I am expecting my second child, a boy, in three weeks. Our last name sounds like Night. We have a daughter named Luella Grace (we call her Lulu).
During my first pregnancy, before we knew Lulu was a girl, we had short lists picked out for both sexes. This time, when we found out we were expecting a boy, we went back to our original short list. One name stood out as the clear winner, and for months we thought we were all set. We were sure that this little guy would be Gaius Christopher (Christopher is my husband's father's name), and we loved it. However, a few weeks ago, as I did more searches for the name Gaius, doubt began to creep into my mind. I have never heard it pronounced any other way than GUY-us. But it seemed that there were people out there who were not sure how to pronounce it, or worse, pronounced it GAY-us. Even Nameberry mentioned "the teasing potential of the first syllable." Really??
The other names on our original short list just don't seem right anymore, so we're considering Caius as an alternative. The G and C are interchangeable in Latin, so it was not a question of authenticity. I think Caius is also a great name. It just doesn't sound quite as fluid to me as Gaius does with Christopher and Night. In addition, people seem to associate it with the Twilight series, and we have some good friends who just named their son Kai, which, I'm sure Caius will readily be called, even if we don't use it as a nickname at home.
So, my question is, do we stick to our original Gaius (still the name both my husband and I prefer), or go with Caius in hopes that it will save my son from a lifetime of "Gaylord Focker" type teasing?
The name Gaius is so unfamiliar (it was given to only 12 U.S. baby boys in 2010), most people have never encountered it and will have to use their experience with the language to figure out how to pronounce it. In U.S. English, "ai" has no one single pronunciation, but it's commonly pronounced AY (as in say and day): raid, braid, aid, Kaiden, Jaiden, Adelaide, laid, maid, paid, afraid, pain, rain. And words like gain, gaiety, gaily, gait, as well as names like Gail and Abigail, reinforce the idea that the specific combination "gai" is pronounced as in "gay," not as in "guy."
Furthermore, in looking in my dictionary to see if I could find any gai- words pronounced with the "guy" sound, I found Gaius listed---and my dictionary (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged) gives the pronunciation as GAY-us. Howjsay.com says it's GUY-us or GAY-us. So does Merriam-Webster. In Latin, the name is pronounced like guy-oose---but this brings us to the difficulty of bringing a name from one language to another: do we call a child named Julius yoo-lee-oose (because that's the Latin pronunciation) or JOOL-lee-us (because that's the U.S. English)?
This issue comes up time and time again with name imports: should Catriona be like cat-tree-OWN-ah, or should it be like ca-TREEN-nah? Should Caitlin be like KATE-lin or like cat-LEEN? In general my opinion is that it's appropriate to translate names from one language to another (either by changing the spelling to get the right pronunciation, or by changing the pronunciation to fit the spelling)---and that if the parents choose not to translate the name into their culture's language, they should be prepared for / resigned to a certain Headache Quotient that comes with, for example, a lifetime of "No, it's not KATE-lyn, it's more like kath-LEEN. No, but it's spelled like Caitlin, yes, we realize. No, no, not spelled Kathleen. No, this is actually the authentic pronunciation."
Latin has its own additional complication: it's a dead language, and the speakers of it died off before they could tell us how to pronounce it. Which means you lack the resources you'd have if you used, say, Caitlin, where you could tell people who gave you a hard time to go ask ALL OF IRELAND if they have a problem with your pronunciation. It's especially tricky if you're pronouncing the first half of the name with the Latin pronunciation (sounding like the word "guy"), but the second half of the name with the United States English pronunciation (-us as in bus, as opposed to in Latin where it would sound like the -oose in loose or moose).
Yes, I would switch to Caius. People will still say it KAY-us until you feel like tearing your hair out (Caiden, Cain, caiman, Michael Caine, Caitlin, Novocaine, Medicaid), but at least the mispronunciation doesn't lead to a teasing issue. And perhaps we can think of an easy "No, it's KI as in ____" example for you to use; if anyone can think of familiar words where "cai" is pronounced KI in English, please leave them in the comments section. (Spelling it Kaius would also help somewhat, because of the boy's name Kai---although names like Kaiden would still lead people to mispronunciations, and your reference to authenticity makes me suspect you won't want to change to a K.)
Another possibility is going back to the drawing board. I realize it's late in the game for that, but your exasperation with mispronunciation is a bad sign: whichever spelling you use, you'll have to accept a lot of it. Sometimes it's worth a last-minute upheaval to avoid a name that will cause you continual frustration.
Or it might be enough just to be braced that the exasperation is a part of this name choice: Paul and I chose a non-typical spelling for one of our children's names, and I think it helped tremendously that we thought to ourselves beforehand "If we use this name, we're accepting a lifetime of spelling it Every.Single.Time.---and people will STILL get it wrong." We thought it over, and we decided we wanted to use the name more than we minded the potential frustration. So now when it happens, we shrug: the name was worth it to us, and we understood ahead of time that it was a natural mistake for people to make.
Let's have two polls. [Polls closed; see results below.] First: How would you think Gaius was pronounced, if you'd just seen it somewhere and hadn't first read this post? Second: Which name should the Nights use? Gaius, their long-time favorite which goes better with the middle name and last name? or Caius, to avoid the gay-a** teasing issue? NOTE: This is not a question about which of the two names you prefer: it's a question about whether the tease-factor of Gaius is enough to be worth giving up the favorite name for an alternative.
Name update! Kathryn writes:
Thank you for responding to my email! And thank you to all your readers for all the input. The opinions and polls were eye-opening.
Our son was born two weeks ago. We named him Dashiell Christopher "Night," and call him Dash.
I have to confess that despite popular opinion, my husband and I were ready to stick to our guns on Gaius. But at the eleventh hour, a dark horse emerged--Dashiell. It was a name that never made it onto our short list because, ironically, we thought it was too obscure (yes, we thought everybody had heard of Gaius Julius Caesar, but that few had heard of Dashiell Hammett) and maybe too literary. You see, we are a family of writers, my mother-in-law and I write children's fiction, my sister-in-law is a journalist, and my husband, while not a professional writer, was an English major and has also been published. Naming a kid Dashiell seemed like we'd be putting too much pressure on him. But the more we considered it, the more we liked it. In the end, I had a shockingly fast labor and delivery. And when they handed me my son, Dash just seemed to fit him perfectly. So I guess you can say we went with your "go back to the drawing board" advice. Thanks again!