I've been dreaming of the day I could message you to talk baby names. I've struggled with infertility for years due to stage 4 endometriosis but thanks to IVF I'm currently 6 months pregnant with a baby boy!
Now, here's our dilemma. I'm Egyptian, my husband is French Canadian and we're hoping to find a name that can be pronounced by my super Egyptian parents, the general English population and my husbands super Québécois family. Were looking for a name that is respectable, not cutesy or trendy (read: traditional but not boring). My husband really likes Theodore Henri Fahmy (my last name) J****u (his last name).
I don't mind it, but can see how my parents would pronounce it as SeeOdore, and that name loses its appeal for me. I'm at a complete loss and can't seem to find anything we like so I'm hoping to hear some suggestions from you to steer us down the right path!
Signed, confused in three languages.
Congratulations on your soon-to-arrive small person! I am thrilled for you and love this letter. What’s most amazing to me about it is that despite being super short, your question somehow has me doing all kinds of things I’ve never done before. Let me explain:
I try not to talk about me here, but I want to thank everyone who sent notes asking for more Name Nerd columns and wondering where I was - special shoutout to Rebecca who went as far as trying to bribe me with pics of her dog. As I mentioned on Show Your Work, I had an unscheduled break due to some sudden health issues with my dad (he’s going to be fine).
But if you’ve been reading here, you know the thing about my dad is… he’s Egyptian. So I already related to your letter a lot. Then, when I read the next part… I did something I’ve never done before: I forwarded your letter to Lainey… and to my sister.
I want to stress that I don’t share the letters, usually. Even though you guys generously send me letters about your lives and allow me to publish them, I appreciate that there’s a theoretical code of privacy I want to maintain, and also, I don’t want other people’s opinions clouding my response.
But the thing is, in addition to having an Egyptian dad, who is fluent in English but has unique pronunciations sometimes… I also have a son… named Theodore.
And until your letter, I never would have articulated the way my dad pronounces the name, but ‘SeeOdore’ is exactly, exactly right. I love that you know this! My sister read the email and wrote, “This is hilarious. I can hear Dad saying it exactly the way she wrote it.” You have a gift!
The bad news is, this means my bias is right there up front. I love the name, and that pronunciation from my dad doesn’t bother me… or I’ve grown to love it, maybe. As you so skillfully articulated, he really likes making a meal of both ‘o’s in the name, to the point where I can’t really hear it any other way.
But if it’s a dealbreaker for you, I totally get it. What I did think, though, is that it might be an advantage to turn the tendency into a positive and look into names that have an S sound? The first that comes to mind is Simon, which is of course as easy and authentic in French as it is in English, and doesn’t suffer from a trend factor. Sebastian seems to fall under this umbrella as well; I know my dad could say it, I know it works in French, and while you might hear some comparisons to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s son, you could do a lot worse, right? I also like the ‘Bastian’ variant, if that works for you.
I know there are 25 other letters in the alphabet, so what about Gabriel or Julian? Easy, lovely, beautiful. I want to suggest August (or Augustus), but I know my dad would pronounce it “O-gust”, so if part of your goal is to avoid that round O-sound, it might not be for you.
I do think vowels are important in this scenario, though. How about Dimitri? I know you may be like “seriously? Throw another culture into the mix?” but I think it could give the global feel that your kid will come by so honestly. Or what about Enoch? It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s not difficult to read or pronounce, so maybe it would hit in your sweet spot – though I acknowledge it’s a hard turn from ‘Enoch’ to ‘Henri’.
How about the lovely Bernard? The French variations are Bernardin, which is lovely, or Bernon, which I’ve never heard but assume is pronounced like Bear-NOHN, as opposed to like “Vernon”. I know it might be a little out there, but it’s neither cutesy nor trendy nor boring…
Eugene? Basil? Rupert? Benedict? You should know that I’m saying all of these aloud in my dad’s Egyptian-in-Canada voice, an accent I’ve tried my whole life to perfect. I can’t promise they’ll all sound good to your ear, but I promise the sound and feel is preserved in each…
Or you could think again about the charms of SeeOdore, which is a great name, and that spelling I will love forevermore.
You know I say this every time, but I hope you’ll understand when I say I really need to know how this one turns out. Let me know!