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 TRM (not verified)
March 5, 2007 4:20 AM

Interesting post! I would be interested in another specifically about parents choosing names so that they will work in two language cultures at the same time (selfishly, since my husband and I are in this situation...).

About the pronunciation issue - speaking as someone whose parents didn't have any idea they would be immigrating to an English-speaking country - chronic mispronunciation is certainly annoying, and sometimes rude. It's unfair to judge unless you've been in this position, I think. For instance, consider how many times you need to tell people your name, then imagine correcting them each time and then spelling your name for them, usually more than once. (I know some in my position have written above to say they don't mind, so of course each person will be different.)

By Valerie (not verified)
March 5, 2007 4:43 AM

Thanks, Elizabeth-- how fascinating!

By Keren (not verified)
March 5, 2007 11:01 AM

My daughter's name is Phoebe, and it never bothered her that it isn't phonetically obvious how to spell it.

With my kids at an international school I notice quite a few names that cross several cultures; Anna, Daniel, Max, Oscar, Nina, Su for example.

Beware of names beginning with 'J', in many languages they will be pronounced with 'y'.

We live in the Netherlands and my children's names are often pronounced in the Dutch way - Phoebe = Foober; Judah = Yooda.

By Sophia (not verified)
March 5, 2007 11:43 AM

Jill, I've never heard of the name Mamie before! It's really pretty, but I admit I wouldn't have had a clue how to pronounce it if I'd seen it written down.

Like some have said, I find it hard to switch languages, as it were, halfway through a sentence to pronounce a name. I teach English in France and although I do make an effort to pronounce their names right, if I'm in full flow 'Morr-GANN' (Morgane) will become 'Morgan', Mathilde will lose her long 'ee' sound and anyone with an 'r' in their name can just forget it! In return, I put up with a Frenchified version of my name - I'm Sophia but it's just not in the French pattern of speaking to stress the 'i, and it becomes Soph-YA. I don't really like hearing my name 'mangled', but it's the only way that fits in spoken French.

Interesting about boy's names - I'd want my son to have a name that reflects my Italian heritage and that can be used in both countries, but most Italian boy's names end in 'o', which I don't like in English, sounds very foreign.

By Sophia (not verified)
March 5, 2007 12:02 PM

btw just to make it clear, I do pronounce French names right if I'm speaking French, but in an English lesson it's less of a priority!

By Howard (not verified)
March 5, 2007 2:17 PM

In addition to the TH sound, H is a tough one for a lot of non-English speakers. I married into a hispanic family and some of my less Americanized in-laws simply can't say it (O-wahrd). No biggie, I am not offended. My mother is from Sweden and my middle name does not work in English (Knut, butt of countless jokes growing up), but that is what my Swedish relatives have always called me. We followed a similar strategy with our kids, giving them an English name, a Spanish name, and a Swedish name. Respective relatives can use the appropriate name as they wish.

By Fiona (not verified)
March 5, 2007 4:40 PM

You are right about Lucas - I know a couple of newborn Lucas' in New Zealand! One of my best friends is an Adarsh (sounds like adish), who is Indian and another is Keawe (key-a-ve)who is Hawiian. Keawe has more problems than Adarsh with pronoucation of his name. Incidentally, I spent sometime in Southern France on a school exchange and had a really hard time convincing my host grandmother that my name Fiona wasn't Italian - but Irish!

I think that for girls Amy or Ami translates well.

By Valerie #2 (not verified)
March 5, 2007 4:56 PM

Valerie and Elizabeth:
Usually distinguishing sounds is tested with habituation: repeating a sound until the baby tires of it, then introducing the new sound to see if the baby turns its head, sucks on a pacifier faster, etc, to show it can hear the difference.
Language is unusual because we perceive it categorically. English speakers can't hear anything as "between" R and L: we'd just hear it as R or L. Japanese doesn't distinguish between our R and L, so Japanese babies just learn to hear it as one sound category because it's easier to process.
The catch is this: SOME people can relearn to distinguish certain sounds later in life. It is much more likely if you're exposed to the language before puberty, although a very few adults can succeed. Nobody really knows why. It's also easier to hear a sound than it is to teach your mouth to produce it (like Ital. rr and German ch). The best is to listen to what the sounds are and practice getting your mouth to make them, although it feels like writing wrong-handed :)

By Astrid (not verified)
March 5, 2007 5:14 PM

Howard, I love the idea of the three names! My first name (Astrid) is also Scandanavian, and oh my lord, do people have troubles with pronounciation - I still can't figure it out. Americans can say Austria. Why is it a challenge to pronounce a long A with my name? The long A still isn't quite the same as how those in Germany or Sweden pronounce the name, but it's close. My brother's first name is Karsten - Americans often call him Carson, or think that it's a girls' name. His wife is Spanish, and while he lived in Spain, he often went by his middle name - Eric - because it was easier for Spanish people.

Janna, I sometimes share your feelings. I love my name, and that it's different and unique, and, most of the time, I'm OK with people asking me about it. It doesn't help that my nickname is Oz - also unique. But sometimes - when I'm putting my name on a wait list at a restaurant, or when I was in college and met people at bars that I knew I'd never see again - I use the name Kate to avoid the hassle.

By Valerie #2 (not verified)
March 5, 2007 5:44 PM

I think it's important to consider regional pronunciations, especially those you might come in frequent contact with. I knew of a girl named Lauren, whose parents would have a fit if it was pronounced LOR-en instead of their intended East Coast LAHR-en. That just seems silly to me--if they hate how 50% of people pronounce the name in their own native language, they shouldn't have picked it and saved themselves the hassle. Or if they loved it, they could have accepted the inevitable pronunciation difference.
In picking a foreign name or a name that won't travel well, hopefully due to personal or cultural significance, parents should acknowledge and accept likely potential pronunciation issues, and be willing to continue to gently correct or ignore errors, depending.
But you can only go so far by ensuring that the name is ok in your own language and others you'll likely come in contact with. In this global day and age, you can't forsee or prepare for everything; who knows if your kid will move to Zaire someday?

By Jessica (not verified)
March 5, 2007 5:48 PM

My dad and stepmom needed names that could go throughout Europe, US and Brazil and that could exist in a tri-lingual household. They chose Blaise (Blehz in french and Blaze in English) and Adele. Both kids are used to hearing their names pronounced in a number of different ways. In our ever shrinking globe I think that the list of "pronounceable, recognizeable" names will continue to grow. Years ago people might not have known how to pronounce Diego or Miguel but now they are standard. I live in Minnesota and I know how comfortably pronounce everything from Shrithi to Marisol to Kaylee to Fatima to Thao. It takes a little effort but it's worth it. Even countries like Denmark that used to have a gv't list of names that you had to name from have had to adapt due to immigration and modernization. Very interesting post Laura.

By Maya (not verified)
March 5, 2007 5:57 PM

As the world gets smaller languages are adapting to each other. There is going to be a certain amount of give and take linguistically. While parents in the US may be naming their child Vivek, parents in the Sudan could be naming their child Bob or Charles.

By Stephanie A. (not verified)
March 5, 2007 6:13 PM

I'm so glad you mentioned Lauren, Valerie #2. I've been thinking about Laura/Lauren throughout this conversation because those names are currently the front-runners for our girl name option for #2 due in June.

We don't have any Laura/Laurens in our family, but my stepdad's sister is a Lora, and my mom's best friend is a Laura. My mom has a personal pet peeve when these names (and Lara) are all pronounced the same), but I have to admit that I am one that tends to do that. OK - maybe Lara gets a SLIGHTLY different vowel sound, but not much and not if I'm not paying attention.

I tend to go with "LOR a/en" for the "au" spelling, or even something slightly in the middle of the O and AU sound. As I'm considering this name I'm wondering if I can change my habit. Or if I care enough to anyway.

I really don't want to knock these names out of our consideration, because our girl name choice has been HORRIBLE to come by!!!

By Stephanie A. (not verified)
March 5, 2007 6:16 PM

There was a neat Discovery Channel or Discovery Health show on a couple years ago (and they periodically rerun it) about language acquisition. It talked about all this sound stuff that's being mentioned and showed lots of researchers doing their thing. It was cool. I'll see if I can find a link to it on their website.

By Christiana (not verified)
March 5, 2007 7:01 PM

On Mamie: Like Ike's wife, right? May-mee? At first, because of typed letters I was thinking it was Marnie (MaRNie). I'd Choose the May-mee pronunciation first, though I could guess that many people want to say Mammy (like in Gone With the Wind). Or if they hear it first, maybe spell it Maymie or Maemee or something. It's a really adorable name, btw.

Sophia - do they nn Sophia in France? Sophie? And pronounce it like we would in America? Wasn't that the name of the main French female in Da Vinci Code which mostly took place in France? Ironic.

By Heather A. (not verified)
March 5, 2007 7:30 PM

Howard- Thanks for reminding me about the silent "H". It's funny that I remembered folks having trouble only with the "th" in my name.

By Christiana (not verified)
March 5, 2007 9:18 PM

Even in America there are some serious language differences. I had 2 co-workers named Nerissa and Malena. For the life of her, another co-worker could not stop putting an "r" at the end of their names. Nerisser. And for Malena it was worse - she got 2 "Rs" - she was Marlayner. Drove me nuts and it wasn't even my name.

By Jack & Henry's mom (not verified)
March 5, 2007 10:03 PM

I think Laura and Lauren are both great. As a denizen of the West Coast, I can't hear the difference between Laura and Lora at all, while I think Lara is totally different. I'm imagining a Kennedy voice in my head to try and get the idea. Have you thought about doing Laurel? It's a pretty, underused name imo.
I have to agree with others that differences will become less and less of an issue. At least out here, we have kids from every ethnicity imaginable in our schools, and plenty of "American," kids with names that were inventions of their parents. I don't think most kids these days even notice if a name is unusual or foreign in origin. Of course, this could be regional-maybe areas without a lot of global commerce or immigration are less "name tolerant."
Best wishes!

By sara (not verified)
March 5, 2007 10:21 PM

One key thing to keep in mind is spelling... it can make or break a name as far as global portability.

For example, I've never met a "Snel" but I do know a "Sunil". Same name, but so much more accessible.

Or, how about "Ouafae" (Moroccan)? Can also be spelled "Wafa", and what a difference.

A little attention to spelling can go a long way.

A trickier thing is names that have other meanings in different languages. For example, a couple of lovely Arabic names have unfortunate meanings in Spanish (Rabia = "rage", Rana = "frog").

I think all you can do is consider sounds and meanings in the few main languages you'll be dealing with and then call it a day. The world is too big, otherwise.

By Teneshia (not verified)
March 5, 2007 10:43 PM

I've always had trouble with others mispronouncing my name. It's Ten-ee-sha, but I get TAN ish(like fish)a, TAN ish EE a, even Teresa. And I always get, "can you spell that?" So, I usually go by the nn T. The first letter is something everyone can remember. Also, this might be a common name in a more multi-cultural area, but I live in a very white ,rural part of Kentucky. I've decided that when I have children, I'll stick to something a little more common. Not as common as my husband's name, John Michael, but less unusual than Teneshia. I like to think that my name has made me stand out somewhat. However, the hassle of pronunciation/spelling can be tiring. I've also never been offended; others try the best they can with it.

By Danielle (not verified)
March 5, 2007 11:50 PM

So here's my predicament. I'm white, Irish Catholic, from New England. My boyfriend is from India, but grew up over here, but still has family over in India. We haven't talked about having children, but given the fact that I'm obsessed, I've thought about future children's names. I just can't seem to find any names that aren't too English so that they will be easily understandable for his family, but aren't too Indian so it fits in with my family. Any ideas/suggestions?

By Kimberly (not verified)
March 6, 2007 12:02 AM

My husband is Dutch and we've also discussed giving our children names that travel well, as his family speaks very little English. But we haven't been able to come up with many boy names that are Dutch, but that don't have some weird pronunciation or spelling in English. Boys names are tough. Should I just hope for girls? :)

By Bethany (not verified)
March 6, 2007 12:27 AM

My mom was born in the Netherlands and was named Aukje. When her parents moved to Canada, they gave all their kids "Canadian" names using an English name book, and basing all the names on the first to letters of the Dutch name. So my mom ended up with Aurelia. Everyone who hears it always says, "Oh, how lovely," but never repeats it until they've known her a long time. She's always told me to give my kids "normal" names, but who knows what that means! In the Dutch tradition, she was named after two aunts, and her name ended up being Aukje Froukje - I think she might be lucky that the Anglicized version ended up NOT rhyming!

By Bethany (not verified)
March 6, 2007 12:28 AM

Also, ironically, none of my Dutch grandparents could ever pronounce my name possibly - the accursed English "th". Also didn't work so well when I was living in France...

By Caoileann (not verified)
March 6, 2007 12:32 AM

Interesting topic! my (Irish) name looks very odd, but is very easy to say in English (KEE-lin). i don't mind people asking how to pronounce it, as i'm often confronted with names that i have no idea how to say. better to ask! though i do dislike Anglicising names too much - when you actually speak the language the name comes from (as i do), the spelling can look really strange. i'd hate to have my name *spelled* Keelin, and i'd never name a child Shawn or Owen or Kira if i could use the versions closer to the original spellings (Sean, Eoin/Eoghan, Ciara). i disliked my name as a kid, and i was always trying to find ways to shorten it, but as you get older you become more proud of your individuality: odds are your kids will too. i love my name and i wouldn't change it - the only drawback is its meaning - "slim and blonde"!

By Cathie (not verified)
March 6, 2007 1:13 AM

Kimberly -- Anton is a Dutch and German boys name that is becoming popular/known over here (I'm in New England - I know 3 under five with that name, with no German connection). Also, Sander is considered cool over here and it's a traditional short form for Alexander in Dutch (pronounced slightly differently). Lucas and Max work too. Gerard and Hendrik are other possibilities although maybe a bit fusty in English. FWIW, though, most Dutch people I know are giving foreign names to their kids these days. Also, most of the Dutch names are Christian names, so you could go with the English spelling and the Dutch family could use the Dutch version. Because children are commonly given a "roepnaam" by their parents at birth, the Dutch are pretty flexible about official vs. called names.

Personally, though I think you should go with Freek or Harm! Two of my favorite Dutch-names-that-don't-translate-well.

By Tricia (not verified)
March 6, 2007 1:48 AM

I have had a hard time with how others pronouce my name I am constantly correcting them from office receptionists, doctor's office personal, starbucks, customer service to teachers on how to pronounce which I believe a common name-Tricia. However I always get (Tri-cee-ya)(Tray-cee-ya)(Tree-cee). And people always spell it wrong (Trisha)Even though it is Latin and Tricia is correct. I am not a Patricia but I would think that people would assume it short for Patricia and spell it Tricia. But then I never see it anywhere on those personalized items like mugs and keychains, so I guess it is unsual in America. My mother is Latin and it was the only way she knew how to spell it.

By Danielle (not verified)
March 6, 2007 1:51 AM

So, reading over my last post I realized it made it sound like I was obsessed with having his babies. I meant I was obsessed with names. How do you feel about the name Samir for a boy, but calling him Sam? Or what about Amira being called Amy/Ami?

By RobynT (not verified)
March 6, 2007 2:04 AM

Tricia: Do you live in a heavily Spanish-speaking area? I have recently learned that Latina Patricias are pronounced Pa-tree-see-a.

Danielle: I swore I posted this... I've mentioned earlier an Indian colleague named Shreelina so I wonder if there are other Indian names that end in -lina. There's also Raj.

By RobynT (not verified)
March 6, 2007 2:06 AM

Danielle: Oops, I should have read your new post in its entirety. I think Amira works well in the U.S. It's not "traditionl," but fits with current trends.

Caoileann: Very interesting! Yeah, I have no idea how to pronounce Irish names.

By Danielle (not verified)
March 6, 2007 2:07 AM

Ooh... Shreelina, it's definitely different, but I kind of like it. I really like names that end in -lina too. And I know a Raj, I can't believe I didn't think of that! Thanks so much Robyn

By Avilo (not verified)
March 6, 2007 4:07 AM

When I finally had the all-important task of naming my son, it was essential that my son's name gave him both a sense of heritage and place. With an Irish father and a Hawaii born and bred mother, we came up with the perfect Irish-Hawaiian name: Liam Kainehe (kai-NEH-heh). Put together, it roughly translates to "Protector" (Liam) of the "Rustling Sea" (Kainehe).

Here in Hawaii there are no shortages of Kalani's, Kaleo's, or Kealoha's. So, with its individuality, meaning, and ease of pronunciation, Kainehe was a clear cut choice. Liam on the other hand is a "good, strong" Irish name (that easy enough for my Chinese grandma to pronounce).

By Sophia (not verified)
March 6, 2007 8:01 AM

Christiana - the French don't think of Sophie as a nickname. There are tons of Sophies, Anne-Sophies, Sophie-Annes... but the name Sophia is quite exotic to them, and no-one has yet tried to nn me Sophie (although I remember my French teacher back at school did!).

They pronounce Sophie with the stress on the last syllable - So-PHIE, not SO-phie, like we do. So for me, they just tack an A at the end of that and speed it up so quickly that it becomes Soph-YA!

So in the US is Sophie used as a nn for Sophia? I grew up in England and the only people to call me Sophie were people who weren't paying attention! Some older generations would pronounce my name So-FYE-a, though, which I absolutely loathed; it still makes me cringe!

By Keren (not verified)
March 6, 2007 10:09 AM

Kimberley - some Dutch boy ideas: Alexander, Maxim, Nino, Lysander, Sander, Thimo, Dirk, Bram, Bas (short for Sebastiaan)

By RobynT (not verified)
March 6, 2007 3:29 PM

Avilo: I'm so excited to see someone else from Hawai'i on here! My husband is Native Hawaiian and we are both from Hawai'i (although away for grad school right now). Our future children will go by Hawaiian middle names but I am looking for ones that don't end in a (because they will rhyme with my last name, which will be one of their last names). So it's cool to hear about Kainehe.

By Lee (not verified)
March 6, 2007 3:55 PM

OK, name gurus, I need some help.

We are trying to pick a name for this baby, due in a few months--we need names for both sexes.

Our last name is German and very weird, not spelled phonetically at all. If I pronounce it for people, they either say, "I would have never gotten that" or look at me blankly. It starts with a T and also includes R, N, K, and OY sounds.

Weird already, right? So we want kids names that will be warm and familiar, and, of course, not too overused.

For a girl we like Clara but we can't think of a middle name. I liked Dawn for a while but DH pointed out that together it sounds like "Claratin." Argh.

For a boy we are leaning toward Charles/Charlie. But I just can't picture actually calling that out on the schoolyard. Is that something you get over once your child has the name?

All my other favorite boy options end with Ts. Emmett, Elliott, etc. Do you think these names work with a last name that starts with T? ie Emmett = Emma T...?

Suggestions? Help, please!

By Melissa R (not verified)
March 6, 2007 4:38 PM

I have friends.. having to choose baby names that are fluent in many countries. They live in brazil but the husband is from Canada.. so they want to choose names both sets of family can easily pronounce.
Some of their choices include Anna, Devi, Lucas & Marco.

By Mary (not verified)
March 6, 2007 4:44 PM

Do you want a short middle name like Dawn or is it the warmth/familiarity part the most important?
Lee could work. Clara Lee T etc. maybe?
I have to say unless you are absolutely in love with Emmett and Elliot another name might be better because you are right about the T's running together.
Edward has the E and is kind of in the same style as Charles. Also Eric, Carl, or Elijah?
I like Ellery personally but admit I probably won't ever use it.

By Lee (not verified)
March 6, 2007 5:04 PM

I do love the names Emmett and Elliott, but I can get over it because I don't want my son to be called Emma or Elia. Also the initials E.T. aren't so great, although the movie won't be as well known among this baby's peers.

Eddie I don't like so much. But I do like Max, Sam, Charlie, etc. Can anyone think of more names in that style?

Carl/Karl has possibilities. What are your impressions of the name if you don't see the person first? I can see it on a grown man, but not so much on a little boy.

For a mn with Clara, I think I would prefer one or two syllables, since our last name has three.

By Astrid (not verified)
March 6, 2007 5:29 PM


What about Roy or Ray? They're like Max, Sam, Charlie, etc. If you like Sam, why not Samuel? Owen or Conner or Carson maybe?

What about Mae or May as a middle name for Clara? Marie and Anne/Ann also seem to be frequently used middle names that seem to work with a lot of first names.

By Christiana (not verified)
March 6, 2007 5:37 PM

Sophia - I think Sophie is both used on it's own (per the SS list from 2005) and a nn for Sophia. I know several Sophias who use the nn Sophie/Sofie.

Lee - I think Charles/Charlie is great and can totally picture it on the schoolyard. I'm quite sure you get used to the name once you have a living breathing face to put it with. Clara needs a middle name with some consonant sounds. Clara Corinne, Michelle, Annette (okay, maybe not - say it fast), Ceceil, Paige, Nicole, Kristine. Or you could adopt that German heritage and go with Gretchen! I keep wanting to give it a name with the emphasis on the second syllable. Maureen?

By Kimberly (not verified)
March 6, 2007 5:46 PM

Cathie and Keren,

Thank you so much for the suggestions! I've filed them away for the future... I forgot about Sander. I knew someone with that name and I like it a lot. When I did some research online I found so many names with meaning relating to the sea, like sailor/seaman etc. It's interesting how the nation's economy influences naming. Anyway, I decided I didn't want to name my son seaman. That goes along with Freek. ;)

By Amy (not verified)
March 6, 2007 7:42 PM

How about Anders. It has a European feel to it. I don't know if it actually is a European name or not. There was an Anders at my university, and he was an okay guy.

By sal (not verified)
March 6, 2007 8:31 PM


Here's a list of one-syllable names, suitable for middle names or otherwise matching with a long unruly lastname (we have one, too!):

By Keren (not verified)
March 6, 2007 10:10 PM

I was just reading a magazine about a Dutch couple who called their children Tess, Jade and Rover - "we didn't realise it's a dogs' name in England" they said.

By Valerie (not verified)
March 6, 2007 10:16 PM

Lee- I love the name Clara.
How about
Clara Hope
Clara Grace
Clara May
Clara Giselle
Clara Delphine
Clara Jasmine
Clara Sophie
(French names seem to work well because of the stress on the last syllable)

I love Charlie, Sam, and Max. Names I think of as similar include Ben, Daniel, Alex, Lucas/Luke, Tom, Nicholas, Jacob.

By Jack & Henry's mom (not verified)
March 7, 2007 3:02 AM

Charlie and Sam are two of my favorite names in the world; in fact, I would have loved to use them, but they just didn't work with our ln. I think my boys' names have a similar style, and I also like Max. As for the schoolyard, old is new again, so I'm sure a Charlie will fit right in. There were several postings from moms of babies named George last month (another you might like). Or how about Philip, Jay, or Everett with the nn Rett? I do like both Emmett and Elliot. I've heard Elliot is being used on girls now, though I've never met one personally. Ellery, I do think is too feminine in sound, and although it's very unusual, something about it just looks like the next big thing (it reminds me of Avery-another verrrry old male name now gone girl trendy).
As for Clara, I honestly think it matches up quite well with lots of choices-how about Elizabeth, Renee, or Jane?
Best wishes!

By Avilo (not verified)
March 7, 2007 3:29 AM

Robyn T - The thing about Hawaiian names, traditionally, as I'm sure you know, a kupuna (that's a wise elderly family member for everyone else out there) would be consulted on choosing the appropriate Hawaiian name. My kupuna has a grandson name Keanu - just like the actor. However, she was not thrilled about that, because while in the press Keanu Reeves is quoted as saying his name means "cool breeze over a mountain", this kupuna explained that Keanu really means "cold and frigid" - which is the total opposite of her grandson who's very warm. Anyways, I was glad I consulted my kupuna, otherwise, my son's middle name could have been "fiery water" = alcohol! HA!

By katryn (not verified)
March 7, 2007 3:50 AM

Danielle - I know an Indian-Swedish-American family who have daughters named Monica and Rina, which seem to work in every context.

Lee - Charles/Charlie is so cute! I know a baby Charlie and it doesn't seem weird or old at all. Carl, on the other hand, seems totally nerdy to me, because of one I know.

I think all your choices are pretty cute, so I don't think you would go terribly wrong with any of them. Good luck!

By Marie-Claire (not verified)
March 7, 2007 9:11 AM

Danielle - Tara is a name that springs to mind. It has roots in both Ireland and India. It's also a name that's pretty easy to say anywhere!