Baby names cultural heritage, parenting advice from Care and Feeding.

Baby names cultural heritage, parenting advice from Care and Feeding.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I are expecting our first child in a few months, and I feel like we’ve had many of the necessary conversations about raising our child together. All in all, I feel happy about these discussions and like we are on the same page about how we want to care for and raise our baby. We are both teachers and care deeply about childhood and child development. I feel like my partner will be a lovely father, and I am really excited about parenting together. However, there is one thing I am unsure of how to approach discussing—the naming of our baby.

My husband and I are from different cultural backgrounds: I am a white woman, and he is a South Asian man. I was raised in a relatively secular and liberal community, and he was raised in a fairly traditional Muslim community. In our adulthood, we have not practiced much religion together, although we attend religious holidays and practices with his family regularly. He has always discussed with me that he does not feel particularly tied to his religious and cultural life, but he recognizes that it is important to his family, and his family is important to him.

As we have discussed some names for our baby, he is very drawn to extremely traditional biblical names (think Isaiah or Ezekiel) while I have some familial names that I have thrown into the ring. He has read Bible stories much more than I ever have, and believes in the meaning of these names and the figures they represent. I like some of these names, but I worry about the impact they may have on our baby, especially a baby who may not be seen as white and who is definitely not being raised in a religiously Christian home. My best friend (who is also South Asian) has weighed in, and she finds these name suggestions abhorrent. She thinks that it will be very important for our child to have a connection to their South Asian heritage, and that that begins with naming. To not give our child, in some way, a South Asian name would be to alienate them from a culture that they may already feel a bit isolated from. I really value her opinion and believe she is trying to be thoughtful and kind. I would love for my child to have a name that reflects their full identity and family, but I am not sure where my place is in this discussion. Perhaps I am overthinking this, but should I have a discussion about this with my partner? I feel like I understand his motivations for picking the names that he has, but should I encourage him to think about his cultural heritage in this decision?

—What’s In a Name?

Dear What’s in a Name,

This one really hits home for me. My dad was born and raised in Sierra Leone (a small West African country), and our last name is Richards. Many wondered why my family didn’t have a traditional West African last name like Okoro, but it was because when slavery ended, my formerly enslaved ancestors took their “owner’s” name with them back to Africa. Imagine being a Black man who’s reminded of anti-Black racism every time you see your last name. It’s quite a burden.

With that in mind, my dad decided to give me and my two brothers traditional West African first names to offset our last name. Sure, I have to deal with Starbucks baristas butchering my name on a regular basis, but otherwise I couldn’t be happier or prouder of my first name. Hell, I cringe at the thought of being named “Dan Richards” or some other common American name. Now that my dad has passed, knowing that my first name always connects me to my roots means more than I could ever express in words.

With that in mind, I would highly recommend that you have a talk with your partner about this, because he could make a grave mistake in bypassing a traditional South Asian name. (And yes, you have a place to say something because the child is yours, too!) To start, I would ask him for more detail about why he feels so strongly about these names—it’s true that there are biblical figures that exist across the Abrahamic religions. Is it possible that the names you are interpreting as Christian, he could be thinking of as connected to his family’s Muslim faith?

If you feel uncomfortable having that discussion by yourself because of your different backgrounds, have your best friend tag along with you to share her perspective. I know I’m biased based on my personal experience, but I’m fully on your side here, and I hope your partner sees the light on this.


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