Hi Duana,

We are expecting our second baby in December and I'm really having a hard time with name ideas! Our first was easy- I knew he was a boy and what his name would be as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I know it's still early but I could really use your help to get the ball rolling. Here's our story: I'm a 4th generation Canadian with Irish and English heritage. My husband moved to Canada from Iran when he was a kid. Our son’s name is Cyrus Kelly.
Strong Persian name with major significance, but also very easy to say and somewhat common in North America. Kelly was my dad's name. I love his name and I want so badly to give our second child a name with as much significance. Our last name is very obviously Persian - 4 syllables ending in i. We have tentatively agreed on Kian for a boy but I'd love other ideas too! Middle name will probably be Robert.

Here's where my husband and I are butting heads. I feel very strongly about if we have a girl, not just giving her a "pretty" name, but giving her something as strong and meaningful as Cyrus. But the strong female names are not so inspiring to me. Am I over thinking it? Cyrus will always hear about how he was named after a beloved Persian king who wrote the first charter of human rights. I can't just say we named you "Lily" because it's a pretty name that's used in both cultures. My husband likes Mona and I can't get on board because there's no strong meaning. I like Esther but he doesn't. We both like Miriam or Maryam but it feels a little safe... I thought of Nora today but I'm worried it's like Mona without enough behind it, although I like it better than Mona. Middle name with likely be Katherine or Kathryn. Any other ideas??? Is it really a big deal if our first child gets the really meaningful name and the second gets just a good name? hellllp!! Thanks!!!!


I think the key to this dilemma is in your line here. “Cyrus will always hear about how he was named after a beloved Persian king who wrote the first charter of human rights.” Not to overstate the obvious, but he’ll hear it from you. That is, you will bring up the significance and previous bearers of the name because that’s important to you. But for Cyrus, it might just be another story his parents tell, or he might be more interested in the name because there will be an animated character who shares it, or whatever. That is, the significance of the historical benefit of the name matters to you, but not necessarily to Cyrus—or his sister. 

That said, it’s not that I don’t think you should have an equally ‘important’ name for her, because you think it’s important and so she will notice if his name has a long story, and hers has a shrug. In fact, one of the things I always say is that it’s not the ‘traditional’ meaning that matters, in the one-word name-definition sense, but what the name means for you. If you want your daughter to have an important name, start there, and add the cultural implications later.

I hope that doesn’t seem insensitive or dismissive. Cross-cultural names are one of the most common requests I get. But it’s one thing to want a name that works ‘back home’, and another to have a name that announces your heritage. For the vast majority of people, Cyrus doesn’t automatically confer ‘Iranian’ (nor do Caspar or Darius, both of which I like), so I think you have some latitude.

For what it’s worth, I love Esther, as I was telling a friend this weekend, and she certainly has a historical context. I am reminded of the variant ‘Esta’, which might make it feel a little more fresh for your husband. I don’t mind Mona, but why not call her Simone, after Simone de Beauvoir, or Ramona, of literary fame (Helen Hunt Jackson or Beverley Cleary, as is your preference). I agree that Miriam, to me, has always felt a bit heavy – pretty and surprising on a woman but maybe a little much on a young girl – which I guess is why ‘Miri’ was invented.

For a more modern interpretation of an inspirational name, I came across the Persian name Anahita, which reminds me of Anaheed, as in Anaheed Alani, Tavi Gevinson’s partner at Rookie. So in terms of ‘important’, she’s giving a voice to young women who might not otherwise feel their voices were important.

Keeping on the modern tip, I found Roxana. It wouldn’t have been my first thought, as I assumed it was a made-up name. It is not – she was the wife of Alexander the Great, that begat Mozart’s opera Alexandre et Roxane, and a modern Roxana, Roxana Saberi, is a journalist and pageant winner who wrote a book about being imprisoned in Iran after being accused of espionage. There are definitely stories there. 

Then, of course, there’s the other side of the heritage. I’d say there are a fair number of fairly fascinating Marys in English and Irish heritage – Cyrus and Mary are a lovely combination, and we know it would work pronunciation wise, since Maryam is so similar.

Let me know what you choose, and remember that the story she hears will be because you tell it!