Hi Duana,

I am writing you to ask for some help. I am originally born and raise in a spanish speaking country but have lived for the past ten years in the US where I met my english speaker husband and future dad of our baby who will join us this November (sex unknown).

We are having a little bit of a hard time coming up with names that both reflect my hispanic culture but are easy to pronounce in English. I have given up on names like Alejandra and Valentina, both names which I love but I fear that they’ll get stuck with super common nick names such as Ally or Alex and Val. Same problem with boy names like Federico (Freddy) or Mateo (Matt).

Right now for boys I am leaning towards Rafael (nickname Rafa) or Salvador (nickname Salvy) but I’m looking for other good contenders. It is important to me that the names are Hispanic sounding (does that make me crazy?)

For girls, I only have one lead: Esmeralda Paz. I know Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes’ baby girl’s name is Esmeralda, but I loved that name before they named her that. Plus, it’s my country’s national stone. I’ve always liked Paz as a middle name but I’m not sure about it as a first name. My struggle with Esmeralda is the nick name, Esme? Is that a weird nickname?

Do you have any other ideas for girls names?

Thank you for your input!


So you know what’s interesting when I read your letter – I know a young Valentina. But I only know her through her mother. That is, every time I see her, I see her mother, who first of all pronounces her name with the beautiful Spanish-speaking inflection it deserves, but who has given me another nickname. She calls her daughter ‘Va-le’, two syllables, like ‘Valet’. It’s pretty, of course, and unusual, but it also gives the impression of the name having more to it, you know? It doesn’t cut off the lyricism like Val.

Having said that, I think you should know that most kids I know don’t have their names foreshortened. Oliver is called Oliver, Francesco is called Francesco. Nobody would dare call Lizzie ‘Beth’ without her consent. I do think that comes from the parents. If you say ‘this is Federico’, that’s what people will call him. In fact, even though one of the most obnoxious phrases heard by people with ethnic names is ‘do you have a nickname I can call you?’, I think people would be more likely to say ‘Rico’ than Freddie.

All this to say that the parents often set the tone. If you’re not self-conscious when people say “oh, will you call him Matt?” then it won’t occur to anyone. I can’t say the same when your kid is a teenager, but I can’t say anything when your kid is a teenager. Good luck with that.

You’re not crazy at all for wanting Hispanic sounding names. But aim for ones that can’t be mistaken for something else. Diego isn’t James. Arturo isn’t a name you just cut off and shorten to Artie. You can and will find a name that serves all your purposes. I think maybe the bigger problem here is you want, or feel you have to have, a nickname – but maybe let it form on its own?

Which brings me to Esmeralda, which I love. Of course choose it. Half the people who follow celebrities fell off of Ryan Gosling when he settled down with not-them in the first place, so I don’t think it feels like a ‘celebrity’ baby name, not like Apple would, for example. What’s more, I love it. It’s so pretty and unusual, it has meaning for you – there’s no reason not to. 

As for Esme, the only problem with it as a nickname is that it doesn’t necessarily imply there’s a longer name there, you know? It’s used by many as a stand-alone, so I don’t think people would automatically assume that it’s short for something – the same way you wouldn’t automatically assume that Nicole is short for Nicolette.

But by all means, use the name, use Esme, and if you want another nickname, Zelda is calling out to be noticed from Esmeralda, I think. Remember, people, you don’t have to justify how you get to your nicknames! 

I love lots of others – Araceli, Jacinta, Flor, Paloma, Marisol – but I think you love Esmeralda the best.

Let me know where you end up, but know that you feeling like you’re entitled to use certain names is going to be more than half the battle.