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On naming an Arab-American baby...

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
My husband is Lebanese and I'm American. We live in the US but may live in the Middle East or elsewhere in the developing world at some point. I really enjoyed the Arabic names thread. It was nice to know others are thinking of similar issues.

It is important to both of us that our child have a name that reflects his or her heritage, especially the Lebanese side of things, since American culture is pretty ubiquitous in the world these days and we live in the US for now. Yet infusing the first name with Arab heritage is not simple thing these days, when nice white people occasionally make terrorist jokes about my Arab husband... to his face! I know it is an issue that other ethnic groups--Irish, Italian, Chinese, Jewish, Polish, Hispanic and other people--have coped with in the past and still do.

We have decided to give our baby a Lebanese first name and an American middle name. We notice that many Lebanese people and Arabs, even really traditional people with no plans to leave the Arab world, seem to be searching for names that sound kind of Western or not too foreign to the Western ear, in case their kids decide to leave the Middle East. (Names like Danny/Dani or Adam, which are fine names, but not ones that attract me for my child. I like Ziad, Zain, or Kozem for a boy, though Kozem is probably "out" and my husband is having second thoughts on the others.)

An acquaintance who lives in the US told us he regrets naming his son "Habib" because it sets him up for profiling. He feels people treat his son differently because of his name. He warned us not to "do that" to our kid. On the one hand, I am really opposed to censoring culture and difference out of our lives. On the other hand, I don't want to put my child at a serious disadvantage. But if all the Arabs and everyone else gives in to this pressure to conform, we'll have even less leeway to be who we are, no matter who we are.

Another difficult thing is that my white American mother complains about all Arab name choices. To her, they are unpronounceable. They are too foreign. They don't honor the child's American heritage. A middle name is not good enough. (Is it really that hard to say Ziad? Not after you've seen it/heard it once or twice!) I am a little concerned that giving our child a non-American name will make it harder for my (often distant) family to embrace our child, but I like to believe they'll adjust quickly.

I don't want to be selfish in how we name our child, but we want to be true to our ideals and not give in to the currently prevailing anti-Arab sentiment in American/Western culture.

Thanks for listening!
post #2 of 30
I wouldn't worry too much. The world is getting smaller and smaller. The United States is more diverse with each passing day. We have a president named Barack Hussein Obama. Names that reflect a child's heritage are the most beautiful.
post #3 of 30
Originally Posted by sky_and_lavender View Post
Is it really that hard to say Ziad? Not after you've seen it/heard it once or twice!
May I first say, what a fabulous name!

Just wanted to make a side note that with that spelling your child would forever be being called "Z-eye-add." Not a big deal, but just if mispronunciations drive you nuts you might want to consider one of the alternate spellings on your list of names instead.

ETA: The advantage to your concerns being that not that many people we run into know it's an Arabic name at all -- mostly it just reads as unusual/vaguely foreign/made up. Likewise names like Idries (which I love, personally), Zain, as you said, Zaid ... well, a lot of the "Z" names come to think of it.
post #4 of 30
I struggle/d with all the issues that you do. The racist jokes will not deter me from naming my first son Mohamed, because he is the 5th in the family and I think that's honorable. It's also brings a religious blessing (naming after our prophet). If he gets made fun of, so be it, it'll make him stronger. I've struggled whether it was selfish and decided if it is, then so be it. And hopefully the mainstream US will become less anti-muslim, eventually.

FWIW, I like the names you've mentioned and think you should pick the name that you and your DH like, regardless of your family's opinion (DD is Iman, pronounced EE-ma-hn, but we get I-man, ih-maan, ih-mhan...but she always corrects them though!)
post #5 of 30
I've never named and Arab-American baby, but we did give DD a name from my husband's tribal language. Almost no one pronounces it right the first time, but almost everybody gets it after a time or two.

I would pronounce Ziad as "zee-AHD." Would that be correct?

Good luck finding a name that makes you and your DH happy. If the rest of the family likes it, too, I would consider that an added bonus.
post #6 of 30
I love the name Kozem! Just go with your gut. Unfortunatly you are going to run into people who are going to dislike it and have something to say about it, however you will get that with any name. When my father learned of my son's name Elijah he "could not remember it, or how to say it, and that I always pick such weird names." I have choosen to not have people like him in my life it's a choice I have. As for picking an Arab name I would not freat over it. Look at it this way you are paving the way for your children to embrace thier herritage. : If more people do so then maybe someday we we will have a president Kozem or the like, hey wait we do have a president with a wonderful ethinic name!

Good luck!
post #7 of 30
I posted here about naming an Indian/Hindu baby, but my main points would pertain this thread, too.

I say you name your baby whatever name speaks to you. I mean, look at our president!
post #8 of 30
I agree with the PPs - and I also enjoy the fact that our new president has such a mellifluous name.

My husband works at a company where most of the employees (and the owners) are Lebanese. He has a good friend there with a name I think is very pleasant to the ear - Housam. Housam introduces himself to Americans as "Sam" I suppose for ease of use. I think there was a time in the past when it was practical to Americanize names but that now there is much more appreciation for our culturally traditional names.
post #9 of 30
Americans name their kids all kinds of names - I know of kids named Dax, Arya (ah-rye-ah), Jaron, Rain, Zari, XayJay...what is "American" anyway? 50 years ago, it would have been Sandra, Patty, John, and James. 200 years ago, Mehitabel, Hannah, Ephraim, and Seth. Now, Makayla, McKenzie, Jaiden, and Brayden, Kaden, Drayden...

I say give the child a name with a good meaning, a touchstone, something that looks pretty when written in Latin and Arabic script, and that is pronounceable by Lebanese and American relatives and friends. Ziad shouldn't be too hard for Americans to get the hang of...

Personally, my favorite arabic male name is Omar (Omar Sharif, anyone?).
post #10 of 30
A boys at my sons' preschool is named Rabi, I think his parents are Arab/Muslim, would that work as being bi-cultural?
post #11 of 30
I know a Ziad - I've never heard anyone mispronounce his name, actually: it's pretty phonetic.

Go with what you like!
post #12 of 30
i saw this on the homepage, and agree with the PPs. but just wanted to say that i think Zain is a wonderful name. i'd say zeye-ad at first glance, but i think that's wrong, it's a more americanized pronunciation. zee-ahd? regardless, really easy to learn.
post #13 of 30
My dh is Lebanese, too! We've definitely had these discussions. My dh has wanted to give our children traditional Arabic names, and I've worried about profiling. I think both are legitimate concerns, and you have to do what feels right to you. I do think things have changed tremendously now that we have a president named Barack Hussein Obama. I love all the names you're considering, BTW.
post #14 of 30
Niether DH or I are Arab, and DS's name isn't Arabic, but we went through a lot of issues when naming DS. DS actually spent the first 6 days of his life being reffered to as "Babyboy (surname)" b/c we still hadn't hashed out all our naming issues at that point.

First off, DH's culture is present in DS's surname (last name, though in DH's culture the family name comes first,) so we didn't feel a major need for DS's given names to be specifically Chinese as well. There was actually some discussion about what DS's surname would be, but that had to do with a very complex and and unique situation.

DS's middle name was supposed to be Irish. My dad is Irish, and my mom was half Irish-American. Unfortunately, my Chinese-Canadian DH filled out the birth certificate and used the Scottish version of the name not realizing there was a difference .

DS's given name is not Tim, Timmy, or Timothy. He is named after my mothers grandfather on the Jersey Dutchy (not the same as PA Dutch, who are actually German) side. It is a very unusual name. It was always a fairly uncommon localized name, and from my research the last person to have it died in the 1930's so these days it's pretty much unique. (This is why I never give it on the internet.)

We chose this name, b/c though it is an extremely unique name that is related to DS's heritage, it is easily shortened to a very common nick name.

Is there a names that has an Arabic or Lebanese long version you like, but can easily be shortened to a common/easy nickname. An Arabic one that comes to mind is the name Ibrihim. The Dr who took out my gallbladder is Egyptian-American, and named Ibrihim. All the other Drs (well my GI and GP) just call him Abe.
post #15 of 30
We almost named our son Ali, for a Somali friend of my husband's. The general anti-arab sentiment and the fact that it's not our culture changed his mind. I like the name Ali, but it is "stereotypically Arab", like Mohammed and a few others. Of course, the name seems to have more impact on white folks if you have the skin tone/ features that go with it.
I love the name Kozem. I don't think most of the names you listed would be instantly thought of as Arab by anyone not familiar with the culture.
For all of our children, we eventually chose very mainstream first names, and more ethnic middle names. When my kids get older they can choose to go by a middle name...or you could even call your child by it, and let the "normal" name be what everyone sees on paper
Just some thoughts.
post #16 of 30
We struggled with this too, as a Lebanese-American couple, especially for boy's names.

The names DH liked all seemed to have really negative connotations to non-Arabs.

We ended up giving DS his paternal grandfather's name first and my father's name second.

Since DH is Christian, the first name is a saint's name, so it doesn't sound Lebanese at all. I kind of regret not finding a Lebanese name we could both live with.

Frankly, I found it much easier to find Arabic names for girls....
post #17 of 30
My (redheaded, fairs-skinned) DH is named Kalki, which is Hindu (the destroyer and recreator, a version of Vishnu, I think). We have a lot of fun with people's reaction to that. I've asked him if he ever wanted to change his name and he says that, for most of his life, he's liked having a "different" name, even though he doesn't have any cultural connection to it exactly (his parents were Hindus for about fifteen minutes in the early 70s).

I think it is really wonderful to give your child a piece of your heritage in their name. In fact, I think it's important. One of the things that I hate about my name is its lack of meaning and familial/cultural connection. There's no history to it.

As to how family feels about the name you choose, I think it wouldn't matter if you chose Jane or Mary or Jennifer, somebody's not going to like it. But, who cares? A name is, I think, the very first gift you give to your child, and the only one they'll have forever.

I love all of your names! Other Arabic names that I love are Hashim, Samya, Kira, Ferran, and Kahil. Oh, and, of course, Barak .
post #18 of 30
I am Lebanese and my husband is American. We are expecting our first baby in October 2009.
Not that I am biased, and particularly towards Lebanon , I would say that Arabic names are really beautiful. Irrespective on whether you stay in the US or move to the middle east, my approach and philosophy towards my future children is for them to be proud of who they are and where they come from, particularly if they are multicultural. Their names will keep them grounded and a reminder of their heritage, this is very important.
I wish you best of luck in naming your child..and I am sure that whatever name your baby will have, it will be special!
post #19 of 30
Hmmm . . . we never struggled with this one. I mean we thought about the anti-Muslim (not just anti-Arab, definitely pan-Islamic) sentiment, but just strongly felt that DS's personal, cultural history is so very important that we couldn't *not* give him a Turkish name. His first name is just about the most freakin' common Turkish name ever, but his middle name I've never heard outside of the family (very old-fashioned name). Our only concern was that it not have any Turkish characters to render it impossible to spell on the US passport (ğ ü ş ı ö ç). My advice would be not to worry about what the prevailing sentiment is right now as it's likely to be quite different in a few years and no longer an issue. And if it's not, then he has an excellent starting point for intercultural dialogue.
post #20 of 30
I say pick a beautiful name, don't overthink it, and trust that your child will be fine! Just try to spell it in a way that helps folks pronounce it - but like the others say, it might still get biffed a lot.

My daughter's name is Maimuna Maryam, and it's perfect for her. And most people say, "Cute!" after they figure out how to say it.
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