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choosing names that work in two languages

(21 Posts)
NulliusInBlurba Fri 18-Oct-13 18:34:59

I'm British in Germany too, DH is Irish. We went for universally acceptable first names (not just in English and German cultures, but also widely comprehensible across the Western world) but then combined with Irish middle names. As middle names are seldom used in Germany, the DC rarely have to spell or even pronounce what are to German ears extremely complex and counter-intuitive names.

What surprised us was that even though we deliberately went for first names that we thought were pronounced similarly in both languages, there are still minimal differences and I can instantly hear if the DC are giving their name in English or German. I don't want to give their real names here, but the difference is as minimal as Ella (with a schwa at the end in English) and Ella (which has a more pronounced 'a' sound at the end). Has this minimal difference ever been of any importance? Not in the least for them, because they're completely bilingual, so they can accept that they say their names differently in their two native languages. But it's more tricky for me, and DD1, who is now 15 and teenage oversensitive, gets hugely miffed if I give the English pronunciation of her name in a German sentence.
So my opinion generally: a name like Paul or Simon or Claudia is something bilingual kids can well cope with - even Jakob pronounced as a y in German and j in English. But it might be more difficult for non-bilingual parents (bilingual in the strict sense of people who were not raised simultaneously with both L1s) or monolingual grandparents.

riksti Fri 18-Oct-13 18:19:38

I'm Estonian living in England and as we are staying here I picked an English name that is pronounced in a similar way in Estonian. Not easy but there are a few options. I always have to spell my name here so didn't want my DD to have to do the same.

Frikadellen Fri 18-Oct-13 18:15:09

Dh and I picked names that was pronounced the same in both languages (Danish and English for us)

Dd1 has a Greek name
dd2 a French
Ds a tetonic
& dd3 a Irish.

13loki Fri 18-Oct-13 18:02:55

Our eldest has a Welsh name, which was difficult for English people, but then we moved to Sweden. He now answers to about 6 different variations of his name. DDs name has a different sound when said in Swedish (which unfortunately sounds like a Macedonian word for penis, and she has Macedonian cousins)

Our next one will have a totally Swedish name, with letters that don't exist in English, so hopefully even though noone will be able to read it, the pronunciation should be correct because family outside of Sweden will have to be told how to say it.

weaselinthenight Thu 17-Oct-13 22:09:32

Hi Snowcone, I'm also English living in Germany. I think you should just go for the name you like in English, as long as you don't actively hate the German pronunciation of it. Virtually every name is going to sound different when said in German. If it's an unusual name, you'll be able to get away with correcting people's pronunciation as it may be the only time they've encountered it, but if it's a name that could be German, you'll just feel too poncey saying 'Oh actually it's JJJJaycob' all the time. We have a Henry - we love the name in English, and the German 'r' isn't too much of a change.

Oh and I'd be very wary of picking from German lists - names have such connotations and you might not be aware of them as a foreigner unless you really know the culture...

Let us know what you decide!

All of the names you like have a different pronunciation?

Charlotte is pronounced 'Shar-lottah'

snowcone Thu 17-Oct-13 20:56:20

Actually it looks like all of our shortlist except for one are pretty high up in the 'beliebte vornamen' list, so it's not so much an issue of them not working as that we put them on the shortlist because we like the way they sound in English and now are realising that actually it's a different name here. Perhaps it's back to the drawing board... should also mention that I'm due on Saturday... :-D

exexpat Thu 17-Oct-13 20:50:04

My DCs were both born in Japan so as we were living there long-term, we chose names that were at least pronounceable in both languages. Eg I have a 'th' in my name, which has caused difficulties in several countries I have lived in, and DH also had a letter in his name which people had trouble pronouncing in Japan. So the DCs have names that, while they are not Japanese, use sounds that are used in Japanese. Made life much easier for them at nursery and so on.

I would have felt a bit odd giving the DCs actual Japanese names, since they are 100% British, unless they were among the handful of names which work in both, eg Emma, Hanna, but I didn't like any of them.

thanksamillion Thu 17-Oct-13 20:43:59

I think they realised it was a bit of an odd request by my hmm face.

In the end I gave them the English version and a translation with the 'new' name on it. They sent the translation home so I guess they saw sense grin

snowcone Thu 17-Oct-13 20:40:53

Very amused by the school and birth cert! Thanks so much for all the replies.

How would Charlotte go in German though? Carlotta?

Yes, Chloe is a bit unfortunate in German (Klo being loo) and Molly is not so nice either, being too close to the word for plump.

LillianGish Thu 17-Oct-13 17:34:00

We have picked names which work almost anywhere deliberately as DH moves all over with his job. Nothing wrong with different pronunciations as long as you like both versions - you have to expect that it will be mispronounced! Also watch out names which might be considered comic - my dcs were born in France where the name Conor would have been a very unfortunate choice for instance.

NadiaWadia Thu 17-Oct-13 17:13:41

thanksamillion that's a really unreasonable request by the school!

Here is the list

Hi Snowcone - I am also British living in Germany. It's hard. If you are planning on being in Germany for many years to come, you need to pick a name that works here.

The easiest way of doing that is taking a look through a list (I'll link to in in just a sec, don't want to click away and lose this post which sometimes happens on the iPad) which tells you the top 500 girls and boys names in Germany from the last year. You're bound to find a few you like.

Brits/Americans I know here with children have the following names

Charlotte, (German pronunciation)
Martha (G.P.)
Sarah (British pr.)

Names like Daniel and Samuel would also work. You'll always get a slight difference in pronunciation but it's doable. For us, it was important that the pr. was not completely different. So Johnathan was out, for example. But something like Lara would have been ok despite the different 'r'.

thanksamillion Thu 17-Oct-13 15:08:16

We ended up picking a 'local' name for our DC3 which is unusual but recognisable/easy to pronounce in English. Our other DCs fortunately have names which aren't significantly different in the local language, but they are spelt differently and DD1s school have really struggled with it. They even asked me if I could give them a different birth certificate with their spelling of the name on it!

My name is also pronounced quite differently and how annoyed I get about it depends on how well my day is going grin

snowcone Thu 17-Oct-13 14:54:17

Yeah I'm not too fussed about the Claudia one, it's not much difference, but the 'W', 'J', and 'D' letters can be a bit trickier - Villiam, Yana (Jane), Yulia, etc, can really change things. Part of me just wants to not bother about it but then I think it would be silly not to at least consider whether it might be a pain for DC in future if we stay here long term, and perhaps mark him/her out as a foreigner although born here and potentially more German than Brit in the long run.

My own name is a normal traditional Hebrew name but many people here really struggle to pronounce it, and then my surname begins with W, so it all sounds foreign to the German speakers and I have to spell it out, which inevitably results in vowel confusion (especially a, e, i). It's not a problem for me, I just wonder if I should spare DC the pain. Actually now I think about it, DH (and so DC's) surname also is also pronounced differently, a la Claudia. May I should just go with Bob or Betty and change all our surnames to Smith!

Lubiloo Thu 17-Oct-13 14:23:23

We're in a similar position (bilingual kids with family in two countries), and people do pronounce our kids' names according to their language, but the difference isn't huge so its not big deal.

It really doesn't matter if the Germans say Clowd-ia and the English Claw-dia, does it?

quoteunquote Thu 17-Oct-13 14:14:16

I have a gaelic name, that if an english person read, might use a different pronunciation , but it's never a problem if I introduce myself.

Use what ever name you like, people soon catch up.

snowcone Thu 17-Oct-13 13:21:03

We are English-speaking but live in a German-speaking country, some of our preferred names for DC would be pronounced differently in each language e.g. Claudia, William. How have others manage this problem? Do you have to pick a name that works in both languages, or go with your preferred choice and pronunciation and just correct people?

I do know someone here who gave their child a J-name and pronounces it the English way. Plus even English speakers with English names living in England sometimes have to clarify pronunciations so maybe it's not that big a deal!

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