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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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The Timeless + Timely Baby Name Formula

timeless baby names

By Kara Blakley

As an art historian, my friends and family often like to teasingly debate what I consider to be art, and what not. While that is a discussion in its own right, one of my criteria for considering whether something is ‘art’ is if it holds to the standard that it is both of its own time, and transcendent of time.

I think that this guideline translates well in the baby naming world as well. The historian in me is also cautious towards names that will sound dated when the child grows up: it is not difficult to guess in which decade Shirley or Stephanie was born. But on the other hand, so-called timeless names, like William and Elizabeth, can fall flat aesthetically, not speaking to a person’s creative urges. While many parents don’t want to choose a name that sounds or will sound dated, they also want something unique. How does one reconcile these two seemingly contrasting goals?

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posted by: Aimee Tafreshi View all posts by this author
baby name resolutions

By Aimee Tafreshi

It’s a New Year and time for new baby name trends to emerge, some names to fade into the dust, and others to take center stage. During the past decade, we have seen many baby name trends come and go, and names like Aiden, Emma, Ava, Brooklyn and Jayden take center stage. As we enter 2015, can we make some baby name resolutions for the New Year?

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baby names and gender

Most parents today have the choice of whether to learn their baby’s gender long before birth, even without invasive tests.

Other reasons for finding out the gender aside, we’re wondering whether it helps or hurts in choosing a name.

What’s your experience?  Did you, would you, find out your baby’s gender before birth?

Did it make it easier to find the right name….or maybe harder?  Did you announce both the gender and the name before your baby was born, or keep the name announcement separate?  

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An International Adoption Name Challenge

middle names

By Angie Bahng

Like many other adoptive parents, my husband and I thought long and hard about how to incorporate HJ’s Korean name into her legal name when we brought her home from Korea. We had her American name picked out and we were set on that as her first name. Her Korean name was given to her by my grandfather. The Korean name he picked for her means “wise and righteous and affectionate.”

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