The bilingual (or multilingual) story starts with this question, in a certain way. For parents the choice of their child’s name is full of meaning and often related to a story, a shared moment. It’s extremely carefully decided. As this name lasts for your whole life, it’s the first identification someone is granted with. And it’s probably one of the words you write and speak most in your life. Especially for multicultural families, who have relatives abroad, it’s an important space where they can pass on cultural values.
Whilst preparing my questionnaire for the book Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures I didn’t think of this question, it was one of my first interviewees-couples who gave me the idea to mention this point with the parents. And they were right, I had lots of colourful stories which underline how important this topic is for the parents.
Let’s have a close look at some of them and don’t hesitate to tell us your story in a comment below.
Hannah is Israeli and married to Dirk who is Dutch. They have one child and a second on it’s way.
The choice of our child’s name was a very cultural negotiation between us. As it was really important for my husband that the child carries his surname.
Dirk: The reason why is simple.
I am the last survivor of my family and want to share my surname for the future.
I agreed with this and said when there is a Dutch surname, I would like for the child to have an Israeli name! It mattered to me and to you as well I think, that there will be a combination. The name is part of your identity that you carry out into the world. When our child introduces itself, he needs to explain and to talk about his dual culture: my Ima (Mum) is from Israel and my Papa (Dad) from the Netherlands. We did this intentionally, in a way we stamped him with both cultures. With this name he is constantly aware of this duality.
Julia and Andros are from Germany and Greece. Naming their child was quite tricky because of the cultural habits of the Greek family. There you usually name your child after the grandparents, a tradition they didn’t want to continue.
Finding our child’s name was quite long and torturous. Both coming from different countries and living in the UK we wanted a name which works in three languages. Finally we made a decision and some years later, when our child started going to school we were very surprised to discover that our choice was one of the favourite names in the UK.
In Greece one often doesn’t have a middle name, but I was very happy that I managed to convince my husband to give her one (with a greek connotation). It’s quite usual in Germany and also in Britain.
Finding the name for their first child was a nice story for this Chinese-Spanish couple, Zhang and Juan. They wanted to acknowledge both their cultures, western and asian.
We wanted two names, the first one, which is the name for day-to-day use must be western so that everyone can easily pronounce it. So we choose a symbolic name of a person who is a scientist and an artist, like my wife and me. And another important point to consider, because we live in England, it must be a name with a nickname!
In China every child has a unique name. The parents take a dictionary and put two words together so that you have your own name. We did the same, and put the two words ‘China’ and ‘Spain’ together in one word, which is our child’s second name.
Thank you very much to Zhang&Juan,
Julia&Andros and Hannah&Dirk for taking part in my book project!