"I am British (Scottish) but my boyfriend is Spanish. We want a name for our child-to-be (boy or girl) that will work in either language in terms of easy-pronunciation (neither set of grandparents speaks the other language). However, the names we have found are all very common in both countries (e.g. Anna, Emma, Sofia for girls), which we would really rather avoid. We are looking for the usual mythical beast - the unusual, beautiful, but accessible name! Is there anything you could suggest? (I should note that we have considered and dismissed Alba for girls already!)"
I asked Grace what names she would choose if pronunciation/accessibilty wasn't an issue, and she could just pick whatever she personally wanted. Here was her reply:
"You know we have been so focused on trying to find names that might work in either language that we've ended up with the lowest common denominator, rather than thinking initially about what names we just like for themselves! [...] Ideally we would love to find some name suggestions that are really not that common, but would be easily pronounced by friends and relatives in Spain and in the UK.
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I can see the main dilemma here -- a lot of the names you really love (which are all great choices!) don't fit your ideal of being recognisable/easily pronounced in both English and Spanish. I've given the issue a lot of consideration, and here are four options I think you can go with.
Option 1: Spanish/common-language names which are easily accessible in English.
For this option I have gathered a group of names which are either Spanish, but familiar to English speakers, or names that are pronounced commonly in both languages. There is a wide pool of names that fit this group, but I discounted several, as I felt they were too much of a deviation from the names you both prefer:
Silvia – The Spanish form of Sylvia which is easily adopted into English. For me, Silvia has the exotic elegance of Elena, coupled with the antique charm of Mary and Harriet.
Ines – The Spanish form of Agnes which English-speakers are generally quite familiar with. In Scotland, it could be confused with Innes (though I grant Scots with the intelligence to be aware of both), but, on the other hand, you can also see Ines and a nod to this Scottish counterpart.
Mireia / Mireya – Mireia is the Catalan form of the French Mireille meaning "to admire." Mireya is the Spanish spelling (and easy for English-speakers to pronounce), though the spelling Mireia is more common in Spain at the moment.
Valentina – This beautiful Spanish choice is a classic across Europe, and we Brits are perfectly comfortable with its lilting syllables.
Anabel – This Spanish form of Annabel(le) has absolutely no trouble in English. And the best part -- Anabel may be the Spanish spelling, but Annabel takes its origins from Scotland. [It was used in Scotland from the 12th century as a form of Amabel ("lovable")]. The Spanish spelling/Scottish name would be a nod to both heritages.
Adela – Adela is in the same vein as Elena in terms of sound and style, but it is more comfortable on English tongues.
Clara – Coupling the vintage style of both Marta and Mary is sweet Clara, frequently, but not excessively, used in both Spain and Britain.
Marina – Another marrying of both Marta and Mary can be found in the lovely Marina, which has equal heritage in both English and Spanish. The pared down Mara is also equally known in both languages.
Nora – With the English Eleanor and Spanish Leonor, it is little wonder that Nora is found happily in both languages.
Rafael – Raphael is the preferred English spelling, but Rafael is just as easily understood. More uncommon than Daniel, Samuel and Michael but with just as much heritage.
Ruben – Again, this isn't the most common English spelling, but it isn't unusual here. Ruben is lovely common-language Biblical choice which matches the two syllable -n ending of Struan and Duncan.
Andres / Ander – Andrés is the Spanish form of Andrew, which I don;t think is too hard for English speakers. Alternatively, there is Ander: the Basque form.
Option 2: Embrace the difference.
Next are a group of names which are found in both Spain and Britain, but with slightly different pronunciations in each. I always marvel at bilingual children, and how easily they switch between the pronunciations of cognate words like “hospital” and “regular” with no trouble at all, not worrying that the same spelling can have two different pronunciations. For these, I say, why not embrace the difference and enjoy that one name can have two identities in both Spanish and English:
Miren – Miren is the Basque form of Maria, but can also be found in Scotland as one of the many form of Mirren.
Iris – Sweet Iris is botanical like Rowan and as homely as Mary. Thanks to its origins in Greek mythology as the goddess of the rainbow, it is used in both Spain and Britain with two equally pleasing but distinct pronunciations.
Aurora – Another name from mythology is Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn.
Gerard – This Germanic name is used in both Spain and Britain. Gerard has gained a Scottish flavour thanks to Gerard Butler, but it is also a Catalan name.
Ferran – Ferran is a Spanish name, more specifically the Catalan and Aragonese form of Ferdinand, with roots which go back to the Middle Ages in Spain. But as it is also a British surname (also ultimately from Ferdinand), I can easily see it sitting alongside the likes of Rowan, Struan and Duncan. The Spanish name and British surname are pronounced slightly differently, but that just adds to its appeal for me.
Felix – Like Fergus, Felix is a dapper name which had pan-European appeal.
Hector – This name is both quintessentially Scottish and Spanish at the same time. The history of the name is a great one and has long been linked to valour and virtue.
Saul – Somewhere between Alfonso and Struan sits Biblical Saul, a name which is known and used in both English and Spanish.
Joel – In a similar vein to Saul is gentle Joel.
Gabriel – With all the stately homeliness of Fergus, Gabriel is well known and used in both Spain and Britain.
Bastian – This European short form of Sebastian has a slick sound with a style between Alfonso and Duncan.
Gregor – Gregor is a sturdy Scottish name, but given that Spain has Gregorio, I don't think this form would translate badly into Spanish.
Option 3: Two names for the price of one.
This one is the most controversial of the options, but it is actually my favourite.
One thing I find interesting about Spanish (something I noticed when I studied it at A Level) is that it is quite common for Spanish media to translate English names into Spanish. While British newspapers print “King Felipe VI of Spain” (not King Philip of Spain), Spanish newspapers say “Reina Isabel II del Reino Unido” rather than “Reina Elizabeth”.
Type in Jorge Alejandro Luis into Google, and you will go straight to Spanish sites about Prince George of Cambridge.
Personally, if I had Spanish relatives, rather than have them struggle over Eleanor, I would absolutely love it if they called me by the Spanish version – Leonor. Two lovely names instead of one? Absolutely! Yes, please.
So, here’s my thought. Why not have an “English” name (presumably the one on the official certificate), but make it clear to the Spanish relatives that you are happy for them to use the Spanish form of the name when you are in Spain. There are lots of lovely English/Spanish translations to choose from:
Mary = Maria, Marisa
Beatrice = Beatriz
Martha = Marta
Helen, Helena, Eleanor = Elena
Constance = Constanza
Arthur = Artur(o)
Ralph = Raul
Roderick = Rodrigo
Francis = Francisco
There are tons more. These are just a few of my favourite,
Option 4: Throw the rule book out!
If Struan, Fergus, Mary or Elena are where your hearts truly lie, I say go for it!
Even without different languages to contend with, many names get mangled. You wouldn't believe how many fellow Brits get befuddled by Eleanor! Sometimes it is unavoidable.
Plus, thanks to the internet and the media, the world is getting smaller, and the pot of names gets deeper. I've met a little blonde-haired blue-eyed Diego without a drop of Spanish blood, while Dylan, Oliver and Chloe all rank in Spain's Top 60.
I hope this has been of use. Best wishes with the name hunting.