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Baby Name Advice: Straddling two cultures

naming multicultural child

By Beth Grimm

As the proud mummy of two, soon to be three, bilingual children, who attend international school and are exposed to multiple cultures on a daily basis, I am constantly reminded of the need to consider the implications of names. The wrong name could cause frustration for family members or even ridicule of the child. So what factors should you consider?

Pronunciation – It is important to be aware how the name will be pronounced by different family members, dependent on their native language. Having lived in Central and Eastern Europe most of my adult life, I frequently confront the difficulty in pronouncing the ‘th’ sound in my name, Bethany. My counterpart may think it’s fine to call me, a woman in her thirties, Betty; I, as a Brit, think of an elderly lady with permed hair.

The first criterium for naming my children was no ‘th’ sounds. Off the list came Dorothea, Martha, Arthur and Nathaniel. Other sounds may cause no problem, or the difference be unimportant. The Germans say Ze-ra-fee-na for Seraphine, which is similar and quite pleasant. My daughter answers to both. Just be warned, you may feel attached to the name Lawrence and your beloved uncle Larry, but your Japanese family may hate you for it, go for Ren and keep everyone happy!

Soundalike Rude Words – You would be surprised how many names sound like rude words in other languages. I was discussing names the other day with my husband and pointed out the name Akako, which was a Name of the Day here on Nameberry. I commented that we couldn’t use that name and he was baffled. Our six year old, on the other hand,  sat in the corner giggling and when questioned as to why… “Mummy said the K word”  Then, my husband understood; it contains a children’s word for toilet business.

This is far from an exception; many a beloved name has to be struck from the list for similar reasons. Zack and Chloe are a no-go for the Germans, Sookie for the Russians; Danish people, consider carefully before naming your daughter Bente, if you have British relatives. Where possible, it would be best to ask a teenage native speaker what they think of a name, as an adult may be too mature to spot the problem.

Direct Translation – Here, an adult will be of assistance, or even an online dictionary. A name may be perfectly innocent in your native language but sound ridiculous, or even unpleasant in the language of your foreign relatives. I adore the name Viola, but a deep rooted desire to move to Spain one day takes this one off our list. The verb violar means ‘to rape’. Another time, I was engrossed in my family history research and uncovered the gorgeous name Rosine. I turned to my husband with fluttering eyelashes and got the swift and uncompromising response, “I’m not naming my child Raisin!”

Historical and Cultural Influence – In school, you learn a little of the history of other countries, but even if you take it as a specialist subject in high school leaving exams, it is doubtful you would study enough of the history of another culture to make immediate subconscious connections between a chosen name and what it means to other members of your international family.

My personal experience with this came after the thought that I might name one of my daughters after my Great Aunt Eva, a woman who shared my passion for genealogy and was always kind and caring. It was quickly vetoed in the early stages of name selection, however, when my husband said, “What, you mean like Eva Braun?” Living in Germany, having a child who shares her name with Hitler’s wife may not be the most sound decision.

Honoring the family member – So how do you honor the family member with the strongly cultured or perhaps, inappropriate name? The first and easiest option is to use the middle name slot. Nobody shouts their child’s middle name on the playground and a teenager can easily hide it if embarrassed. Laura Brunhilda can tell everyone the B stands for Belle. Another option is to find a soundalike name without the association. With the Eva example, Evangeline and Evelyn could also work well, without the immediate historical link. The most subtle way of all would be to find a name which means the same thing from the partner culture, honoring Grandad Raul by naming your baby Ralph.

It’s definitely a minefield, but with a little more care and a lot of patience, you will find the perfect name that allows your little precious child to fit in, wherever they may be.

Beth Grimm, better known on Nameberry as standardcrow, is the proud Mummy of two, soon to be three bilingual Anglo-German crowlets and is passionate about languages and genealogy, as well as being a self-confessed nerd.

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Singular Stars Inspire Hit Baby Names

one-named wonders

by Abby Sandel

They’re so famous that no last name is required. This group of Grammy-winning hitmakers has changed what we listen to, what we wear, and yes, how we name our children. The biggest names in music have inspired some of the fastest-rising baby names in recent years, from the now well-established Aaliyah to the astonishing debut of Jayceon. Which names will leap from the Billboard Hot 100 to the baby name popularity charts next?

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top 10 girls

By Linda Rosenkrantz

When you hear the phrase ‘Top 10 girls’ name,’ you might tend to think of classics like Mary and Elizabeth, or later long-running favorites Jennifer and Jessica, or the current Sophia.  But it certainly wouldn’t be Bertha—which in fact was in that golden group for twelve years– or Mildred, up there for close to a quarter of a century.

I became curious about what became of these once mega-popular appellations, whose top positions lasted from 37 years to being one-time-wonders (bearing in mind that they well might have been top-ranked for years before the SSA started keeping figures in 1880), particularly those that were once in the Top 10 but now reside outside the Top 500, thus eliminating evergreens like, yes, Mary and Elizabeth that have retained their popularity. You might find a few surprises here–unless you’ve known a lot of Tammys and Tracys in your life.

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What are the best cool, unusual baby names?

cool unusual baby names

The two most popular lists on Nameberry are our rosters of Best Cool Unusual Girls’ Names and Best Cool Unusual Boys’ Names.

It stands to reason why these lists get so much attention: They contain dozens of names that are attractive yet uncommon, have authentic roots yet are usable in the modern world.

So now we turn the question back on you: What do you think are the best of the best cool, unusual baby names for either or both genders?

Feel free to pull from our widely-read lists or add choices of your own.

Photo from one of our favorite crafting sites, Delia Creates, full of cool, unusual ideas like this one.

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French Baby Names: The best from Brittany

French baby names

By Clarice Bourgeois

Even though Brittany is a region with a strong identity, up until the 1980s, regional differences in baby names were not really apparent in France. Local name trends followed those of the rest of the country, with a large proportion of girls being called Marie, Sylvie, Nathalie and Stéphanie and boys named Jean, Philippe, Thomas or Julien. This is still largely the case today : Emma and Lola and Nathan and Enzo top Brittany’s name charts.

However, since the 90s, there’s been a strong regional identity upswing: local languages are taught at school, forgotten traditions are being revived. People now want to learn about their roots and keep them alive in any way possible, including naming their children.

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