Thursday, December 11, 2008

The challenge of choosing the perfect multilingual-baby name

Thi is an article I wrote for the column Eurapsody, featured in 'Multilingual Living Magazine' in March 2006. I am posting it today with a special dedication to my friend Holger, a German native living in Japan, who's going to be soon father of another Multi Tongue Kid!

Choosing a name for a (future) multilingual kid can be quite a task. There are issues of pronunciation in both parents' languages, eventual meaning in each of the parents' culture, personal taste, tradition, etc. For out first child, coming up with his name was an ordeal: we felt the responsibility of choosing an identity we (and he) will have to live with for a long time, but, especially, an identity which worked in several cultures. We were so concerned about the name that the poor kid remained nameless for the first three days of his life!

In our case, the criteria were multiple: we needed a short name, since the father's last name is quite long. We also needed a name that could be pronounced in Dutch, Italian and French, and that could make sense in English too. The initial draft list was huge, and so many names we liked had to be scratched for one of the above incompatibilities!

-Dad liked Kaan, but it sounded like cane (dog in Italian).
-Mum liked Matilde (for girl), but the reference to the homonymous Belgian princess was too much to bear for Dad.
-Mum and Dad liked Vyn/Vin, but in French it would have been mistaken for Bacchus' juice (wine!).
-Many Flemish names would have simply been unpronounceable for the Italian side of the family
-We even dared Vancouver, on the list! But it was too cacophonic with the last name (which starts with "Van" as well).

After long discussions, Milo (pronounced mee-lo) and Sander were the chosen finalists. Somehow we thought that Milo would have been perfect for a dark, Mediterranean boy while Sander would have fit well a blond, Scandinavian type. It was Milo the blond, in the end!

So, here are 8 tips on things to consider when choosing a name for a future multilingual baby:

1. Consider carefully the pronunciation of the chosen name in all the languages involved in your life, and make sure that the name does not carry an undesired hidden meaning.

2. Make sure the name is easily pronounceable in the language of the environment, and by all the relatives/friends who will be part of the baby's life.

3. Make sure the chosen name correctly reflects the sex of the baby in all the languages you will be involved with (Andrea is a feminine name in the USA, but masculine in Italy).

4. Don't be afraid to be creative and to reflect the baby's multicultural background! However, think carefully how fun or hard it is going to be for him/her to be too much original and singled out.

5. Consider the initials: make sure they also don't spell out undesired meanings.

6. Consider carefully family traditions (like naming the child after the grandfather or an uncle, for instance): make sure other living relatives are not currently carrying the same name, avoid homonymy, if possible. Reserve such names for the middle names.

7. If you're considering original names, be wary of commercial products that might carry them. Perform a Google search for the name, just in case! (We found out afterwards that Milo is also the name of a milk drink popular in Australia...luckily it is not distributed in Europe).

8. Consider any nickname that might derive by your chosen name, and submit the nickname as well to the cultural/linguistic analysis of both parents' languages.


Yom said...

Ciao Clo,

Ma non c'era anche uno Zeno?

Clo said...

Si, ma quando ho scritto l'articolo non era ancora nato! Per lui invece la scelta è stata immediata, fin dalla gravidanza! La pronuncia varia un po' in Francese (Zeno')e Olandese (Zseno) ma non in maniera drammatica!