Names without borders

Mar 1st 2007

Many globe-trotting readers have asked for advice on choosing names that "travel well." Foreign relatives, international work assigments, or simply a sense of the small world around us can make a global-ready name an attractive target.

You may have specific cultural targets. Indian-Americans, for instance, know the standard pool of "crossover names" -- Maya, Sarita, Neil -- that sound natural in both of the cultures they straddle. But suppose your goal isn't a specific cultural match but a broad accessibility? What can make an English-based name attractive and pronounceable for the rest of the world?

In one respect, current styles are already leading in that direction. As I've discussed in the past, American fashion has turned against names with multiple pronounced consonants in a row. English has plenty of these consonant clusters, in words (prompt, strange) as well as names (George, Martha.) Yet many languages simply don't permit clusters, or severely restrict them. Japanese and Hawaiian are familar examples. Think of typical names from those cultures, like Kalani Kealoha or Takahiro Suzuki.

Even languages that load up on consonant clusters may not permit the same ones as English. In Spanish, for instance, S* clusters don't start words: special is especial, Steven is Esteban. And unfamiliar clusters are notoriously frustrating tongue-twisters for ESL students. English speakers are similiarly tripped up by some Slavic name openings; think Ksenia and Sviatoslav. So rule #1 for smooth traveling: keep the consonants apart.

For single sounds, the vowel sounds ah, ee and oo are near-universal and vowels in general are pretty forgiving. In speech, a slightly-off vowel tends to be less disruptive than a slightly-off consonant. From the annals of ESL classes, the classic insanity-inducing English sound is TH, both voiced ("thy") and unvoiced ("thigh"). W is the least favored letter.

Finally, there's the question of endings. In many languages, names ending in vowels are more comfortable than consonant endings. Hawaiian and Japanese apply once again, along with Italian, Kiswahili, etc.

So where does this leave us? Frankly, with a lot of girls' names. You can use these rules to generate plenty of names, familiar and unfamiliar, with a simple, timeless feminine sound. Try Adina, Amira, Anna, Ayana, Leila, Lena, Malaika, Malia, Mari, Melina, Mika, Mira, Nina, Saniya, Shani, Sofia, Talia, Tamara, get the idea. But boys are tougher. Not that options don't exist (Nico and Dario, for example). But by and large the closer you get to a globalized boy's name the farther you get from an American one. You may never have met an American girl named Adina or Shani, but would you blink an eye if you did? For an American-sounding boy, though, you typically have to slap a consonant on the end. Try Lucas, a hit name from New Zealand to Belgium, Sweden to Brazil.


By Bridget (not verified)
March 2, 2007 2:21 AM

The strategy that my husband and I used for our daughter (we travel a lot) was to choose a name from the Bible. That way, no matter where you go, the name is in the language's lexicon at least to some degree. Sometimes it sounds a little different than it does in English due to the translation, but it's still the same name. It's worked really well for us so far!

By RobynT (not verified)
March 2, 2007 3:13 AM

Awesome post!

I have a sort of chicken-egg wondering. Is it our preference of what a girls' name can or should sound like that makes crosscultural names more common/popular for girls? Or is it our notion of what a girl can or should BE that influences us to use these "global" names?

I think that in some ways females have a broader range of acceptable behavior, for example, wearing pants or skirts rather than just pants. Girls can be "tomboys," while it is much worse for boys to be "sissies." So I wonder if this has to do with the overall way that we tend to see boys' names as less flexible. (I'll always come bck to the sibling set I heard of: daughter Willow and son David.) Is it because we tend to want "strong" names for boys, which connotes tradition and maybe Western culture?

By Janey (not verified)
March 2, 2007 3:23 AM

Bridget, that strategy is only foolproof in Judeo-Christian cultures. Names like Rachel and James will take you far, but not all the way to Zaire or Shanghai.

By Amy (not verified)
March 2, 2007 3:02 PM

My husband and I were discussing this very topic. I'm curious about putting our own accents on cross over names. For instance, I have a nasal, south side of Chicago accent. I'm respectful about pronouncing names, but I will never sound like a native from anywhere else. I have a very good ear (music degree from a top music school.) I like to study languages--French, German. Even with my background, I can't differentiate certain sounds. I can't reproduce sounds that I can't hear. If I were to choose a foreign name, but be unable to authentically pronounce it, does that change the name? Also, how do native speakers feel when non-native speakers mangle names with fake accents? I always feel like I'm being disrespectful or mocking if I put on an accent.

I know that some of these names are just multi language friendly, and not true cross over names. Also, is this a global trend, or something that only westerners are considering?

By Leia (not verified)
March 2, 2007 4:02 PM

We're not focused on having the baby's name be easily pronounceable in lots of countries & languages. But we going to make sure that the name isn't a foreign word, especially not one with an undesirable meaning.

I met a guy from India named Snel, prounounced "snail." I can't help but think he would have benefitted from his parents' paying a bit more attention to the cross-over potential, especially if they knew they were going to immigrate.

I would hate for my kid to want to move into another culture someday and have a name that put people off.

By Valerie (not verified)
March 2, 2007 4:33 PM

Great post, Laura. Reminds me of the concept of pan-European names we were discussing recently on this blog.

According to your principles, Laura, my name should be pretty pronounceable, but I have found that Spanish speakers and Japanese have difficulties (Baleria and Barreli, respectively). I guess there are always going to be exceptions.

I like your idea, Bridget, as it does cover a large number of countries.

Amy-- we have a very similar background educationally. Good to know there are some musicians hovering :) And yes, I've heard it said that people will have difficulty hearing certain sounds which are not part of their mother tongue.

By Rachel (not verified)
March 2, 2007 4:37 PM

This is actually very important while choosing a name. People really don't like names that they can never pronounce correctly. I can't personally do the fake accent thing. When people tell me their name is "Ah-leeese" instead of "AL-iss" for Alice it hurts my head trying to say it all British. Or whatever.

Jan for example is a very popular name in Germany. It's pronounced "Yahhhhnn" with a really weird hissy sounding "Y" sound at the beginning. Yawn is the closest but not really the same thing. Of course everybody in America just called him Jan (like short for Janet).

By Amy (not verified)
March 2, 2007 4:38 PM

Leia--I agree with you. At least snails aren't too awful. I know a girl from India who went by the n.n. Vash. When I hear her name, I always think of the French word for cow. It doesn't help that she is more than a little overweight. I also know an Indian woman named Shital (See-tal).

None of us really knows what life will bring, so we pick names that we love.

On the other hand, I do find it verging on crazy though when immigrant parents pick these names after arriving in the new country. We knew an Irish mother and Turkish father who named their little American Mine (Mee-nay.) That should go over great when she starts dating. She's mine, mine, mine.

I have wondered about these type of names that sound good, but look nothing like how they are pronounced. Do parents teach their kids to answer to how the names appears as well as how it is said? When the teacher or interviewrer calls out Can (English word) should Jon (Turkish pronounciation) answer?

By Penn (not verified)
March 2, 2007 4:58 PM

On boys' crossover names--I've heard that Daniel is a popular one--keeps the Latino grandparents and the Jewish grandparents happy, and everyone can pronounce it fine--no tricky THs or consonant combos.

By RobynT (not verified)
March 2, 2007 4:58 PM

One of my colleagues has an African name. For some reason, I think she is American and it was like a reclaiming by her family. I don't find it too hrad to pronounce, although I had to hear it a few times first and it did feel strange the first few times, but after a year I'm completely used to it. She did say that when people are good about pronouncing her name, she tells them, "Oh, you can just call me..." and gives them an easier, shortened version. But if she feels they are rude or not trying hard enough, she lets them struggle with it. I thought this was hilarious becuase she is like the sweetest girl; it showed me like a feisty side of her I guess.

I wouldn't want my child to "suffer" and hate that no one could ever pronounce his/her name, but I definitely understand wanting to give your child a name that ties his/her to the family's past.

I think most folks appreciate an honest effort and should understand that folks are not going to get it right on the first try.

By Bridget (not verified)
March 2, 2007 7:12 PM

Janey, you are right that my strategy works best in the Judeo-Christian (and I would add Muslim) world. But the Bible has been translated into Chinese, too, which is why I said it's in the language's lexicon "at least to some degree." Even if no one is familiar with it, it's still there, albeit as a linguistic approximation.

Another choice would be to choose a name from literature - I'm sure there are plenty of literary works that have been translated widely. In that case, however, more than with the Bible, linguistic approximations are probably used.

By Christel (not verified)
March 2, 2007 7:49 PM

If it's pronounced "Yan", then that's the man's name. If you went to another country and they pronounced your name Ache-l because that's how it would be pronounced in their native toungue, wouldn't you be a bit annoyed? The fact that a name isn't an Anglo name doesn't mean that the correct pronounciation of the name should be ignored, even if it's difficult. I, personally, think its common courtesy to at least attempt to pronounce someone's name the way that that person believes it should be pronounced - unless the person is comfortable with folks using another pronounciation. It's not putting on an accent, in my opinion; it's just trying to honor someone else's name, identity, and, oftentimes, heritage.

Even though I certainly think pronounciation should be taken in to account when selecting a name (and the linguistic differences and pronounciation challenges), I also think one of the great things about names is the difference across cultures.

By Christiana (not verified)
March 2, 2007 7:55 PM

I don't get the very American parents (thos who have never been and have no intention of ever living elsewhere) who choose the names from the European countries that are so hard to even guess at over here. There are tons of Slavic and Celtic names like that - beaitiful names but so far from our way of spelling things that how on earth is a kindergarten teacher going to figure it out on the first day of school? How can my child learn phonetic reading if their own name breaks all the rules?

By sal (not verified)
March 2, 2007 8:12 PM

Christel, you make some interesting points. I have a biblical crossover name, and I personally find it easier when someone pronounces it the way they would in their own language. Similarly, my (Latina) cleaning woman is named Melissa, and I pronounce it the way I pronounce Melissa in English (not "mehLEEssah"), since I speak English. In both cases, it's because it's clearly the same name.

On the other hand, my son's name is Tal, pronounced "tahl". Most people hear it as "tall", rhyming with ball/hall/mall. This doesn't really bother me, except when people make jokes that "he'd better grow up to be tall". Since we don't often specifically use the "ah" sound in English, I don't expect people to get that. But some people (including one of his teachers and members of our own family) insist on pronouncing it to rhyme with "pal". Mostly they're older people, and I think it may actually have to do with hearing issues, since none of them have any trouble pronouncing the word "tall".

By Penn (not verified)
March 2, 2007 8:16 PM

Y'know, English isn't all that phonetic anyway, and proper nouns are often less phonetic than other words. I really don't think a kid's first name affects how quickly they learn to read... I'd be surprised if any teacher ever noticed much correlation there. "Sean" can learn to read just as fast as "Shawn."

By Heather A. (not verified)
March 2, 2007 8:21 PM

The "th" thing is so true! I have traveled a lot. From Central America to Japan to Norway to western and eastern Europe to Isreal no one can pronounce my name. I find that everyone always makes an effort to get it right, but that "th" just won't work for them. It doesn't really bother me though. I just learn to answer to Heater or Header or Hater or whatever.

By Rhiannon (not verified)
March 2, 2007 8:22 PM

Agreed. I never had any problems learning to read. In fact, I read before I started kindergarten.
Once the teacher would stumble over my name on the first day, I would correct her or him, and that was that. Not a huge obstacle.

By sal (not verified)
March 2, 2007 8:23 PM

...I guess what I wanted to get at is that if a name is really different or non-existent in a given language, then you should just listen to what a person says their name is, and do your best to imitate what you hear.

But if the name exists across the languages, and the spelling is basically the same, and it's just a matter of different (especially difficult) pronounciations of the same vowels (or tricky consonants like "r"), I think it's ok to say it the way you would in your own culture.

By o.h. (not verified)
March 2, 2007 8:32 PM

I don't quite get the hypersensitivity over name pronunciation, except in the extreme (and hopefully rare) cases of people who make it clear that they just don't care. Years of my childhood were made miserable as an ex-pat in Glasgow, Scotland, where my (common) two-syllable American name was always pronounced as one syllable--because that's just the best a Glaswegian could do--yet I was constantly scolded for mispronouncing names that my Texan ear and tongue just couldn't do any better with.

Why not assume people are doing they best they can within their linguistic limits? And why not just accept that your name has a different pronunciation in the mouths of different people, who are probably trying their best?

I'm giving my own daughter-to-be a consonant-laden name, with no qualms. To make up for it, I'm going to raise her to be charitable and not take offense where none is intended.

By RobynT (not verified)
March 2, 2007 8:45 PM

o.h.: i did want to mention that too--about the importance of how children are taught to handle mispronunciations. (but i ran out of space and took that as a sign that i had said enough!)

when i was in high school, there was a girl named karin (accent on secnd syllable) who got really annoyed when people pronounced it karen (accent on first syllable). being high schoolers we would make fun of her annoyance, but i think she did overreact. from what i saw, people only needed to be told once and i thought it was understandable that they wouldn't know the correct pronunciation on the first pass.

By Jack & Henry's mom (not verified)
March 2, 2007 9:18 PM

Another great post, Laura. I think your initial question is interesting, Robyn. I definitely chose very traditional names for my own boys, though I hate to think it was for stereotypical reasons. I do think one reason people tend to steer away from more creative names for boys is the concern that they will "become," girls' names. I don't know if this is a strictly Western concern or not, but I have to confess I'm glad I didn't name one of boys Riley. On a similar note, a name I really like for boys is Luca, but when I've seen it on baby polls, posters often respond that it sounds feminine because of the vowel ending. I've also heard Nico a couple of places lately, which is a name I really like, although something about the o at the end makes it seem like a nickname to me.
One exception may be in Hawaiian names. It might just be my circle, but I've noticed a mini boom in what (I think) are Hawaiian names on little boys-the one I've heard most is Kai, but I've also met a Kona recently. Anyone else?

By Amy (not verified)
March 2, 2007 9:21 PM

O.H.--Well said! Sal--you too!

I bet that most of us beleive that we are repeating exactly what we hear. That is impossible in some cases. As long as we give an honest and respectful effort, that should suffice.

I have noticed that more is expected of Americans though. It never fails that someone who can't pronouce my name will be offended that I have difficulty with their name. One women even asked me, "Why can't you say your husband's name right. It doesn't sound Indian when you say it." I thought I was saying it right.

By Cathie (not verified)
March 2, 2007 9:42 PM

Interesting Laura! We know two Japanese/American couples with girls named Mari. And a Danish/American couple with a Lucas. A German/Dutch/American couple with a Niels. We also know a Shani!

Cristel, it would never occur to me to be annoyed that people can't pronounce my name properly in their language. In fact, my name can only be pronounced properly by English speakers but there are beautiful variations of it in every Western country. I've always thought I was lucky to have a name that had so many different ways to be pronounced and "fit in" to all sorts of languages.

You can't really blame people that sound combinations don't exist in their language!

By Dorothy (not verified)
March 2, 2007 10:19 PM

In grade school, there was a Sean. When people put stuff up on the bulletin board and so forth, I would see Sean written out and think, "Who is this SEEn? (rhymes with mean, jean, etc.) I've never met him!" Then once I made the connection to the actual boy, I think I did just call him Seen. He may have even corrected me but in my mind I was like, "Shawn? What are you talking about, it says Sean!?" Oh well.

By M (not verified)
March 2, 2007 11:41 PM

I listen to how people say their own name and then reproduce it as closely as possible without completely violating the rules of whatever language I'm speaking. If that can't be done, they will generally be aware of that and be okay with it.

I do pronounce some names (of the same person) differently depending on what language I'm speaking at the time. Even if I can say a name perfectly in English or Dutch or whatever when I'm speaking that language, it's harder to make yourself insert the English pronounciation in a Swedish conversation. It sounds silly and it's difficult to make your brain switch gears like that.

With this in mind, when I'm with English speakers I will generally introduce myself with a version of my name that can be pronounced in English. However if I'm speaking English with someone who I know is depends on the languages, the name and the people involved.

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
March 3, 2007 12:32 AM

I have a Puerto Rican colleague named Julia. She HATES it when people pronounce her name "Julia" (the way most English-speakers would pronounce the "j") and asks them to pronounce her name as you would in Spanish, "hoolia". Since she is a Spanish professor, and most of the people she interacts with are bilingual, this is a no-brainer. But occasionally people take it as a snobbish gesture on her part, which it isn't. She just doesn't think of herself as "joolia."

My Venezuelan cousin, on the other hand, doesn't mind if we call her Sara (pronounced the American way) or Sara (sah-ra), the Spanish way. She answers to both and doesn't seem to have a preference. I pronounce her name according to which language I'm using when I say it, which at times is confusing because we switch mid-sentence sometimes. Anyone else have this experience?

By Claire (not verified)
March 3, 2007 1:27 AM

When I lived in Japan, I found my name, "Claire", was difficult for folks. There's both an R and an L in there, and Japanese doesn't differentiate between these sounds; plus, the closest equivalent, something like "Ku-rey-a", means "give it to me" in very rude speech. I went by Akiko, which means bright girl (a decent translation of "Claire"), instead.

I'll confess that living in Japan caused me to reflect if my daughter's names would be difficult in that language. "Emma" poses no problems. My older daughter's name, "Rose" becomes "Rozu", but since final u sounds in Japanese, especially after a s or a z are not really voiced, she'll probably be OK.

By sarah (not verified)
March 3, 2007 2:00 AM

Elizabeth T., I'm a Sarah and have literally never had an issue with someone's pronounciation of my name, coming from any language. I have occasionally had people not understand me (or recognize the name with my pronounciation) when I say my name, but once they see the spelling or understand it to be that character from the bible, then they just say it however they say it.

I was amused, once, to hear it pronounced "Surruh" with a rolled R in some accent from northern England (Liverpool, maybe?)

By Tansey (not verified)
March 3, 2007 6:47 AM

Heather - my daughter Laura has that problem with her name too - especially in Asian countries where 'L' is not part of the language. She had to adjust to being called 'Roarer' very quickly whereas my son Sam seems to find his name universal.

By Marie-Claire (not verified)
March 3, 2007 9:38 AM

Very interesting!

My mum gave me a French name, Marie-Claire, because she is from (French) Switzerland - I'm glad it's one that's recognisable in English. If I had bee na boy she was keen on Thierry, which I don't think would have worked so well.

An interesting point about living in other countries - I taught English in Slovakia for a year and at the school, the students were all given, as far as possible, translations of their own names into English. So Lucia went by Lucy, Stefan was Steven, Lukas (Loo-kash) was Luke, Zuzana was Susan.

I introduced myself as Marie, and from then on all I was referred to was Mary - because they had been taught that Mary is the English form of Maria, so they didn't recognise Marie as an English name. I could never convince them otherwise and even though I insisted that a Maria would have no problems in an English speaking country, my students named Maria still wanted me to call them Mary!

By Catherine (not verified)
March 3, 2007 11:56 AM

I think it is important to find a name that works globally if the family is multicultural or if you suspect the child will experience many cultures. My middle name is Julia and when I studied in Mexico and Central America I went by Hoolia as it was much easier than dealing with mispronouncations of my name. In fact I like that I hava a name that "translates". But in my eyes that is very different than the fact that I cannot pronounce my Indian in-laws names (Rishbha and Bhudev) correctly.

My husband and I think it's important that we give our children Indian names that are easy to spell and pronounce. Fortunantely there are options, but as Laura points out, many more for girls than boys. Particularily if you don't want to do an Indian name with an American nickname (Nikhil/Nick or Samir/Sam). Out children will have to correct pronounciation and be taught to be fine with misproiuncations on occassion but having names tied to hertitage are worth it.

By Amy (not verified)
March 3, 2007 1:19 PM

Catherine--I have found that Indian names with harder sounds seem to reproduce better (Vivek-male, Anita-female.) I can't hear the difference when a name has the extra H (Dh, Bh, etc.,) Indians hear it.

There is also what I call the Colin Powell syndrom. When a child's peer group cannot say a name correctly, the name changes. I was speaking with a couple of American moms who married Turkish men, and gave their children Turkish names. Even though their kids hear the correct pronouciations at home, they prefer and have internalized the mispronouciations from school. The moms believe that everyone is saying the names the best that can be expected, so they are not angry--just a little sad. Sadly, the fathers wish that they had not used Turkish names.

Part of the problem, I think, is that there are only a few Turkish people in our area. There is limited chance to hear the names properly. The best bet is to choose names with phonemes from our language, and expose the kids to a lot native speakers.

By Penny (not verified)
March 3, 2007 2:08 PM

I remember a guy in college who had a long Indian surname. But he defused any anxiety in introductions by smiling and saying "Just remember that it sounds a lot like 'Throwing body down.'" And he was right, and it did help. Sometimes a little humor can go a long way to making an unfamiliar name easier to say and more memorable.

By Kelly (not verified)
March 3, 2007 2:19 PM

Only one boys name listed? I've been trying to think of more that fit the "rules." We do have some male names that end in vowels, such as Gregory, Levi, or Milo. What about Linus, James, Reubin, Miles, Louis/Lewis, or Colin?

By RobynT (not verified)
March 3, 2007 3:18 PM

Catherine: I just met a Nikhil and at our workplace people don't seem to have any trouble with it. It is a university, if you think context has anything to do with it. And he's a pretty likable guy, which may give folks more patience. I could also speculate on whether his "American" appearance influences the degree to which people accept his name, but I won't.

An international (Korean, I think) student who heard his name only once thought it was Mikhail, but I think maybe that points to a reason that this name is "easy" for Americans--or folks that are pretty well versed in English and living in the English-speaking world.

Marie-Claire: I wonder where the Slovakian school got their list of "English" names. At my university, I noticed that Chinese students seem to have "English" names, like they will tell you on the first day to call them Bryan or whatever. But the Korean and Japanese students don't. I'm curious about what is behind this too. I guess maybe just the programs in their various countries.

By Heather A. (not verified)
March 3, 2007 3:25 PM

Was listening to the radio this morning and they were interviewing a linguist who has put together an accent archive online. There are recordings of non-native English speakers from all over the world, including different dialects of various languages, reading a paragraph that contains all the different Engish sounds. I think that there is only one name included in it, but you still get the idea of how the sounds, and sound combinations, would be pronounced by a native speaker of whatever language you choose. There is also a phonetic spelling of the recording.
Anyhow, thought it might be of interest to some. The site is:

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
March 3, 2007 8:19 PM

I remember seeing a documentary a few years ago about children's language acquistion. Apparently there is a particular sound in Chinese (Mandarin, I guess) that is completely undetectable to non-Chinese speakers. The scientists measured the brain waves of infants and found that non-Chinese babies lost the ability to hear the sound by 12 months of age! Other studies have shown, however, that in order for a baby to learn a particular language, he needs to have someone speak it to him. Hearing the language on TV or on a CD does nothing. Take that, Baby Einstein!

By Amy (not verified)
March 3, 2007 9:56 PM

Elizabeth T.-- I'll go one step further. Not only does a baby need to hear the sounds of a language spoken by a person, not a talking head, but he needs to be actively engaged in conversation. My husband's niece and nephew heard Gujrati spoken daily, but were not encouraged to participate in the language. They cannot understand, much less speak their mother's language. I have always wondered if they took formal Gujrati classes now, would they have an advantage? Would those phonemes suddenly be unlocked? A new language can be learned at any age, but after a certain age one will always speak the new language with an accent. That's must be why some foreign names pronounciations will never be 100% correct.

By o.h. (not verified)
March 3, 2007 11:57 PM

Even in the U.S., regional accents can be different enough to affect naming. I took this quiz:
... which gave a geographic reason why I can't hear the difference between the names "Merry" and "Mary." Which is too bad, because I quite like "Merry" for a baby, but unless she moved to a different part of the U.S., she'd be correcting everyone all the time.

By Janna (not verified)
March 4, 2007 1:15 AM

My name is always mispronounced. My parents say it with a Philly short-a (I can't write it out "phonetically", it's a tense /ea/), which no-one from out of the area can say right.
When I was pretty young, I started asking people to call me Janna "yahnah" because everyone- EVERYONE- can make those sounds pretty much all over the world, and it's a common name across Central Europe. Also, it's much prettier than my name pronounced with the spreading Midwest raised-a.
However, Americans refuse to catch the /j/ ("y") initial sound. So no-one in the US ever says it right in either of the two options that I prefer.
So even if you pick a name that is easy to pronounce, people might still refuse to make the effort.
Also, I know that everyone has their supposed "name meanings", but why does everyone have to ask me about my name? Why does it matter where it comes from? There's no "story" to it, it's just a name my mother liked (she liked it both ways). End of story. Why do I need to justify it to you? It's pretty.

By Jill C. (not verified)
March 4, 2007 2:56 AM

We have trouble sometimes with our daughter's name (Mamie Katherine), and I'm utterly confused as to why. Several people (all English speakers) have asked me how Mamie is spelled, as if the sound was unfamiliar to them (no fancy pronunciation, just May-mee). And her name seems to fit with the other 'universal' names Laura lists.

Who knows what will trip people up?

By Grace (not verified)
March 4, 2007 4:44 AM

Jill- just wanted to compliment you on your daughter's name. My great grandmother was Mae, called Mamie, but I haven't heard it on anyone else. It's so rare these days! Anyway, I think it is lovely.

By molly (not verified)
March 4, 2007 5:39 AM

Jill, I would guess people ask because Mamie is an unusual name on a young girl and they're simply not expecting to hear it. And with all the respellings going around, your mind wouldn't necessarily jump to assume the parents chose a traditional name/spelling.

You would think that my name wouldn't be so hard, but I've had to spell it out for people when with my midwest dialect they hear it as something like "Mally."

By molly h (not verified)
March 4, 2007 1:10 PM

molly - we share the same name! and i've had some difficulties with it as well. i speak very softly and have had to say many times, no - not holly or polly, *molly*. i also met a woman on the west coast who grew up in the north east as i did, who introduced herself as molly, but i later found out her name was spelled mali, and to me, the pronunciations of the word are completely different but she didn't make a distinction.

By Valerie (not verified)
March 4, 2007 5:15 PM

Elizabeth T. Fascinating research... but I'd love to know how scientists can tell whether such young children can hear a particular sound. Any ideas?

By Valerie (not verified)
March 4, 2007 8:23 PM

I know this comment relates more to previous topics (names which harmonize and place names), but couldn't resist sharing... just came across two little sisters whose names are Odessa and Abby-Lou!

By Anne/kq (not verified)
March 4, 2007 11:11 PM

I had a friend in HS named Cem (pronounced like "Gem", like a jewel.) His mother was Turkish. He didn't have as much pronunciation trouble as homophone trouble-- people made fun of him not because of how his name was spelled, but what "gem" means! He got called Jewel, Jewelry, Jewel-Boy, things like that.

By Amy (not verified)
March 5, 2007 12:34 AM

Yea, in Turkish the c is said as a j. I knew a Can, Jem, Ercan, and a Nice (Jon, Gem, Are-jon, and Nee-jay.) There are also a lot of Turkish names that follow our phonetics, and are easy to say and spell.

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
March 5, 2007 12:52 AM

I know nothing about neurology, but what I remember seeing was some kind of print out that showed a certain part of the children's brains lighting up when they heard the sound in Chinese. This spike occurred for all babies up until around 12 months of age, at which point only the charts for the Chinese babies showed the spike. The researchers theorized that the patterns on the charts indicated whether or not a particular baby could hear the sound, and that the lack of the blip on the chart meant they no longer heard it. I believe this study followed particular babies, making it even more interesting.

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
March 5, 2007 12:53 AM

One final comment that just occurred to me: what the researchers didn't say (or didn't investigate) was whether or not that ability could ever be regained...