The name game (2): bilingual baby names

One of the problems bilingual families face when choosing their babies’ names is finding something that’s easy to pronounce in both parents’ countries and languages and for both sets of relatives.

We didn’t follow that rule when our first child, a boy, was born. We were living in Rome at the time but for me there was no question: he’d be called Harry, after my Dad and my little brother (who died at 4 months and who has always been called “wee Harry” in our family). So Harry it was.

Or “Err-ee” as our Italian family calls him, with equal emphasis on both syllables. Why is it, by the way, that so many Italians pronounce the letter “a” as “e” when they’re speaking English? Too many old-school BBC types writing pronunciation guides for English language courses?

When I was expecting my second baby the list of possible girls’ names included Hope and Ruth. But we realised that single-syllable names wouldn’t work in Italy, while Hope presented the additional problem of the “H” and Ruth that of the “-th” ending. But I still think “Hope” is a wonderful name for a girl. Rebecca was another option, but a Jewish-Italian friend advised us against that, and Ruth too.

In the end we chose Olivia: a lovely name in itself, and thankfully easy for the family in Puglia to pronounce.

If you’re interested in names, and indeed if you’re expecting a baby yourself and are stuck for inspiration, Wikipedia’s got a fascinating list of the most popular names in the various regions of the world, in some cases broken down not just geographically but by religion too.

What about you: did you encounter any difficulties choosing your children’s names? Or does your own name cause you problems?

Other posts you might like:

What’s in a name: spelling “Gaddafi”

English-Italian blues

The name game (1): George Alexander Louis

By Marian Dougan




Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. Interesting, Marian, as I was listening to two bilingual families at Berlin airport today. Two little girls – Emma and Erin – and iI did wonder about Erin in German. On reflection, it is probably quite easy. My English friend in France called her daughter Olivia too – beautiful name and it works in both languages.

  2. It’s much easier with girls! Both times when I was expecting, my French husband and I came up with two lists of somewhat international names, one for boys, one for girls. The name shortage was always on the boy’s side! My boys-to-be never had lists, just a single undisputed name.

    I think it’s also important to attempt to make sure your kid’s name doesn’t mean something embarrassing in another language…

  3. Out came a boy so we went with our only choice: Gabriel. During my second pregnancy we maintained our choices for girls’ names, and probably even added to the list–so many pretty girl names out there! We had to dig for another boy’s name, which was hard. Those efforts were not wasted–a little William was born.

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