pregnant.  And my daughter’s name has a kind of complementarity that I love. Paula means “humble,” which we know as a virtue of submissiveness before God, but can also be defined as close to the earth. And her middle name is Celeste, which means “heavenly” or “celestial.” I love that! But both names were chosen more or less intuitively based on our preferences and our feelings about the babies before we met them face to face.”

Melissa of Vibrant Wanderings and her husband shares a similar story:  “My husband and I had the hardest time agreeing on names, so the first names of both of our children (Annabelle and Elliot) are more or less the only names he and I both liked enough to give them to our children. Elliot was born on a Tuesday and it took us until Friday to finally agree on his name!  For middle names, there’s something of a tradition in my family of choosing names that honor a special family member. My daughter’s middle name (Pearl) is also my sister’s middle name and our Great Grandmother’s first name and Elliot’s middle name (Franklin) comes from my husband’s side of the family. His grandfathers were Frank and Franklin respectively, so we went with Franklin in an attempt to honor both. Not very exciting, but that’s how we came up with them!”

Further Reading

For more on the connection between names and identities in other cultures, here is a wonderful post on books about immigrant children from Kid World Citizen.

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!

This post has been shared at True Aim Education’s Mom’s Library.

  11 Responses to “The Name Game: Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part 2”

  1. what an incredible post to share so many ways in which people around the world have chosen names for their babies! hope this post touches many people who will go through the process of choosing a name that has a special meaning to them. 🙂

  2. What a beautiful post! Enjoyed it very much as part I. All the stories make a lot of sense and are wonderful to read and learn from. Will be sharing this post with my friend who is struggling with her husband deciding on a name for their daughter due in February 2013.

  3. I love reading everyone’s choices for names- so fascinating! I love also combining the cultures- such beautiful names;).

  4. So Leanna have you chosen the name yet?!?! 🙂

  5. My father is Vietnamese and I have always wanted to name my children with a name that honors him. However, when I ask him for name ideas and told him what I was thinking. He told me not to worry about naming my child after his culture because it really isn’t my culture and that he saw himself more as an American. He said I should name my child whatever I want. That was a very unexpected response, but a loving one at the same time. Overall, naming a child is such a special responsibility. There are so many ways to go about it; no one better than the other. Thanks for sharing at Mom’s Library!

    • That is so interesting that he responded that way, and yes, how loving! Often people have to deal with family expectations and pressures when they choose their baby’s name, so that is really beautiful that he made sure you didn’t feel that. Thank you for sharing!

  6. […] two part series on the topic: The Name Game: Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part 1 & Part 2. For Leanna and her husband it was important to choose a name “that wouldn’t sound “weird” […]

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