Ways to honor your heritage through a name

A couple I know is expecting their first child this summer, and as I was talking with them about names they liked, the husband mentioned that it was important that their child’s name reflects his wife’s heritage. The wife was adopted from a country in South America and he wanted their child to be connected to that part of their identity. It got me thinking about ways you can honor an ethnicity through baby name choice.

I can imagine that many expecting couples might want to do this – I’ve often heard the idea that since a child often has its father’s surname, it’s a nice gesture to honor the mother’s family through a first name or middle name. I totally agree!

My maiden name was Italian, and personally, I would love to honor my Italian heritage.

If you’re comfortable with a bold baby name choice, you can look to a country’s unique, ethnic names – which might be translations of words or names from history.

For examples of mythical names, Fionn or Finn is the name of a legendary Irish hero. The increasingly popular Freja or Freya comes from nordic mythology.

You can find a name specific to the language/heritage you’d like to honor, such as the Irish girl name Saoirse, which means ‘freedom’ in Gaelic. There are Spanish names like Consuelo, meaning ‘consolation’ (which has religious meanings as well), or Esperanza, meaning ‘hope’.

Or you can consider place names, which wouldn’t be out of place with modern baby name trends. This one works well too if you have a place that is significant, for example – a place where you lived or traveled or even met your spouse.
To honor Italian heritage, you could consider Florence, Roman, or Venezia.
To honor French heritage, you could consider Francis/Frances, Brittany/Bretagne, or any other city/town name.
You can consider England or Scotland places, such as Chelsea, London, or Gordon.
This provides a lot of great naming options if you just look at a map!
People today are even finding ways to honor their home town or home state here in the US. Virginia, Georgia, and Carolina are all adorable girl names that can pay homage to a state you love. Nash and Knox are cute boy names for any Tennessee babies.

Then there are last names, a great option for a traditional, but still unique sounding name. I know some couples that choose to use the mother’s maiden name, which fits in with the trend of last names as first names, but also provides a great way to honor your child’s heritage. You can use any of the last names from your family heritage, whether they are common Anglo names like Jackson, Kennedy, Thomas, Michaels, Fox, or Howard (three of those are from my family history). Or they could sound ethnic, like Micallo, Viscalzieri, McLachlan (Lachlan is a cute boy name even!), Fernandez, Kelly, Ivanov and so on.
I think this is a great place to find middle names. Personally, I’d love to use the Italian version of my name (from before it was anglicized three generations back).

If you’re a traditionalist, then you consider the ethnic variation of a classic, more common name. A lot of the classic (think New Testament Biblical) names have numerous international variations.
William can also be Wilhelm or Guillermo.
Mary can be Maria, Marie, Maire, Mia, Maya, Miriam, or Marija.
Or look to Julius, which can be Julia, Giulia, Juliette, Jules, Julio, or Yuliy.
James can be Jack, Jacqueline, Iago, Jakob.
Elijah has spawned variants such as Elias, Elliott, Ilya, and Elia.
Or Charles, which can be Carl, Karl, Charlotte, Karolina, Carlos, or Carol.

There are a lot of beautiful variants once you start looking.

Finally, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, you can consider the saint name. I’m not from a Catholic upbringing, but I recently learned that many countries or towns have a designated saint. The saint was often a person of significance associated with that place, and I think this is another nice way to honor the heritage of a place.
Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris. Catherine and Francisco (both names I adore, by the way) are patron saints of Italy. Nicholas is a patron saint of Russia.
There is a great guide on wikipedia, but this isn’t even the full list. Many of the saint names are common usage names, so this can work well with most any last name or in combination with other siblings’ names.

If you have a heritage you’d like to honor, there are many different approaches you could take in selecting a meaningful name, and there are enough options that hopefully you can find a name that suits you and your preferences.




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