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Monday, February 7, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: The Bilingual Factor

Marce writes:
I write to you from Buenos Aires, Argentina, expecting a baby girl on 19th of Feb! My husband and I have a 2 year old son named Agustin Marcelo (said Ah-goo-steen in Spanish) which was lucky, because it can easily be pronounced in English, and my family will be moving to Virginia, U.S.A. about four months after the new baby is born.

We have not come up with any names we are seriously considering so far because we are wanting to be extremely cautious about the bilingual factor. We will be in the US for 10 years at the least, so our children will clearly be raised very American. I myself spent my high school years in Washington, and as a Marcela, I know the troubles of having a name that is not pronounceable in the country where one is living, and I do not want that to happen to my daughter.

The only names we've really liked so far are impossible to pronounce in English, so let us start from scratch. We like very lovely, long names, although short is fine too. Hopefully it will sound nice with Agustin (with the English pronunciation too). We would also love for the middle name to be Magdalena or Isabel, but it is not necessary. Hopefully it would not be too common a name in the US. We do not really like common names (we have looked at Andrea, Julia, etc, but they do not appeal). Also, we are inclined toward nickname-able names (Agustin is called Agu, I am Marce, my husband Feli).

Sorry if that is very much to ask! Of course not all the criteria needs to be met, just some things we am looking for.

These are, for me, the hardest questions to answer. I feel pretty solid with U.S. names, but nowhere near familiar enough with other countries' names or pronunciations---let alone the connotations of names, which is the hardest part for a non-local to get a feeling for, or to research---to even make a start at it.

But this is the beauty of the internet: we can pool our knowledge. And so I post this question, even though I'm unable to answer it, and I hope others will be able to work on it.


J Grace said...


Saly said...

Sadly, my bilingual naming knowledge comes from watching Diego...but it has made me think of one name.

I love the Spanish pronunciation of Alecia-- Ah-leese-ee-ah 4 sylables and beautiful, if you ask me. And in English, you have Ah-leesh-ah- 3 syllables and also, a very pretty name.

Good luck, and congrats on your baby girl!!

Amelia said...

I think bilingual or imported names are becoming more and more common - I don't think any teacher (especially in Washington State, with our large immigrant population) would have any trouble pronouncing Marcela these days. That said, I know some adorable little girls names Sarai (Sar-ai-ee), Jasmine (Yas-meen in Spanish, Jazz-min in English), Cynthia (Seen-thee-ah in Spanish, sin-thee-a in English), Miranda, Elodie, Evelyn, Angela, Ophelia... So many great names!

beyond said...

I think both your mn picks are lovely.
Maybe you'd like some of these:
I really like Luisa for you. Agustin and Luisa; Luisa Isabel. And Francisca could be sweet too; Agustin and Francisca.
Good luck!

SamanthaW said...

Some names from my Costa Rican host family that I think translate well to English:
Adela- I love this name. I think its prettier in Spanish than English, and a little old-fashioned, but still beautiful.
Genesis-The pronunciation obviously changes quite a bit, but I think its a beautiful girls name in both languages. And Gene is a cute nickname.
Sofia, Xinia, Patricia, Elisa are also names that would crossover.

M.Amanda said...

One of my favorites is Pilar. I also like Catarina. Julieta would seldomly be pronounced the same in both countries, but is lovely either way.

Alison aka Baby B said...

My personal favorite: Cecilia. I love Luisa, a suggestion by Beyond.

Other possibilities:

Keep in mind that I don't speak much Spanish, and I don't know connotations of Spanish names, what's in, what's grandmother-ly, etc. And I'm from California and have personally known an Yesenia, a Valentina, a Regina, and a Marta. I'm not a good predictor of how people in other areas might pronounce/mispronounce these names.

Kate said...

Sofia - though this is popular in the US

Emily R said...

Elia might not be long and flowery, but I love it, and a cute nn is Ellie.

Leslie said...

Some good crossover names (I apologize for any repeats of suggestions from other posters):

Lucia (Lucy)

As a side note, my husband and I have also brainstormed names that work in both Spanish and English, and we often found it helpful to look at names with roots in other Romance languages, such as French or Italian. The names might not be traditionally Spanish, but they sometimes work in both Spanish and English. Just a thought.

Kait said...

Sadie for NN?

StephLove said...

I think you'll find people much more familiar and/or willing to learn names from other languages than when you were a teen. I don't know what part of Virginia you will be in, but Northern Virginia has a large immigrant population.

I liked the suggestions of Gabriela and Jazmin. I like Gabriela Isabel and Jazmin Magdalena.

Here are a few more to consider:


Barb @ getupandplay said...

What about Elena?

Anonymous said...

love paloma!

Anonymous said...

I love your son's name!

What about Agustin and (sorry for repeats)

Emiliana/Emilia (love, love, love this) Agu and Emi :)?

kimma said...

I personally love Elena and Eliana as already suggested. (nickname Ellie for either or Leni for Elena)

I wonder if Leonora would work with your preference for something more uncommon? You can use the nickname Nora which is quite popular these days.

kimma said...

I meant to add that I love Magdalena and wonder if you would use this as your first name? You could use nickname Lena/Leni or Maggie for something more US-centric.

lauren said...

mariela/mariella (nn: mari)
paloma is great, too!

AirLand said...

I like Magdalena for the first name too, with nn Maggie. Magdalena Isabel sound great and I don't think anyone would have a hard time pronouncing it.

Ashley said...

Magdalena is a favourite of mine! Isabel is beautiful, too, but is VERY popular here. There's definitely a trend going on here for Spanish/Italian/French names, so by giving your daughter an Argentinian name, not only will she fit in but it won't be too unusual for people to pronounce.

One thing to remember, though, is that Americans don't use diacritic marks (ej: Belén is just Belen, no mark over the "e"), so that will change how a name looks on legal documents, and therefore MIGHT affect how people will pronounce it from just reading it.

But don't worry too much- unless the name contains sounds that are uncommon/rare in American English (like "ñ", or the "r" at the beginning of a name, like in Portuguese), most people will be able to pronounce it without difficulty after hearing it the first time.

Meredith said...

I was also going to suggest Magdalena in the first name spot. Or Elena is another one that is familiar but not overdone, as someone else already mentioned. (Our daughter is Helena but my Spanish-speaking friends call her Elena and we often call her Nena.) I second Cecilia, tambien.

What about Elsa? It's more common among the Spanish speakers where I am but is a gem among English speakers.

Anonymous said...

We have several Latin American friends and here are their names, which I find easy to pronounce in English:

Alexia(brothers are Matias and Gonzalo)
Daniela (brother Mateo, pronounced Ma-TAY-oh)
Matea (pronounced Ma-TEE-a)


Laura said...

I love the Spanish name Socorra which would lend itself to the very American nickname of Cora.

Anonymous said...

I love the name Inez (pronounced ee-nez, not eye-nez) which is Spanish in origin. Inez y Augustin sounds nice.

British American said...

My daughter has a Hispanic friend named Celeste. I think her name sounds pretty with the English and Spanish pronunciations. :)

the post girl in dc said...

Paloma! One of my favorites. And now I get to break out one of my other favorites- Octavia. Agustin and Octavia. Nickname Tavi? Octavia Isabel. I love it.