Remembering Victims of 9/11

September 11th, 2011

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Cuban-Jewish Names

September 1st, 2011

Amelia writes with a very intriguing conundrum.  Please help us find names for her baby:

Hi! I love your blog and thought I’d write in with my own culturally complex name query.

I’m Cuban-American, he’s Jewish, and with a baby on the way, we want to chose a name that’s appropriate to both contexts. We’re planning on hyphenating the baby’s name, so we want a name (or at least a nickname) that’s fairly simple and straightforward to go with the mouthful at the end. So far our top picks are Loretta (“Letty“) or Zoila (“Zadie“) for a girl, or Louis (“Lou“) or Modesto (“Moe“) for a boy. We’re also picking out a corresponding Hebrew name (e.g. Ayelet for Letty, Moshe for Moe).

Any suggestions?

All the best,

Hello Amelia, you’ve come to the right place!  What a fun challenge.  I love that you’re attempting to honor both cultures.  It IS possible.  Your approach, looking at Latin names that can be adapted to Jewish culture via nickname, is so creative, and just my kind of thing.  There are some names that work well in both cultures, and my suggestions are mostly crossovers.

I would like to hear from our readers what Latin names they can come up with that have Jewish nicknames, or visa versa.  So clever!






Jacob / Diego 

Elijah / Elias

Ephraim / Efraim / Efrain


Joachim / Joaquin

Joshua / Josue 



Noah / Noe / Noa



Simon / Shimon



Adina / Adelina

Aliza / Elisa

Chaya / Eva






Rebeca / Rebecca / Rebekah

Rimona / Ramona



Susana / Shoshannah

Thalia / Talia


Image: Michael Eastman

Names Across Nations Project

August 8th, 2011


Today I am ecstatic and honored to bring you our first in a series of guest posts, Names Across Nations, by Nell Bang-Jensen.  Nell writes:

My interest in names inspired me to apply for a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship after graduating from Swarthmore College this past spring. The Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant given to forty students from participating institutions that is for independent study and travel outside of the United States. One year after beginning my application for the fellowship, my “Names Across Nations” project has become a reality.

Over the next twelve months I’ll be traveling to seven different countries, Indonesia, India, Morocco, Germany, Zambia, Ireland and Iceland, in order to study what makes a name. The process of naming a child varies around the world and is shaped by a variety of considerations including religious traditions, governmental restrictions, family history, and cultural icons. I will explore a range of naming practices to better understand how names shape identity and how people, in turn, shape names. From witnessing Hindu naming ceremonies, to watching as thirteen year-old Zambian children choose their own names, to talking to people who work at German offices of vital statistics, I hope to explore naming from a variety of different perspectives.

I think this study is particularly timely as technology increases and names are shared on a global level. To think of the impact names can have when they transcend religious and national boundaries, just think of the large response the American public had when finding out that Barack Obama’s middle name was “Hussein” in the 2008 election.  Due to rapid changes in recent technology, as more people are able to connect across borders, names become increasingly important to defining and representing who we are. What are the thoughts and intentions of parents when they give names that their children will have for the rest of their lives life?  With each choice of a name, there is a story.

Because my name, “Nell”, is unusual, as a child I was unsettled on the rare occasion that I would meet another “Nell.” I felt betrayed and unable to fathom that when all of the people in her life spoke or thought of “Nell”, they thought of her.  I also realized, however, that there was something innate we shared just by virtue of having that name, and by the fact that, though they used different rationales, our parents all arrived at that name for their daughters. Upon meeting another Nell, I invariably felt my identity had been stolen from me, but realized that the name “Nell”, (a variant of the Greek “Eleanor” or “Helen”, or of the Latin “Cornelia” that literally means “shining light”), was being constantly redefined by this other girl and also by me. The name itself represents countless other Nells before and Nells to come across the globe. I am playing a role in defining the name “Nell” while the name itself projects its own meaning, cultural context, and history onto me.

I want to explore how the meaning of names, these shared strings of letters and sounds, are constantly changing as they are defined by those who give these names and the individuals who bear them. 

It is with excitement (and a little fear) that I begin my twelve month journey outside of the United States. I’ll be gone from July 28, 2011 to July 28, 2012 and I will be writing about my travels on my I am eager to hear any ideas, feedback, suggestions or questions that you may have.

Nell, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we are so excited to follow you on your travels.  Next up, Nell’s own name story, the beginning of a journey.

Image: The Namakarana Samskara (Hindu name ceremony) by S. Rajam