Hi Duana,

What do you think of using another culture's name? I love the Italian spelling of Luisa, but my partner and I are both Scandinavian. Pretentious?


The whole point of having a “global village” or whatnot is so that you can expose yourself to more than what exists within your small social circle.   So that you can hear different things, learn different phrases and attitudes...  

…and then people make fun of you for them. You can’t win. One of the biggest stokers of my ongoing crush on Ira Glass was when he confessed he used to walk around pronouncing Nicaragua “Nee-ha-ra-ghua”. Yes, it’s correct, in the strictest sense, but it’s insufferable. So the question becomes, is there a point where correct, or in the case of this name, “authentic”, flips over into pretentious?

I’d say that there is, but that Luisa isn’t it. One of the reasons is because it’s not an Italian name that you’re importing out of nowhere -- Luisa is well-traveled in English. You might have a little more resistance getting people to adopt Lorenzo, I suppose.

But on the other hand, you know what’s French? Michelle…and Mirielle.  You know what’s Italian? Isabella…and Graziella. If we didn’t import names from other nations, everyone would be called Kevin forever and ever and I’d die. What sounds foreign to English speaking ears at first gets assimilated very quickly. 

Yes, it’s a sliding scale. Can a couple with no claim to any particular heritage use the name Malia? Is it up for grabs now that she’s the daughter of the President of the United States? How about Lui Yuk Fun? Does it change your mind if I say that’s the name of the woman also known as Lainey? It’s all relative, isn’t it? 

Why do you want to use “another culture’s name” in the first place? Here’s the key, as far as I’m concerned: Why do you love the name? Because it sounds good, because you heard it when you were travelling, because you know someone with that name, because it means something to you? All  fair enough. Read up on the name, know the “meaning” (because people will ask), and go ahead and call him Otto (in my dreams!)

I can think of a lot of people who would argue with me, but if you hear something and truly know that’s the name of your kid, it will, through sheer ardent repetition, sound authentic. Eventually.

If, on the other hand, you’re using it to give yourself some cred, if you think that it would be kind of neat if Mark and Andrea had a baby named Pedro so everyone can understand how desperately sophisticated you are, well, then I suspect there are people who will line up to yell at you so I won’t bother.

I don’t think it’s pretentious to use Luisa if you’re Scandinavian (and where you live matters, too). I don’t think we should limit ourselves to our own cultural backgrounds because what for?  

I also think that the impending birth of Kanye and Kim’s child is going to make me eat every word in this column, but that’s a problem for another day.