Justine Ickes writes about culture, family, and people making a difference. She is a contributing writer for Washington Parent and blogs at www.cultureeverday.com and http://www.travelingmom.com. Her work has appeared in over two dozen publications, including Language Magazine, Litchfield Magazine, New Jersey Monthly and Scholastic’s Parent & Child.
It’s the holy grail of parenthood.
Am I referring to finding out the baby’s sex beforehand?
No, not that.
Whether to have a natural birth or opt for the epidural?
Nope, not that either.
While those dilemmas have certainly kept many a mom-to-be up at night, I’m thinking about a decision with repercussions far beyond pregnancy and labor.
I’m talking about choosing your child’s name.
Visit your local bookstore and you’ll find whole shelves of baby name books. Add to that the countless naming sites on the Web. My guess is that virtually every modern parent in the U.S. has thumbed one of those tomes or trolled one of those sites, all with the goal of choosing that absolutely perfect — unique, melodious and meaningful — moniker.
When you’re married to someone from another country, like I am, the baby name game takes on a different level of complexity. Is there an equivalent name in English? How does the name translate in the other language? Does it have another meaning or sound like another word in the second language? Will people be able to pronounce the name? How easy (or difficult) is it to spell? What feelings or connotations, positive or negative, might the name evoke in other people? And are these associations you and your child can live with?
Take the case of me and my Turkish husband. Like many expectant parents, we agonized over the choice of name. The good news is that there are only a handful of names that work in both languages, and we had exhausted most of them when we named our first son, Ayden.
So when it came time to choose a name for our second child, the selection process was that much easier.
That is until after our son was born.
High on post-partum endorphins, I wasn’t fazed when my husband asked if my mother-in-law could choose our newborn son’s middle name. I wasn’t that attached to Eren, the name we’d picked and, besides, I thought, “It’s only a middle name.” I reckoned, “Does it really matter?”
Which is how my son ended up with the middle name “Zafer”.
In retrospect, I should’ve seen it coming. After all, Muzaffer is my husband’s father’s name and, like the good Turkish wife she is, my mother-in-law chose the shortened form, Zafer, in honor of her husband.
Do I sometimes wish my son had a different middle name? Sure. Living in post 9/11 America, where names with even a hint of otherness, particularly Muslim ones, can raise suspicion, what mother wouldn’t worry?
Planning to choose a non-English name for your child? Here are some tips:
- Teach your child how to politely correct people when they mis-pronounce his name.
- Prep your child for the likely possibility that his extended family may pronounce his Anglicized name differently or, as in the case of my in-laws, call him by his alternate name. Initially, my son would bristle when his Turkish relatives called him “Zafer” but, with gentle reminders from his parents, he’s learned to roll with it.
- Help your child embrace his heritage by talking to him about notable people who share his name. For example, “Zafer” derives from the Arabic “Zafir” which means “victorious”. Once my son found that out, he was thrilled. What super hero-obsessed five-year-old boy wouldn’t want to picture himself in the ranks of legendary victors?
Above all, remember that your child is more than just a name. As Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”