Multicultural Baby Names


Multicultural baby names naming a baby polish russian english

Choosing a name for your baby can be a daunting task, but even more so when there are more than one cultures and languages involved. It can get complicated with so many questions in the new parents’ minds like which culture should the name come from? What about the spelling and pronunciation? Will it be easily understandable to people from other cultures? Choosing multicultural baby names is not easy.

Sometimes you simply can’t get it right either. Take my example for instance: My parents named me Olga because they thought I’d go live abroad. What they didn’t realize however, was that I’d end up in the Netherlands where they would butcher my name pronouncing it “Olcha”.

My husband and I got frustrated while choosing names for our three children too. At the end, we just decided we would give each child only one name. No middle names, because that would be too much work! For the girls, we went for classical names that exist in some form everywhere we go. For our son, we went with something different and original, although his name works in both of our languages.

Then I read a great post on She Knows about picking a different spelling for traditional names and it inspired me to write this post about multicultural baby names and how to make your baby’s name more multicultural and unique. Here are some ideas for you to consider.

Change the spelling

As the SheKnows post says, C and K are interchangeable. In Poland, names like Carolina, Cora, Clara are spelled with K anyway- Karolina, Kora, Klara, Klaudia etc. I think it looks really cool. You can also play around with vowels, or add or extract a few letters.

Play with pronunciation

In some languages, J is pronounced like Y, so for example, if your daughter’s name is Julia, you can spell it Yulia or Yuliya (like it’s the case with Russian). Also, the same name can be pronounced with two syllables (Yu-lya) or three (Yu-ly-ya).

Chose a different version of the name

For our son, we chose a German spelling of a Latin name- because we liked the sound of it and also because the Polish version wouldn’t be as easily pronounced. Did you know that Olga and Helga are two versions of the same name? I mean it’s not the best of examples, but you get what I mean. Elsa, Ilze (or Ilse), and Elisabeth are also versions of the same name, and the same goes for Claire and Chiara, for example. The same goes for Leila (Layla, Leyla, Laila etc).

Go for the meaning

If you like the meaning of a name, for example Joy or Hope, or Moon, try the same name in a different language. For example, the name Claire means light. Would you recognize that Svetlana is a Russian name that also has to do with light? Or Vessela would be Slavic for Joy, while Nadiezda means Hope in Russian. If you like the word “moon”, try Yuna, that’s Japanese for moon, while Fleur is French for flower.

Try diminutives

English doesn’t have much in the way of diminutives, but other languages do- and it works for names as well. For example, German diminutives usually are made using the suffix –chen. So take a name, for example Greta and add –chen: Gretchen! And thanks to blogger and writer Gretchen Rubin, the name is also becoming popular. Some languages have cute versions of traditional names. For example, I was sometimes referred to as Ola or Olka by my friends. Instead of Anna, you can call your child Anka or Antje. Polish boys’ names usually have the ending –ek when forming the diminutive, for example Piotrek (from Piotr, Peter), Witek (from Witold), Bartek (from Bartosz).

Go local and regional

You don’t have to limit yourself to globally known names because there are also regional variants and versions that are really nice to consider. For example, my brother and sister-in-law gave their son a Frisian name. Here’s a list for you to choose from. You can also choose from other regions. (I am sure that the popularity of the Outlander series will result in a surge in Scottish names!)

Simply chose the name you like

If you like it, you like it! It doesn’t matter whether it’s the sound, meaning, or culture that you like in a child’s name, the choice is huge so go ahead and name your child the name you love!

While researching for this post, I came across this book: Inspired Baby Names from Around the World: 6,000 International Names and the Meaning Behind Them that you can use it for inspiration. Here’s a post about up-and coming European baby names. At MKB, we had a multicultural baby shower recently.

Of course you don’t have to use these exact names, just think of it as inspiration and a nudge to think outside of the box. You can also combine these names or use them to create a new name all of your own!

Let us know what your children’s names are, what these names mean and where do they originate from.

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Olga Mecking

Olga Mecking is a writer, journalist and translator. Her articles have been published in The BBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and many others. Olga is also the author of Niksen. Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing When not writing or thinking about writing, Olga can be found reading, drinking tea, and reading some more.

2 thoughts on “Multicultural Baby Names”

  1. We are at the moment right in the middle of this struggle. I thought it was difficult to choose a girl’s name but boy’s names are even worse. At least the middle name is already taken care of – as common in Chinese heritage families all boys and girls of the same generation share a part of the name, so we just had to choose from a couple of preset options.

  2. Our daughter is Mina. Common name in many places it turns out! (Iran, Germany, Greece, India,Finland…)

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