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Interfaith Baby Naming: Finding a perfect compromise

Muslim-and-Christians-Married

In this perceptive and illuminating guest blog, Zaira Shaal confronts the naming issues facing interfaith parents.

My boyfriend and I have talked about having kids a few times, and the main topic is always what we would name them. He is Muslim, I am Catholic, and while we are both Pakistani, we have very different ideas about the names we like.

We both grew up in North America and now live in London, England so there is added pressure to ensure our children’s names can be pronounced by their friends and colleagues as they grow. Our own names, Waqas (Wuh-kaas) and Zaira (rhymes with Tyra not Sara), have proved difficult for peers to handle over the years so we are sensitive to this.

While he prefers names like Khalil and Omar for boys – and hasn’t really thought about naming a girl – I have always loved names like Audrey and Grace, Adam and Jacob. We came to a compromise and came up with a list of names that work for both religions. This also appeases both sets of parents and ensures our kids all have uniform sounding names. I don’t want one Matthew and one Mohammed.

For a girl, we skipped past the overused Sara and came up with Hana and Sophia. We love both these names as they are feminine names with a little flair.  Hana is beautiful for a little girl, and will grow with her; it is timeless. Sophia still instills memories of Europe because of Sophia Loren. It’s glamorous but works for all ages as well.

There are numerous other possibilities, such as Layla or Maya, names we chose not to use as they are the names of his best friend and her daughter respectively. Then, there are the “-ina” and “-eena” names: Nina (my mother is Neena), Mina, Zeena, Dina, Tina, Sheena, Leena, Sabrina, Sabina and so on.

There is a strain of thought that Muslim names for girls are “heavy” and “old-fashioned”. I disagree. They are no more old-fashioned than, say, Priscilla or Josephine in Christian naming conventions.

Here’s a list of a few other beautiful names for interfaith girls:

Aliyah

Amber

Anya

Ariana

Dalia

Jasmine

Jennah

Liyah

Maria

Mariah

Naila

Niyah/Nia

Sara(h)

Tamara

Talia

Tara

Yasmin(e)

Zaina

For boys, it’s actually harder. There are fewer names to choose from and this is for one reason only. The Koran and Bible share similar stories with one difference. In the story of Abraham and his son in the Bible, Abraham becomes Ibrahim when translated into the Koran. Jacob becomes Yacoub, Moses becomes Musa, David becomes Daoud and so on.

With all this, we were left with two names that worked for both: Adam and Zachariah. We have chosen to add these to our list. Another name we really like is Zain, though I choose to spell it Zane to diversify it just a little.

Now, I have to admit, we have an outlier to all these names. It is Xavier, a very Catholic name that Waqas came to me with as a suggestion. I love the name due to it being unique, starting with a unique letter like our names and it conjures up images of the religion I practice. He said he wanted to name his first born son Xavier and I certainly won’t argue with that great idea!

The great thing with interfaith children is they really can learn the best of both worlds. Giving them a name that allows them to flow seamlessly between the two is important, and will allow them to assimilate into both sides of the family and with any peer group.

Zaira Shaal comes from a large family of siblings, all of whose names start with A, M or Z. She is a marketing professional by trade and has lived in Dubai, Toronto and London. While not a mother yet, she hopes to adopt in the future and keeps an ever-evolving list of potential baby names for when the time is right.

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