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Please Don't Try to Simplify My Child's 'Different' Name

08/06/2015 12:55 EDT | Updated 08/06/2016 05:59 EDT
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My kids were born in France. They have French names.

But let me start at the beginning.

My husband and I both grew up in small-town Canada. We met in the "big city" where we fell in love, got married and bought our starter home.

What differs between my husband and I is our language. He grew up speaking French and I, English. That means that our prospective families both still speak those languages at home.

A few short months after my husband and I were married we had the opportunity to move our lives to Paris. Amazing, right?!

During our first year in France I became pregnant. As all newly pregnant couples do, we spent evenings going through each of our personal rolodex of names, wondering what we'd call our unborn child.

Every name I chose was naturally English, and my husband leaned toward French names. We were at a crossroad. Any name I'd suggest, let's say, Thomas, for example, my husband would say, "In French it's pronounced 'Toma', are you OK with that?"

I imagine many cross-cultural relationships are like this. One partner has an idea for a name, while the other knows it might not work in their language.

However, our situation was unique because I now lived in a country that spoke the language of my husband's mother tongue. What was once foreign to me had now become normal -- even beautiful.

While I was heavily pregnant in Paris, searching for a name for our soon-to-be-born baby, I heard a French name that sounded like music to my ears. I was studying to be a yoga teacher and a friend in my class had a friend named Océane. I'd never heard the name before but I instantly loved it.

I went home that night and said to my husband, "What do you think about the name Océane? It's so pretty."

"Oh-say-anne" he corrected my French accent. "I like it."

In that moment I knew I could never get too upset about people mispronouncing my future daughter's name, because I did it myself the first time I heard it.

In French "é" makes the "eh" sound -- like in Beyoncé and crême brûlée. It does the same in Océane, but her name isn't quite as popular as Beyoncé, so people who aren't French speaking generally don't know how to pronounce it when they see it for the first time.

You can imagine when our English speaking friends and family heard our daughter's name they were a bit surprised at first. It isn't a common name in English-speaking Canada. But our daughter wasn't born in English-speaking Canada. She's growing up in France, where she always finds her name on the personalized hairbrushes, pens and toothbrushes at the toy store. She's not the only Océane we know and if you ever meet her, you'll find she is just as French as the name she carries. It's a perfect fit.

I'm proud of my bilingual daughter who at the age of two was able to reply to you in French or English, depending what language you were speaking. Once you know someone their name becomes a part of them, and now she could never be anything else but Océane, even if it's a name that isn't heard often where you live.

I don't imagine that we're the only family who finds themselves in this situation. Thanks to the internet and airplanes the world is not such a big place anymore. Cross cultural families are common and many children are given unique and ethnic names regardless of the geography of where they were born.

The first time I went home to Canada with my daughter I was shopping and a store attendant peeked into my stroller, cooed at my daughter and asked me her name.

"Océane," I told her, to which I was met with a blank stare.

"It's a French name." I explained. "We live in France."

"Wow!" All of a sudden we had become exotic and my daughter's name was instantly cool.

Canada is a multicultural country and that is something we should be proud of. I have close friends in Canada named Sanghamitra and Ruhuma. Getting their name written on a cup when they order coffee can be a challenge, no doubt. Perhaps my daughter may one day be faced with the same challenge. The first time I heard my friends' names, I too asked for clarification. But now that I know them, those beautiful names match perfectly with the people to whom they belong.

As a former teacher I remember shortening kids' names, thinking I was giving them a special nickname. Now, as a parent, I cringe that I once did that. It wasn't up to me to change the name they were given.

On behalf of the parents whose children have unique names and as multicultural Canadians, let's remember that those names aren't different to the kids that have them, nor to their families. Those names are perfect just as they are. No need to shorten them, or make a puzzled face the first time you hear it.

So when you come across a name that is "different" please keep it beautiful, just as it is, because to the person who owns that name it isn't different until you tell them it is.

For more from Lisa and her international adventures, find her at Canadian Expat Mom, or follow her on Facebook.

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