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The Name Game: Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part 1

Choosing a Name in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.comNow that I have entered the third trimester of my pregnancy, we are renewing our efforts to pick a name for our Baby Monkey.  It took us forever to decide on a name for our older son.  In fact, we didn’t settle on one until a week before he was born, though my husband was on the fence until the very end.

As it turned out, my labor went much more quickly for our little Monkey than we had been told to expect for a first baby, so we almost didn’t make it to the hospital on time.  As we zipped down the highway at 90 mph, my husband – terrified that he would be delivering the baby on the side of the road – kept yelling, “That name you like?  I love it!  It’s great!  You can name him that!  Name him whatever you want!  Just don’t push!!

We are hoping to best that deadline this time around, plus I suspect my husband is going to park me at the birthing center a full two weeks before my due date.  (We made it to the hospital on time, by the way, though just barely 😉 )

Choosing a baby’s name is never easy, but the process is further complicated in a bilingual household.  We wanted a name that wouldn’t sound “weird” in either language, and it needed to be something relatives on both sides could pronounce.  And then we also had to choose a name that would sound good with our Spanish last names.  Whew!

To help us out, I thought it would be fun to hear stories from other multilingual/multicultural families about how they chose their children’s names.  They were all so gracious in sharing their adventures.  In fact, there were so many great stories, I have decided to divide this into two posts.  Here is part one – Enjoy!Choosing a Name in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

Language Combinations

I thought we had a challenge choosing a bilingual name – Valerie and Alex of Glittering Muffins are part of a trilingual household (French, English, and German)!

Cordelia of Multilingual Mama also tried to find a name that worked in three languages (French, Spanish, and English).  Yet she writes, “Sigh, in the end the ones that work we didn’t like and the ones we like were always weird in at least one language. But you know what? Relatives learn to pronounce and accept 🙂 Just go with what you love.”

Certain language combinations present particular challenges.  Daria of Making Multicultural Music writes that “the hardest part for us was that Spanish, Greek, German and Slavic have different diminutives… We had to consider what the name would turn into in each when you added the “Ito” or “chen” or “oula” … After too much consideration, we just went with our first choices – Kyra or Anya and Josef Anthony after his grandads.”

Varya of Little Artists writes, “We didn’t choose the names for their meanings, but something that would be easy to say in Russia, English and Chinese. Though I tell you – in Arabic Te-sa doesn’t have a very good meaning and neither in swahili!”

Picking names that work in both languages can be a real plus with the extended family.  David and Mariela of Sacramento eventually settled on an English first name (Sophia) and a Spanish middle name (Luz) for their daughter, since “dad’s a Euro-mutt and mom is Mexican.”  They had originally considered a French middle name but settled on Luz, “which coincidentally (read: was absolutely intentional) is mother-in-law’s middle name.” Yet they write, “it turns out there was an added benefit to the names we chose. Abuelita and abuelito (grandparents on mom’s side) speak Spanish only and have had difficulty with the American grandkids’ wacky, non-Español-ish names. However, as it turns out, Sofia Luz is the same in English and Spanish, which earned us some brownie points with the abuelitos.”

Cultural Heritage

Many parents try to honor their children’s culture heritage when choosing names.  Berglind in New York writes, “My daughter’s first name (Brynja, pronounced Brin-ya) is Icelandic and her middle name is Arabic (Amina) and then her last name is Norwegian (Birkland) so her scandinavian and her middle eastern backgrounds are all represented. I can’t tell you how much it meant to my family back home in Iceland (where I haven’t lived since I graduated from high school almost thirteen years ago) that our daughter has an Icelandic name (and speaks Icelandic).

Choosing a Name in a Bilingual Household - Alldonemonkey.com

About to go for a walk with my little Monkey when he was just a few weeks old 🙂

Kertu writes, “We are an Estonian (me) and Kenyan (my husband) family, and all our children’s names, as we decided, celebrate both of our cultures. So our girls have Estonian first names and Swahili middle names. Our son is named after my husband, for his first name and I chose his second name, which is Estonian. Our son’s second name is Hannes, that was the name of the first Estonian Baha’i.  By the way, my husband and son are both called Nelson, the older one after Nelson Mandela.”

Gina of Connecting Famiglia and Seoul and her family became multicultural in a special way when they adopted a little boy from Korea.  She writes, “It took us a while to come up with a name for our little guy. His Korean name was Park Jinsung (their surname comes first). We wanted to keep a part of his name, so we used Jin as his middle name, which means treasure in Korean. We finally agreed on Grady for the first name which means renowned.”

Different cultures also have their own customs about choosing children’s names.  Tallulah of Bilingual Babes is from the UK, and her husband is from Ghana.  She writes, “As my children are Ghanaian they automatically ‘qualify’ for Ghanaian names according to the day of the week on which they were born, so Schmoo is Abena (Tuesday) while Pan-Pan is Kojo (Monday). Other than that we chose first names that we loved.  My daughter’s is from a favourite film and gets mispronounced at her French school, while my son’s is from Brittany, so he fits right in.”

Erin in Iceland shares that in that country honoring the local culture isn’t just nice to do, it’s the law!  “We googled boys names when we were looking for names. the names had to work in icelandic, english and finnish and finding names that would work in all three countries was a puzzle. one of the names had to be icelandic according to law. after a lot of searching, late nights, and thinking we’ll never reach a conclusion, we chose the names Darian Adam and Nicolas Aron. the second names are both accepted by icelandic law but are international. Darian is Gaelic and means “precious present” and Nicolas means “victory of the people”. and since having children for us was not an easy process, the names are very appropriate.”

Giving children names from a particular culture can be a way to demonstrate one’s love for that country.  Hailey in South Africa writes, “My husband is Xhosa (same as Nelson Mandela) and I’m a peachy Californian. We gave our kids Baha’i first names (Tajalli and Dayyan) and Xhosa middle names (Thandazani and Nkosinathi).  Their first identity and culture we wanted to promote was their Faith and then their South African roots since that is where we live. Black and mixed South Africans love calling them by their african names. I think it makes them happy as it shows a celebration and acceptance of their Africaness although they have a peachy mom. This is very important teaching because it shows we have completely overcome the ‘white is better’ mentality that is still epidemic.”

Dealing with Negative Associations

Yet honoring one’s heritage can be complicated in today’s charged climate, and parents often have to consider all of the implications a name can have in different cultures.  Michelle in Minnesota – herself half Iranian and half American, married to a man from India – writes, “My son’s name was originally going to be Roshan Alexander but everybody asked how I thought he was going to get a job with a foreign name, so we changed it to Alexander Roshan but everybody except for 2 of his first cousins call him Roshan. It is both Persian and Hindi, with the same meaning, so that part works well. Most names my husband came up with were problematic for me, because in India, names generally communicate religion, caste, and region, and I did not want any of those things (but especially the first two.)”

So many things to consider!  Still to come, honoring family and choosing names with meaning!

Be sure to watch for Part 2 of this series, coming soon!

Thank you to everyone who shared their stories here.  What a lucky bunch of kids, to have such thoughtful parents! 

How did you choose your child’s name?  We’d love to hear your stories, too, so please share in the comments!

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18 comments on “The Name Game: Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part 1

  1. I love hearing all of these stories and look forward to part 2. What a multicultural world we live in!

  2. This is an excellent post. It is so interesting to read how people made choices around naming their kids. It’s such a difficult decision, isn’t it? For us, it was important to have names that could easily be pronounced in both English and French, thus Danielle and Dominic. I didn’t want the French-speaking side of our family to butcher their names! lol My Mom can barely speak English!

    • How interesting! I didn’t realize your family was French-speaking! Did you grow up speaking French?

      • I sure did – I didn’t know any English until I started Kindergarten! Both my kids are now in French Immersion school. It is so amazing to see how quickly they learn French. My daughter is completely fluent and my little guy is quickly catching up. When I left home at 18, I started rapidly losing my French because of lack of practice. Now, it’s all coming back as I’m interacting with the kids and their teachers in French. Practicing is so important!

  3. What a great read! Extremely interesting to learn different perspectives and experiences. I truly enjoyed part I and can’t wait for part II! Love the pictures!

  4. When someone are looking for unique baby names, they will be able to articulate their hopes, desires as well as dreams through it.
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  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and I loved the image of your husband agreeing to your favorite name if you didn’t push! Glad you made it to the hospital on time. Our girls both have an English first name and a Kikaonde middle name. My youngest’s middle name is Kukumiya which means surprise in Kikaonde but we usually call her Kuku and in Chichewa (spoken where we live now) it means chicken so we get a lot of laughs and confusion over that. Good luck with deciding on a name for baby monkey.

    • Thank you! I love that you picked local middle names for your girls. And esp love the “chicken” – seems like a cute nickname for a little kid, even if it was by accident! And yes, I feel like I could have asked my husband for anything on the way to the hospital as long as I promised not to push. The funny thing is that I was feeling GREAT, maybe because I didn’t have to worry about getting us to the hospital (that was his job). That stage of labor just felt like such a relief from the contractions, plus I knew we were close to getting to see our little boy, so I was on a real high, but my poor husband was pretty panic-stricken 🙂

  6. I so loved this post! We didn’t have the bilingual bi-cultural struggles and still had a heck of a time coming up with a name. We thought about giving our second son, born in Kenya, a Luo middle name to honor the place of his birth. But, then felt we didn’t want to favor one language group over the others, since our organization works all over Kenya. Maybe it was a mistake? Maybe we could have gone with a kiswahili middle name? Maybe we’re just boring? ; )

    BTW -Mud Hut Mama: Chichewa sounds a lot like kiswahili. kuku is also chicken and white people are also (wa)mzungu. I guess it’s the Bantu influence. ; )

  7. I enjoyed this post. We had the similar change when we had to name our first born, but naming our second was even harder. We wanted a name that would fit the child’s mixed race appearance (black & chinese) and match our Italian surnames without being something he or she would cringe at when reaching school age. In the end we went for Latin names as Latin was an old Language that many races spook in olden days, it covers Italian and some how seemed to be more all encompassing as many English words have their root in Latin. Hubby chose Angelo for our boy roughly the same week he was due, when he was born we both weren’t sure that it fit his chinese features but he’s our angel and stuck with it and now he’s crown into the name, Everyone says is perfect for him. Our girl is due in December. We stuck with Latin names and there is one that’s the front runner ;0)

    • What a great solution! Latin is the root of so many languages, that’s a great idea! And Angelo does really seem to fit him 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you come up with for your little girl!

  8. […] October Bilingualism Carnival is up!  So excited to have our post on Naming a Baby in a Bilingual Household included!  Many thanks to this month’s host, Bilingual […]

  9. […] can read some of those stories in Naming Baby in a Bilingual Household – Part One.  We share the rest of the stories below.  Hope you enjoy them as much as we […]

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