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Celebrity Baby Names from Around the World

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Appellation Mountain’s Abby Sandel picks out the nine most noteworthy names of the week.  This time, she’s got to travel far to find them.

With new arrivals at Yahoo! HQ and in Trump Tower, I thought this week was going to be all about preppy boy names.  Yates and Bennett and company, the kind of choices that scream rep tie and polo pony.

But somehow, the rest of the world crept in and I was reminded that American celebrities aren’t the only ones welcoming new babies with lovely, intriguing appellations.  Of course, celebrity baby names that sound mainstream in Belgium or Belize might feel quite exotic in the English-speaking world, and the opposite is equally true.

Foreign language baby name blogs report that homegrown celebrities have an impact on naming trends everywhere.  While those influences are rarely felt in the US, they can capture our attention, especially should their parent strike it big in Hollywood or score an international hit single.

The nine most intriguing names this week come from all over the planet:

Spencer FrederickSpencer is a preppy choice with ties to the golden age of Hollywood – a fitting name for a little Trump.  Donald, Jr. and wife Vanessa are also parents to Kai Madison, Donald John III, called Donnie, and Tristan Milos.  I think Spencer Frederick is my favorite of the four.

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Belgian Names: Beyond Flemish and French

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Belgian native and guest blogger Sarah B. unscrambles the pieces of the complicated jigsaw puzzle that is the diverse naming structure of her native land by analyzing its Most Popular list of 2010.

Belgium is a small country with a mere 10 million inhabitants. Yet it sits right in the heart of Western Europe (the capital, Brussels, is often called the ‘capital of Europe’), and so is subject to more varied cultural influences than perhaps any other European country. One result of this is that Belgium has no less than three official languages: Dutch, spoken in the northern part of the country called Flanders (this variety is called Flemish– the differences between Dutch and Flemish are comparable to the differences between British and American English); French, spoken in the southern part of the country, called Wallonia; and German, spoken in a small part of Wallonia bordering Germany.

These three languages cause important differences when it comes to naming our babies, and this is why separate statistics are kept for the three parts of the country. Some names are popular in the whole of Belgium, but these names will usually be popular in all of Europe and even beyond (Emma is an example).

Being Flemish, I will limit myself to the names popular in Flanders. Here is the Flemish Top 10 for 2010 so far–( names given in Flanders only, regardless of their origin):

Girls

 Marie
 Emma
 Lotte
 Julie
 Ella
 Louise
 Noor
 Elise
 Lore
 Fien

Boys
 Louis
 Daan
 Lucas
 Milan
 Kobe
 Lars
 Mathis
 Liam
 Wout
 Senne

These Top 10 names popular in Flanders can be further divided into five different categories: International, Dutch, French, Flemish and a smaller group  of English names,  clearly showing Flanders’ central position in Europe, and the varied cultural influences involved.

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International Baby Names

To commemorate the Chinese New Year, which launches the Year of the Tiger on February 14th, today’s guest blogger Michael, aka Mai-kuh, a keen first-hand observer of Chinese culture, reflects on some of the idiosyncracies of international name exchange.

Several years ago, I visited a Chinese friend, Wu, who was completing a business degree in Virginia. We had originally met almost ten years prior in China, when we studied together during my college semester abroad in a city near Shanghai. Even as a college student in China, Wu had been something of an addict when it came to American popular culture, casually sprinkling his English conversation with slang expressions picked up from counterfeit DVDs of Friends. But I was still shocked when, visiting Wu in his Virginia dorm room, he proudly showed me a picture of his newborn son back in Shanghai.

“He’s so cute!”, I gushed. “What’s his name?”

Larry.”

Larry? Short for Lawrence?”

“No, just Larry. Well, he has a Chinese name of course,” Wu quickly explained, “but I decided to make Larry his English name. It’s handsome, don’t you think?”

Whatever your particular feelings about the merits of the name Larry for a Chinese infant, Wu’s story captures something of the capricious way that people in mainland China often choose their English names, should they decide they need one. And these days, many Chinese in large cities — even if they don’t ever plan to leave China — decide to pick a Western “nickname” for ease of doing business with foreigners, for fun, or to be fashionable.

A Chinese student in Beijing or Shanghai might choose his or her English name in high school or college (and presumably, Larry will have the freedom someday to change to a new English name if he so chooses). When I spent a summer working at a financial firm in Shanghai, it was mandatory for all Chinese employees to use their English names — even in conversation with their Chinese coworkers. The only “Claude” I’ve ever known was a 22 year-old Shanghai native in the cubicle next door.

The process by which Chinese parents name their children is anything but simple. Chinese given names are generally chosen for meaning, sometimes with the consultation of a naming expert who ensures the name is auspicious according to Chinese astrology.

By contrast, the process of a young Chinese student choosing his or her own English name is an exercise in fun and cultural freedom. Chinese shares few linguistic similarities with English, so the typical Chinese name has few built-in clues to suggest its English equivalent. Unlike an “Alexandrei” from Moscow who might use the English name “Alex,” Zhang from Beijing is under no obligation to chose “Johnny” as the closest approximation.

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