Hi Duana,

I am a name-lover who is addicted to the Name Nerd column, but this time I am writing for a friend, and it is a super name emergency as baby is already here! And she's been here for a week. NO NAME YET. My good friend is Swedish and her husband is Thai. They just had a beautiful baby girl last week who is still unnamed. They are completely stuck and have no leads or ideas. Traditional Swedish names like Ebba or Elsa are too common and popular (in Sweden particularly) and don't seem to convey their heritage, they feel like it needs to be more special. They also though don't want to choose something that is too linguistically challenging because they want baby to have a name that can be fit into many different languages among them English, Swedish, and Thai. They are so desperate they are actually reaching out to friends for help at this point, and I knew exactly who to call. 911 Name emergency! Really hope to hear back, thanks Duana!!


You know those people who come over to your house and compulsively straighten the dish towels on your oven? Or they arrange a pile of mail from smallest to largest because they can’t not? I am like that, with this child. I feel a compulsion not to leave this alone.

Having said that, this is a tough tough call, because ‘special’, in three disparate languages means so many different things to so many different people. And both Thai and Swedish names, in different measures, kind of flout the conventions of English naming conventions—for example, I came across a probably-beautiful name that includes the syllable ‘porn’. 

Also because (and I understand this is an emergency) I know literally nothing about your friends or what they’re like or what they want. My overall recommendation when going between languages is to focus on a name that can be broken down into syllables and sticks more-or-less to gender and style conventions for the country you’re spending most time in. For example, my cousin Noha, from Egypt, has an easier name to take across borders than her uncle Sarawat.

Nonetheless, here is my catch-all Hail Mary pass—I hope one of them helps. I’ve chosen only Thai or Swedish names, because if they want one that’s traditionally ‘English’ and somehow also indicates their cultural heritage, that’s an uphill row, with maybe one exception at the end.

Kanya – pronounced more with a ‘G’ at the beginning. ‘Gahn-ya.’ Close, but far enough away, from other, similar names you’ve heard before.

Hathai – means heart. Might be a little on-the-nose given that ‘thai’ is in it, but it seems fresh and easy to pronounce.

Sasi – Ordinarily I think I might find this too short and sweet, but I think it might strike a nice balance.

Britta – Nameberry calls it ‘pan-Scandinavian’, but it’s become more familiar over the past few years and that might appeal to your friends.

Tuva – apparently quite popular as well, and the unusual ‘u’ in the middle of that name may nod to some Thai language influences.

*Agnes – OK, so this name is high up on the Swedish popularity lists, and while I know it’s sort of acknowledged in English, I’ve always liked that it has a more glamorous reputation elsewhere. I have rhapsodized about the Polish version, ‘Agnieszka’, before, I think. But that’s kind of the point – in French it’s ‘An-YEZ’, and there are many more versions. It might be a very portable name. Thai readers, let me know how it would go over there.

And let me know what the 911 baby is named, so I can stop compulsively right-angle-adjusting the newspaper.