Baby Names from Foreign Cultures and Countries – Yea or Nay?

I was just reading about a baby named Padraig Clover. He has an Irish first name, and an Irish symbol as a middle name, but he isn’t Irish, nor was he born in Ireland. He’s half Mexican and half Filipino. He was born in Canada. His parents named him Padraig Clover because he was born on St. Patrick’s Day last year.

He reminded me of Yo Xing, who was born in the U.S. to an American father and an Australian mother, neither of whom is ethnically Chinese.

What do you think of baby names that come from cultures/countries that the baby is a not a part of (either via heritage or via birth)?

A baby name that doesn't match a baby's ethnicity/nationality is:

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If you chose the middle option, please leave a comment and let us know what circumstances would make a name like this ok (or, conversely, not ok).

8 thoughts on “Baby Names from Foreign Cultures and Countries – Yea or Nay?

  1. Frequently when people meet me they ask if I’m Italian (I’m not, I’m Anglo-Australian). I don’t mind so much – the Italian references are *much* better than Twilight references!

    I think Patrick would have been a fine name, rather than Padraig. Patrick is distinctively Irish but, because of the Anglicised spelling, it doesn’t immediately assume Irish heritage as much as Padraig would.

  2. One of my nieces has a Greek middle name, but she is of Irish, Norwegian and Danish descent. The reason for the Greek middle name is simple, her mother was an exchange student to Greece and speaks the language.

    My sister-in-law is of English descent, but is named a decidedly German name and her sister has a Panamanian name. Why? They were born on army bases in Germany and Panama.

    So, I think if the family has a connection to the culture beyond we thought it was an interesting name, perhaps they should go for it. However, they should be prepared to explain why a redhead with freckles is named Marisol .

  3. I think it depends. Sometimes I think it really works on a child, but sometimes it doesn’t at all and I’m asking myself “why!”

  4. “It depends.”

    when I was pregnant with my first child, one of my students pressed me to consider her name for the new baby. It was unisex, short with our long German last name, pretty, it meant “jewel” (or so she said, I don’t know if that’s true). Thing is, her name was Bao (pronounced bow, like “take a bow”) and she was Vietnamese. The school and parish was about 50% Vietnamese but I am not. We named our daughter Sophia but Bao still calls her “Little Bao.”

    But if Bao had been my best friend instead of my 7th grade math student, it might have been something to consider, you know? We thought intently about Pilar and Remedios even though we’re not Spanish. In the end, we stuck to the Irish-Italian-German that our kids are: Sophia, Maeve, Leo.

  5. I saw the Padraig Clover article and wondered the same thing!

    I once met a little blonde fraulein named Keiko – she’s about as not-Japanese as you can be, and while her mom is American, she was born while living in her father’s native Germany. Her parents actually had to petition to have her name accepted by the authorities. I’m so impressed by their effort that I’ve always admired the name.

    When a name hits the Top 100, it doesn’t matter so much if the ethnicity matches exactly – I’m never surprised to meet a non-Irish Aidan or Connor or a blue-eyed, blonde Isabella. Until then, I’m not so sure. Genevieve doesn’t have to be French, but Manon? It would help.

    I think, as with any daring name choice, the key is balance. Padraig William or Padraig Michael would’ve felt very different than Padraig Clover. Padraig Clover is just SO aggressively shamrock green that it is jarring – even if the family was all Ancient Hibernian.

  6. It depends. I think it’s a very tricky business. I think that anyone who is considering a name that hasn’t become mainstream in their own culture ought to look up cultural appropriation and make sure that their consciences are still clean about their choice. It can be done right but it’s risky. What’s more “identifying” than a name? You’re into identity politics.

    For convience, I’ll copy and paste some of the wikipedia text:
    The term cultural appropriation can have a negative connotation. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture; or, when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict between the two groups.

    To many, the term implies that culture can actually be “stolen” through cultural diffusion.


    A common sort of cultural appropriation is the adoption of the iconography of another culture. Obvious examples include tattoos of Hindu gods, Polynesian tribal iconography, Chinese characters, or Celtic bands worn by people who have no interest in, or understanding of, their original cultural significance. When these artifacts are regarded as objects that merely “look cool”, or when they are mass produced cheaply as consumer kitsch, people who venerate and wish to preserve their indigenous cultural traditions may be offended.

  7. I think it depends on the family and their reasons for choosing the name. It also depends on the cultural mix involved.

    Padraig will end up explaining that he was born on St. Pat’s day for the rest of his life.

  8. A recent Christian Science Monitor article, “A Shona name for a white child in a tense Zimbabwe” by Kate Chambers, reminded me of this discussion. Here are a couple of paragraphs:

    Shona names might not make it into the Top 10 Baby Names of This Year list, but many of them have powerful meanings. Popular names are Tinotenda (Thank You), Farai (Be Happy) and Nyasha (Grace). Tinashe, the name we entered on our child’s birth certificate, means We Are With God. He shares his name with local soccer star Tinashe Nengomasha and several nursery school friends.

    So far I’ve had only positive reactions from Zimbabweans when they learn my husband and I “adopted” a local name. The sister at the Harare hospital where I had my son flung her arms around me, for starters.

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