Picking Bilingual Baby Names

In Spanish, I’m Cristina. I don’t even fight it anymore, I just introduce myself as “Soy Cristina” – it’s like my non-English secret identity. It’s just easier… I never have to repeat myself. Drew has learned to modify his name by pronouncing it with a slightly rolled R, and short – like Dru. If you live your life in another language, it’s just easier to adapt.

This has made me think a lot about my kids’ names. I didn’t do great with Cole’s name. I mean, at the time, Cole sounded like an easy to pronounce name. It was short! Punchy! Easy! But I wasn’t planning on raising the kids in a Spanish-speaking country back in 2009 when I was pregnant with him… I wasn’t planning for other languages at all.

Turns out Cole – or Col as it’s pronounced in Spanish – means cabbage.

I named my son cabbage.

CABBAGE. I just have to live with this now. (And honestly, no one has given us a hard time about it, they know we’re English-speakers, but still I’m forever mortified.)

But now we’re expecting a new baby. It’s time to pick a new name. I’ve already started thinking about it, even though it’s early because it’s so hard to find something that works in both languages. Stella has worked out well – it’s quite similar to Estela – but I noticed something curious. She’s more bilingual than the rest of us, she was born in Mexico, has been speaking Spanish since she was born (her first three words were: mama, dada and agua) and she’s very young so she has a great ear for the language.

If I ask her, “¿Como te llamas?” she responds, “Estela”. The way the Spanish-speakers say her name.

If I then ask her, again, immediately after, this time in English, “What is your name?” she says, “Stella”. With the English pronunciation. She has no idea she’s doing it, I assume, she just lives with this duality. But I could see it being much stranger if the name was pronounced drastically different in each language.

So now I’m somewhat obsessed with finding a baby name that works in both English and Spanish. It’s not easy! Here are my dilemmas:

1. It can’t be too Spanish. I mean Alejandro (or conversely Alejandra), is a lovely name, but I’d feel a little ridiculous. I’d feel like a poser. Plus what if I move somewhere else? I’d be like Hunter S. Thompson with his son Juan, living in Colorado.

2. It can’t change pronunciation too dramatically. That means most J-names are out – Julia becomes Yulia in Spanish.

3. Not too traditional either. Maria? David? No! But also I have to be careful of cultural references in Mexico… Damián and Gael are popular telenovela stars and popular baby names… but it’s sort of like naming my kids after 90210 characters (I’m sure Pamela Anderson’s Dylan and Brandon are less than thrilled).

4. Not too untraditional. I’m not naming my child Luz (light), Paz (peace) or Manzana (apple) or anything else that might hit the top celebrity baby name lists if Latin America was half as crazy as LA. Plus if I go in that direction and name my third child Luz or “light” it’s as if I really intended to name my first “cabbage”. Just imagine me in Spanish, “Estos son mis niños: Col, Estela, y Luz” (These are my children, Cabbage, Stella and Light.)

5. No trending names. Sofia is out… I don’t want the equivalent of “Jennifer” from when I was growing up. Also I have to be careful about Spanish translations… the boy’s name Mica sounds cute, but an alternative meaning in Spanish is “a girl who flirts” – not the best name for a boy.

6. No repeats… that means no versions of Nicolas (i.e. Cole) and no more -ella names, sadly.

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So I’m somewhat despairing at the moment as I thumb through lists of popular Spanish baby names. Any suggestions out there? How did you or someone you know handle naming their baby with more than one language or culture in mind?

For those of you in a similar spot, here are some I came up with that I think work in both languages…

Girls names:

Flora
Valentina
Luciana
Emma
Zoe (although it’s zo-ay in Spanish and zo-ey in English)
Violeta/Violet/Viola
Olivia (super common in the US but not as much in Mexico)
Lucía (although this is out for us, it’s Stella’s middle name)

Boys names:

(I have to admit I am totally struggling with the boy names, the Spanish names all sound way too romantic to me…)
Lucas/Luca
Mason
Finn (Fin in Spanish means “end” which would be funny if he was our last)
Aiden
Max
Alex

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I’M SO SCREWED. If you have an brilliant ideas tell me, please on FB.

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