More on Names and Ethnicity - when you're not from there.

It started out with a small fascination with Hebrew names. Not the common biblical ones. Then I was thinking about certain names I feel uncomfortable “appropriating” because they seem too ethnically diverse from my heritage. Then I start thinking, I’m not even that in touch with my heritage. I’m just American of vague Euro caucasian appearance.

It just seems like some names have an origin and some names really come from somewhere else, does that make sense? What are your feelings about taking a name from somewhere you or your spouse is not, not even close? Some Greek or Italian or Hebrew or French names, etc., seem so well used, they have totally assimilated and don’t seem odd, well they must have at the beginning? [name]How[/name] do you take a name that really sounds nice from a culture you know nothing about, and then act natural about it?

I was remarking on [name]Zetta[/name], which is a Hebrew name, but it doesn’t seem more off-limits than [name]Sarah[/name] or [name]Rachel[/name] in the way that [name]Yael[/name] or [name]Chanah[/name] does. I have wondered whether it was appropriate for me, a non-Jew, to use the name [name]Yona[/name]. A few really Irish names have come across lately here that I’d definitely feel you have to have some strong Irish blood to explain these names to people, and not just like them a lot. Other Irish names are probably a lot phonetic. I know nothing of the language, but I definitely see some wild spellings and unintuitive pronunciations with the Irish names, that some more familiar to the American ear and eye would be more accessible, and surely, some must be spelled Americanly (I made up a word) just to appeal to the masses, which they do.

Any more thoughts or ideas? Other names I’ve liked are [name]Kirsten[/name], [name]Naomi[/name], [name]Leila[/name]. I don’t have a hard time justifying those names in [name]America[/name] despite their origin differing from my own. I don’t have really exotic tastes in names to begin with, so how does one go about liking a name that’s uncommon in the US to the point where it might require more info when a person asks, how did you come up with a name from Japan for your obviously not [name]Asian[/name] child? They have cool names. I liked it. ? Or, I didn’t know you were Jewish… eh, I’m not.

For those adopting babies from other countries, do you try to pick a name that is from their country or the US? Or something from their list that blends in better, or something really interesting and unusual here? If you already have some children, do you make an effort to find a name that is from their language/culture but which goes with the other names in your family so they feel part of your family? Lots of questions. :slight_smile:

This is such a great question, karen, and I’ve been musing about the same thing for a while without any real solution, since I like plenty of names from other traditions. I guess the truce I’ve made with myself is to be as exotic about it as I feel comfortable with while preserving as much simplicity as I can (spelling and pronunciation issues, mainly, or avoiding names strongly associated with just one region or ethnicity which could cause unnecessary confusion, which still wouldn’t be the end of the world but I’m not sure I want to take on). You remind me of the time three musicians were performing at a church I used to go to–one white, one with a Hispanic surname, and one black. I think we were all surprised when [name]Tyrone[/name] turned out to be the white guy. My sister just had a baby with her boyfriend, whose family is from Central [name]America[/name], and his sister didn’t care for my sister’s choice of the name [name]Seth[/name], saying that she chose such a white name, which I thought was funny 'cause first of all, my sister’s white, and second, people of many ethnic backgrounds use biblical names so it’s not quite the same as if she’d chosen, say, [name]Percy[/name]. Her hesitation was more understandable in that [name]Seth[/name] sounds similar to “sed,” which is “thirst” in Spanish, but still no big deal to me. Anyhow, great topic! Are there any other names in particular you’re on the fence about? Sometimes I’d like to just throw some names out there for a reaction to see if I’m anywhere near in sync with what people would think of me using them. For instance, I’m white–how weird (really, sort of, not at all) would you perceive it to be if you heard me calling my little white girl [name]Imani[/name], or [name]Keiko[/name], or [name]Parvati[/name], or [name]Galina[/name] (my whiteness is obviously not of the Russian variety). I’m not having a baby anytime soon and these names aren’t on the top of my list, so no pressure there, just to satisfy my curiosity–would it come off as pretentious, or annoying, or…?

P.S. I wouldn’t recognize [name]Yona[/name] as a Jewish name but I suppose plenty of Jewish folks would. [name]Yael[/name] I would recognize, mainly 'cause the story in Judges is pretty intense. I would probably assume you were Jewish with that name. I would probably think of [name]Catherine[/name] [name]Zeta[/name] [name]Jones[/name] with [name]Zetta[/name] before anything else, and Z names are generally regarded as cool no matter the origin.

I was trying to think of solid examples and this thread just dropped off the first page a while… anyway:

I walked into a bank that’s not my bank and was greeted by Anthippe. I commented on her name, that’s an interesting name, I said. She managed to fit in “I am Greek” and then went on to tell me all about the kinds of accounts I could open up.

So I guess when we think about names and where they are from, I also think about authenticity. If I grew up with my best friend Anthippe, I who am not Greek, might love her so much that I would want to choose the name for my daughter, who would also not be Greek (let’s imagine her father’s not Greek for this example). I think that’s an example of a name she would have to respond to, “it’s a Greek name.” Followed by, no, I’m not Greek. My name also happens to be Greek, but I don’t have these questions because [name]Karen[/name] is a common name used in the US. [name]How[/name] did my name find its way here to 3rd most popular in 1965, and well saturated for several decades before and after? I don’t know that Anthippe is poised to appeal to most American parents even of Greek descent, much less the population at large, but let’s find an Irish or Italian name that just about anyone can use, no matter where they come from. Or how about Russian or French or [name]German[/name]?

I guess I wonder how they get picked up, and how can I feel entitled to choose a pretty name from somewhere else. Like I’d said, I’m part [name]German[/name] and Italian myself, but in a very few generations, my immigrant ancestors assimilated rather than bond with others in their new homeland and don’t retain any culture. NONE. I would find it very tricky to pick a very [name]German[/name] or Italian name, that it feels the same if I were to pick an Irish or Hungarian name, or perhaps an [name]Indian[/name] or [name]African[/name] name. Some names blend in and some don’t. I think of the bible for sources - I am not religious, but many of our common given names are biblical - my [name]Daniel[/name], or [name]Sarah[/name] or [name]Elizabeth[/name] or [name]John[/name]. I’d feel fine picking among these names, less so picking an [name]Ezekiel[/name] or [name]Jeremiah[/name] or [name]Jonah[/name]. Yet, when I look at a lot of the suggestions, I would say, pick a name you like from anywhere, and it may or may not become accessible, at least it will always be interesting.

So I might say, sure, [name]Yona[/name]. I like [name]Lorenzo[/name]. Not so hot on [name]Lawrence[/name], but [name]Lorenzo[/name] seems like it may pass, and it just sounds really cool (a lot cooler than [name]Daniel[/name]!). I have to add that even though I’m a good portion Italian by lineage, nobody ever seems to believe it. So I shy away from bonding with names like [name]Lorenzo[/name] because I don’t look or “feel” Italian enough.

A few weeks ago, someone was trying to find formal names for [name]Posy[/name] as a nickname. It is difficult to search names that start with P which include ‘os’ so I found the name [name]Piroska[/name], which is the Hungarian variant for [name]Priscilla[/name]. I’m not really in favor of the name [name]Piroska[/name] so much as find it curiously applicable to the task. Like Anthippe, I think this is just too “foreign” for American parents to choose from the get-go, I would be delighted (probably) to meet someone named [name]Piroska[/name] who immigrated or was born from recently immigrated Hungarian parents. Names like [name]Piroska[/name] or Anthippe are kind of awesome. They are also awkward choices for an American parent looking for something different or “authentic” to their lineage without being in range for it seeming like a natural choice.

My niece has a Japanese name. Her mother is half Japanese but grew up in the US, and her mother is all Japanese with a Japanese name, who speaks Japanese and prior to my sister-in-law’s birth, immigrated to the US and married a man of English descent (but not English per se), not necessarily in that order. My sister-in-law has a Latin name, her brother and sister respectively, a Greek and a biblical name, all very common American names. My niece’s name is also semi-common, close to and sometimes mispronounced as a more-common biblical name. I feel this name has some balance and meaning, as it seemed chosen to honor Japanese heritage while maintaining some English heritage balanced with my brother’s American mutt heritage like my own. So I feel this name is quite good without being “too Japanese.” It blends in, and I don’t feel like anyone will ever ask my niece where her name comes from. It might seem more made up than Japanese after all, but it blends in very well with our culture, unlike [name]Kyoko[/name].

I worked with a woman of fairly obvious Euro heritage who married a Middle Eastern man. She was expecting her second child when I worked with her, and both of their names were pure Middle Eastern (sorry can’t remember what country exactly), although I cannot remember what they were. I never asked her if she liked any names better or if she didn’t participate in the choosing or had to choose off a list of Middle Eastern names. Since I didn’t get to ask her, I wonder if this was something she agreed with or put up with. Although the names might be beautiful or have some excellent meaning for her and her husband, I could not picture myself choosing those names above some favorites I’ve had for a long time. If I met someone very Italian for the father of my children, then [name]Lorenzo[/name] would make a lot more sense, but I’m not sure I would want to limit myself if I really still love the name [name]Daniel[/name]. Danielo, I suppose, but there’s not really an equivalent to that in some languages, and I don’t always like the equivalents some languages come up with. Could me and [name]Armando[/name] (the Italian fantasy mate) then have some American names, [name]German[/name] names, or maybe some Middle Eastern or Japanese name that appeals to me at the time?

I don’t know if this made any sense. I am curious about people’s names as sometimes they indicate also a heritage, but some names do not. I don’t know if I would choose a name unfamiliar to the US that I just think was incredible and appealing. I mostly feel for the misunderstanding, the curiosity gets built up to find out where this person is from, only they are not from there, or know very little about it, yet some names do implant themselves in our cultural familiarity, somehow, and if they are weird-ish, they may eventually become familiar picks. So I don’t know how far across the line to go if at all.

Very interesting topic!

I have a lot of personal experience with this one. My name - Sonrisa - is the Spanish noun for “smile”. When I meet people, the dialogue usually goes something like this:

Me: [name]Hi[/name], I’m Sonrisa
back and forth a few times with them mispronouncing it and me reiterating the pronunciation
Them: Oh, that’s beautiful. Where is it from?
Me: It means “smile” in Spanish.
Them: Wow, cool! [name]Do[/name] you have Spanish heritage?
Me: Nope, my parents just liked the name.
Them: Oh, awesome.

I don’t feel weird or awkward having a name that reflects a culture I’m not part of. If anything, I am proud of the fact that my parents were creative enough to come up with my name without any reason to look for a Spanish name.

I adore [name]Indian[/name] names, and have often wondered if a Caucasian girl named [name]Anjali[/name] or [name]Kalindi[/name] would get strange looks, but considering my own experience I don’t think it would stop me from using the names.

I’m about 99.9% Irish (Catholic) and my husband is a mix of Western Europe (also Catholic) and I am obsessed with Hebrew names, but can’t pull the trigger. I lovelovelove [name]Ari[/name] (boy) and [name]Aviva[/name] (girl).

I don’t feel names that are not of your own ethnic heritage should be off limits. If this were the case most of us would not have the names that we do and neither would our children. If you think about our ancestors and the reasons they chose the names that did for their own children most were following tradition or used names that they already knew. Following my ancestry the name [name]Rhoda[/name] was used 4 or 5 times. I have men in my family who where named after political leaders - [name]Andrew[/name] [name]Jackson[/name], [name]George[/name] [name]Washington[/name], [name]Martin[/name] [name]Van[/name] [name]Buren[/name]. Actually the above trend seemed to be quite popular and actually made it a bit difficult to trace some ancestors. It made me grateful for those who had more unique names. Resources are in abundance compared to the days of old. With the internet, name books, the news, ect. the options for names are endless. I do not feel any name should be off limits to anyone even to those who fall in love with a name that might not be of their own ethnic race. My heritage is a melting pot of English, [name]German[/name], Swedish, Irish, [name]Nova[/name] Scotian, and American [name]Indian[/name]. My husbands however not so diluted, Italian and Puerto Rican. With that said we both love Japanese names. : /

I think it depends on how strongly associated the name is with the other culture, how well-known it is, and probably how widespread the other culture is in your area. An unusual name is an unusual name, regardless of ethnic association. A name that is very connected to an ethnic group is where I’d imagine the real question would lie.

I’m from [name]Texas[/name] and I’m caucasion. If I named my son [name]Ramon[/name] I think I’d be making a huge statement and inviting a lot of questions and speculation about who the daddy is, simply because that’s a very common, very Hispanic name here.

By contrast, if I named my daughter [name]Kalinda[/name], 99% of the people around here would probably think it’s just a pretty name and never realize its ethnic origins. It would probably pass more easily because K names are so wildly popular and smacking an ‘inda’ to the end of a name isn’t unheard of in the making-up-names world. It would be right in line with names like ‘Kalissa’ or ‘[name]Kayla[/name]’ or ‘[name]Melinda[/name]’ or ‘[name]Jacinda[/name]’.

If I lived somewhere where there was less Hispanic population and more of an [name]Indian[/name] population, I don’t know… [name]Kalinda[/name] might be more recognizable as an ‘ethnic’ name than [name]Ramon[/name].

Ultimately, I think it’s just something you’d have to be prepared for. [name]Just[/name] like if you named your son ‘[name]John[/name]’ you’d have to be prepared for the association with the bathroom, ‘[name]John[/name] [name]Doe[/name]’ and hookers’ clients as well as a solid, traditional name with royal, presidential and Biblical roots.

And, for what it’s worth, I think we’re fooling ourselves if we pretend like unusual names are all that unusual anymore. Being a [name]Jennifer[/name] [name]Carter[/name], I actually got a lot of jokes in college from professors calling my name and then asking if they pronounced it right. Of course, I thought I couldn’t be shocked by names five years ago and then someone went and named their daughter ‘God’s Blessing’. [name]Just[/name] like that. I’m sure that one of the fairly common Hebrew-originated names translates to God’s Blessing, so I guess if it’s okay in Hebrew it’s okay in English.

I think [name]Channah[/name] is a little easier to swallow, as long as you’re prepared for it to be mispronounced as ‘[name]Shawna[/name]’.

Very interesting post indeed, and very thought-provoking with thoughtful responses.

My name is [name]Ailsa[/name], which is Scottish Gaelic. I am not Scottish at all (although strangely enough I then went and married a Glaswegian and lived in [name]Scotland[/name] for fifteen years), but my mother heard the name when she was in school, she always liked it, and used it for me. I have never had people asking if I was Scottish, but I HAVE had a lifetime of people mis-spelling/pronouncing my name.

I love Italian names - really feminissima type of names like Fiametta and [name]Angelina[/name], and boys names like [name]Paolo[/name] - but I don’t think that Fiametta [name]Gray[/name] would sound quite “right” somehow. Or maybe it would? Anyway, too late now!

I think you should choose names you really love, regardless of ethnic background, as long as you are prepared for some questions about your child’s heritage.