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Baby Names to Bridge Cultures

June 28, 2016 Abby Sandel

Esther writes:

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.

If we have a boy, I really liked Arthur or Henry. But then my cousin had a baby a month ago and called him Arthur Henry. So we’re going back to the drawing board.

My husband loves Alfred, Albert, Osric, Aelfric, and Aethelred. We’ve also discussed Theodore, Edmund, Gabriel, Joshua, Edward, Frederick, Cuthbert, and Wulfric.

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:

Alice or Frideswide? Joshua or Aethelred? That’s a tough call. Some families prefer names that mostly fit in, while others are firmly in favor of something bolder. There’s no right or wrong answer.

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 DumasThe 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.

Readers, what would you suggest to Esther and her husband for their child? Do you think I’ve been too quick to dismiss all of those great Anglo-Saxon names?

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

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