Baby Names to Bridge Cultures
I’m due in September, and am becoming increasingly anxious about choosing just the right name, because we have language issues to consider, as well as cultural issues. And, as a classic Nameberry user, I’m completely name-obsessed.
I’m American and my husband is Croatian, but we live in the UK and plan to stay, so we want a name that works in all three contexts, and, if possible, is recognizable in a few different European languages.
I have a list of firm favorites, but my husband is lukewarm about most of them. He tends to favor Italian-sounding names, which I mostly dislike. I think we both want a “badass princess” sort of name, but just can’t agree on how to get there.
In terms of style, I’m pretty firmly in the literary/Anglophile camp. I also like saints’ names and mediaeval names. My husband is even keener on outlandish and mediaeval names than I am, which might mean we end up with something completely off-grid (and unpronounceable in English, let alone other languages). I wouldn’t mind too much if we did, but the potential for bullying seems high.
For a girl, my husband likes Elspeth, Hild, Iris, and Oriana. Names I love, but my husband has rejected, include Andromeda, Beatrix, Coraline, and Elizabeth. We’ve also discussed Alethea, Frideswide, Gabriella, Henrietta, Isadora, Maude, and Theodora. He’s recently suggested Mathilde; he studied in Paris and we both speak French. We love Seraphina, but his family finds it weird. And Alice is my great-grandmother’s name; we both love it, but it’s so popular.
We have no idea where to start with middle names. Croatians don’t tend to have them, but I’ve always loved my unusual family middle name.
The Name Sage replies:
But I do think you can be guided by this: because your child will have loved ones that speak both English and Croatian, it seems sensible to choose first names that travel well. They don’t need to be identical in both languages, just portable. I think that rules out the more unusual Anglo-Saxon antiques, at least as first names.
You’ve found a great compromise name for a daughter: Mathilde. French is an important language in diplomacy, used by international organizations like the Red Cross. The fact that it’s a language you and your husband both speak makes this personally meaningful, too. While Matilda is popular in England, Mathilde is just different enough. It’s a cousin to the name Maude – the two were used interchangeably in medieval England. It incorporates Hild, a name from your husband’s list. Forms of the name are popular and recognized from Finland to Chile. And badass princess? I think Mathilde absolutely qualifies!
Alice crosses borders nearly as well, but you’re quite right that it’s become popular, in English as well as internationally. Alice is originally a form of Adelaide, which might be another name to consider.
You might also think about French names like Clothilde or Agathe. They’re less familiar than Mathilde, but have history to spare. More modern French names, like Anaïs, a French form of Anne, might belong on your list, too.
I do think you should use a middle name. It’s a great way to incorporate some of the more daring names on your list, or simply to choose something with meaning. Since the iris is the national flower of Croatia, that seems like an obvious pick. Mathilde Iris is a gorgeous combination that incorporates your history as a family, as well as your husband’s heritage.
Let’s move on to the boys. It’s tempting to cheer for Wulfric or Cuthbert. They’re cool names, and it’s a shame they’re on the verge of extinction.
But they seem harder to wear, at least in an international context. But there is one medieval name on your list that passes the test: Edmund. It’s the name of two Anglo-Saxon kings of England, but I believe it would be familiar, if not common, in Croatia, too. Edmund is impeccably literary, thanks to Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. And Edmund hits the sweet spot, not nearly as common as Albert or Gabriel, but far more familiar as a given name than, say, Aethelred.
If not Edmund, I think Theodore is another great choice. Like Mathilde, it works in a great many languages, including Croatian. It is a Top 100 name in the US and England, but that seems like it is less of a concern than with girls’ names.
As for middle names, I wonder if you might consider something like Luka or Luca? It’s a very popular name in Croatia, but also picks up on your husband’s love of all things Italian. And I think Edmund Luca or Theodore Luka both make striking combinations.
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on June 28th, 2016 at 11:25 pm
Maybe a two-part name, like Seraphina Iskra. It has an awesome sound, and Seraphina means fiery and Iskra means sparkle, so they are sort of related in meaning, and the Croatian family could call her Iskra if they can’t figure out Seraphina.
I love the suggestion of Luka as a middle for a boy.
on June 28th, 2016 at 11:31 pm
Yep, I think you were too quick to dismiss the names. After all, it’s pretty hard to find an American/English/Croatian name and their choices were lovely. I’m a firm believer in choosing the names you love best, regardless of what you think your rules or guidelines are.
on June 29th, 2016 at 12:06 am
I like almost all of the names being considered, so I don’t think they can make a bad choice! I hope this couple will share what they pick in the Nameberry announcements when the time comes.
The first names to come to mind were Everild or Raphaela for a daughter and Alaric or Philip for a son.
Everild is a very uncommon name that belonged to a saint from the 7th-century. I think it definitely has that badass princess vibe both parents are looking for, while not being too hard to pronounce. I think the fact that it starts with “Ev” makes it almost fit in with all the more common Ev names likes Evelyn and Evangeline.
Raphaela feels like a beautiful Renaissance inspired name that would fit right in with names like Gabriella and Theodora.
Alaric and Philip are both very old names with lots of history and tradition behind them, while being very wearable and accessible.
on June 29th, 2016 at 4:30 am
I love love love these names. I just mention Wulfric to my partner and he has fallen in love as well. Ohh please please update when you finally choose. What lovely picks and what great advise from Abby!
on June 29th, 2016 at 6:36 am
So, you’re very well traveled, like literature (and literary names), like the idea of a “badass princess” name, and seem to have fantastic taste in general.
Please continue being awesome. ^_^ I’m sure whatever name you choose will be great!
Seraphina has been one of my favorite names ever since I read it for the first time in “His Dark Materials” trilogy. I don’t think it’s strange at all. Maybe your husband’s family could call her “Sera” of “Finn” or another name as a nickname if they don’t like Seraphina.
I knew a Hungarian girl named “Blanka” and I thought it was nice and could work in a lot of different languages. Also, my friend Blanka was a badass princess kind of person, so perhaps that’s why I thought of it.
But ultimately, as long as it’s pronounceable in both Croatian and English, then whomever comes into our child’s life will get used to whatever name you choose. I have lived in a lot of different places too, and I’ve met people from all over the world and a lot of the time they have names that are weird to me at first. But, over time I get used to them and they seem perfectly lovely.
Even my name “Michelle,” which is quite common in the US is very strange where I live now (in Japan), but people get used to it, and if they have trouble saying my name (little kids have a lot of trouble with it), then they call me by a nickname like Ellie or Mi-chan (chan is an honorific added to names in Japan).
All names are strange somewhere. Go with what you like.
on June 29th, 2016 at 8:36 am
As a fellow Slav, I think I can lend a hand in that department.
on June 29th, 2016 at 9:58 am
I like Mathilde Iris, and Wulfric. Wulfric has good nickname possibilities, and sounds nice when pronounced ‘vulfric,’ which I assume might occur with Croatian relatives? My boy’s middle name is Wolf, and my mother who is not American just subbed out the word for wolf in her native language. I love having a multicultural family, because my children get exposed to more adorable nicknames, I think your families will do fine with whatever name you choose.
on June 29th, 2016 at 11:14 am
I think her suggestion for a girl name is beautiful even though, I had no idea how to say the first name. I love the symbolism with Iris being the national flower of Croatia.
I also LOVE the name Seraphina and think Seraphina Iris is stunning.
Boys. I think you’ve got something with Edmund Luca.
on June 29th, 2016 at 11:53 am
Additional Alice-related names: Alaïs (Ah-lah-EES or Ah-LAY-iss) & Aelis (AY-lish). Alais (minus the umlaut) was a French princess in the late 1100s; Aelis is a strong-willed princess from a Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Aliénor is a medieval variant of Eleanor, which brings to mind Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was most definitely a badass princess/queen!
on June 29th, 2016 at 12:11 pm
I love the suggestions of Mathilde and Edmund! Although I would go with the French spelling Edmond to keep that theme going.
on June 29th, 2016 at 2:00 pm
I second the Edmond spelling! Mathilde and Edmond are two of my favorites!!
on June 29th, 2016 at 3:35 pm
For the record: Mathilde WAS a badass princess. She was the daughter of Henry I, and after her brother died in an accident, heir to the throne of England. Though her cousin Stephen took the throne ultimately, Mathilde fought for it for years and was occasionally queen until Stephen took it back. So you would have a great namesake in English history.
on June 29th, 2016 at 4:19 pm
Edmund is a great choice, how about Elfride for a girl.
on June 29th, 2016 at 6:06 pm
Austine0923- I’m currently reading a book on the Plantagenets & you’re totally right. Empress Mathilde was a badass. Her mother & grandmother were Matilda/Mathilde also. She was also granddaughter of William the Conquerer, mother of Henry II, & grandmother of Richard the Lionheart! So much interesting history!
on June 30th, 2016 at 11:08 pm
All of the names you listed are beautiful!
If you guys love Seraphina (which I think is adorable!) you shouldn’t let relatives convince you otherwise… There is no possible way to please everyone! But since you guys also like Alice, but think it’s too common, maybe mix Alice and Seraphina and call her Alaphina. It flows beautifully and is definitely unique! Mathilde Iris is cute too!
Anyways, I love the name Gabriel for a boy and Luka is a great Croatian choice for a middle name!
on July 1st, 2016 at 12:19 am
Alaric for a boy, it may be unusual but it’s fairly easy to pronounce. Mathilde seems to fit everything you are looking for. Seraphina is nice too. Something you might want to consider is a name that is similar in both languages but not exactly the same and have one as a legal name and family can choose which is easier for them. My first language is English and my husband’s is Spanish. We have family members that only speak one so our daughters name is Lilian but we frequently call her Liliana. Another name that comes to mind is French but works well in English (idk about Croatian) and is uncommon is Lorraine
on July 1st, 2016 at 6:21 am
I agree with the others: Mathilde, Seraphina, Edmund/Edmond and Luca/Luka are very good names and are perfect to use.
But I also love the suggestions Osric and Iris and think they would also work well as a first name.
I personally would refrain from using Aethelred because it does seem like a very complicated name to carry. (I don’t think I would understand the name correctly during an introduction). But you could use it as a second name. I think that this would also be a great option to for Alice. Alice is indeed a very beautiful name and could also add balance a very unusual first name.
Other names that might fit:
Arlene, Livia, Aura, Rita, Florence, Anouk, Theodora, Marlena/Magdalene, Philine, Ellyn, Antonia, Freya, Marielle, Willemina, Laetitia
Conrad, Matija, Jonas, Leonhard, Emilian, Lorenz, Stefan, Otto, Cyril, Darius, Fritz, Oswald, Fabian, Constantin, Johann, Martin, Richard, Ansel/Anselm, Aurelius
on July 2nd, 2016 at 3:25 am
When I read this all I could think was ‘Seraphina, Seraphina, SERAPHINA!!’ I really don’t think you should be out of a name because of what family thinks or anyone else for that matter, if you like it, go for it. They’ll soon grow to love it when they see it on their granddaughter/niece etc. I know my family aren’t going to approve of any (well at least most) of our chosen names but they’re what we love so they’ll just have to get over it. We’re not going to compromise for somebody else.
on July 2nd, 2016 at 6:03 am
Love the name Seraphina. It’s beautiful! If you both love it, then go for it. His family will love it once they meet her. Good luck!!!!
on July 2nd, 2016 at 9:31 pm
on July 2nd, 2016 at 9:38 pm
on August 29th, 2016 at 4:33 am
Estelle sound like a fit for you!
on October 17th, 2016 at 7:21 am
We had a girl on September 22nd, and named her Beatrice Illyria. She was born an hour and twelve minutes ahead of her due date, and is (rather pleasingly) an Autumn Equinox baby. 🙂
Beatrice worked for us because, though I was really fond of the name Beatrix before she was born, she was just so soft and squishy and gentle-looking when she arrived that I couldn’t help but think of her as having a sort of golden-pink name (Beatrix is a little spiky for her, it turns out), and Beatrice fit the bill. It also seemed perfect because it works very easily in French and Italian, and is recognisable in lots of other languages too, being close to Beatriz (Spanish and Portuguese) – but in spite of the flexibility of it and the fact that it’s also an Italian name, my husband prefers the English version. Besides, she’s made us enormously happy by her arrival, and Beatrice means “bringer of happiness”. She’s been inspired directly by the Beatrice from Dante, by the way, rather than the Beatrice from Shakespeare – but she can decide later which one she prefers!
Speaking of Shakespeare, Illyria was on our shortlist in the last couple of months of the pregnancy because it’s just SUCH a pretty name (and intuitive to spell but very rare – result!), and it was the Roman province that included the area where modern Croatia is now. It’s also nice that it’s referenced as a fictional location in Twelfth Night, but we seem to have chosen two names that are overtly “Shakespearean” for quite un-Shakespearean reasons! Besides, I had a real thing for names starting with “I” (Iris, Isadora, etc.), and we thought “Beatrice Iris” sounded a little repetitive with those two “-iss” endings in a row. Her initials are BIC, which I hope she won’t mind (the pen company is pretty innocuous).
Thanks for all your wonderful suggestions – they were great to read, and helped a lot!
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