Choosing a child's name is never an easy task for any parents-to-be. But choosing a name when you are about to raise a multilingual and/or multicultural child is even tougher. A lot of parents actually explain that they started off by wanting a name pronounced in the same way in all languages or one that will be pronounceable by their extended family. But in the end, they all end up going with something that they like regardless of any pronunciation issues.
Here are some of the things to look out for:
The name may refer to a boy in one language/culture and to a girl in the other (often with minimal, if any, spelling differences). For example, Nicolas is a boy's name in France but is a girl's name in England (Nicola). Or it could be both girl and boy in a culture but other cultures may only know one of the two and be surprised and confused at it being used the other way. For example, René is a common boy's name but its girl equivalent also exists (Renée) but is used much more rarely.
The names may be unpronounceable in your other half's language: João in Portuguese is a lovely boy's name we liked but go explain to a British or French person how to pronounce it and it will come out as Jo-a-o. Horrible! Here is how to pronounce it properly.
- Officially approved names
Some countries have approved names. Germany is one of those countries. The name you give your child has to be on that list or you will have to justify it. In theory, you must be able to tell the gender of the child by the first name. And they take this very seriously and consult other foreign embassies for assistance with non-German names. Deviating from that list will mean weeks or sometimes months of negociations and can be costly.
- Cultural connotations
Some names may have cultural connotations or associations you are not aware of and may live to regret. For example, you may pick a lovely name but your husband totally refuses to even consider it as there is a supermarket or a laundry detergent called like this in his country!!
- Family traditions
What you can do:
You could always go for a name which has two versions (two different spellings, for example: Jasmine (Eng.) could be Yasmine (Arabic)).
Some parents translate their children's names. Mateo may become Matthew or An Zhu may become Andrew. While this may be practical in some cases, personally, I have never been a big fan of those.
Some also give two completely different names. I know a bilingual family who named their child a name in English and another in French. Mum called him something different from Dad. I lost touch with them, so I don't know if they stuck to it. But it seems really confusing to me.
Still in need of some inspiration, check out these popular lists for different countries:
Baby names around the world on Babycenter
Common Chinese names on Wikipedia
World-wide popular names on Wikipedia
Check out these stories from fellow bloggers about their experiences:
- How to name a child when you're an expat? - by The European Mama
- The name game: naming baby in a bilingual household - by All Done Monkey
- Names and cultural identities in stories of immigrant children - by Kid Word Citizen
- Naming our future bilingual baby - by Spanglish Baby
As for our daughter's name, well, we did want something pronounceable by everybody. So, we came up with a name that is neither French, nor English, nor Portuguese. It is Arabic! We love it. But I am sure many people think we are crazy. The English had difficulty spelling it as there are several possible versions. Some of the family did not really like that 'Arabic' name. So they tried calling her by her middle name instead (much more traditional European). And when we moved to Germany, when she was 1, we discovered, not all cultures could pronounce it properly!
Whatever you choose, you will never be able to please everybody. Make sure you please yourselves first!
Thank you to The Multicultural Kid bloggers who shared their stories with me.