Choosing a Name: The First Name
I never got around to telling the story of our daughter's name. It is, indeed, one heck of a story, which starts even before she was born. You have to remember that she has a German father and a French mother. This led, before her birth, to endless dicussions about what names are suitable in both languages. We had a few criteria we tried to respect when choosing her first name.
The first criterion was pronunciation. We wanted to make sure that the name would not vary to much from one language to the other. This rules out all the names having very specific pronuciations, such as names starting with "J" for example, which the Germans make soft (as in yum) or "H", which the French tend to forget to pronounce altogether (Hans is "Ans" in French, and "Hans" in German).
Pronunciation is one thing, but spelling is another, which is actually related. We couldn't take a name that people couldn't read in one or the other language. This ruled out my favorite "Benoît" (Ben-o-wha in French, Ben-o-it for the Germans) and names with French nasals or specific French spellings (Agnès is read A-ni-es in French, Ag-ness in German, I find on nice, the other one not so).
Another criterion was ambiguity. Some names are very easily recognizable as female or male, others are just extremely ambiguious in one language, when they are not in the other. Again, Delphine is very French, but never leads to confusion about the gender. Arne, on the other end, written or spoken, for people who are neither Swedish, nor Northern Germans, is often mistaken for a woman's name. So we needed a name that would be very clear.
And finally of course, a name we both liked. Which is, as we found out, probably the hardest thing of all. Not som much because we have different tastes, but because cultural differences kick in very fast. The German sounding names I liked were either terrible, out of fashion, too fashionable or plainly unheard of, the French sounding name Arne liked were either terrible, out of fashion, too fashionable or plainly unheard of. Funny to see how much culture the name carries.
Well, we settled for the first name Emma, classic, simple, read and pronounced in most languages in exactly the same manner, hardly ambiguous, and which we both liked. It took us around nine months... And then came the last name. But this will do for another post.