Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.
We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!
I’m Erin Murphy. (Go ahead and share my last name. It’s pretty much like being named John Smith.) As you probably can guess, I’m Irish – yes, on both sides. Growing up, I studied Irish dance and studied abroad in Dublin during college.
Then I came home, moved to Texas, and fell in love with my handsome husband, a second-generation Mexican American who is not into corned beef but likes my dance moves. His first name is a little less common, but his last name is also like the Smith of Mexico. He speaks some Spanish, but isn’t fluent, and finds it frustrating when people assume he is.
We just found out we’re expecting our first baby next year, and I’m worried we have a problem. All the names I could ever imagine using are Irish. Or maybe Irish American, because I’m not really thinking about Fiadh or Tadgh. My list is Ronan, Killian/Cillian, Finn, Callum, maybe Rory for boys. Maeve is my all-time favorite for a girl, and I also like Neve/Niamh, Ciara, and Fia.
My husband is on board with Maeve and likes some of the boy names, too.
But here’s the problem: I kept my last name. We always sort of assumed the kids would have his last name. Except … Killian VeryMexicanLastName or Maeve VeryMexicanLastName has me a little worried.
On the one hand, I love that their full name would represent all of their grandparents’ cultures.
Also, I can see that it does solve that problem of signalling that our child won’t be fluent in Spanish. Sofia Enriquez sounds bilingual, but Chloe Enriquez not really, right?
But I feel like maybe it’s a little weird? To choose a name that is kind of like a poster announcing our backgrounds?
My husband says we should just go ahead, and it really doesn’t matter. But it feels a little mismatched to me.
We are also thinking about using Murphy as the middle name, which would make the name Irish/Irish/Spanish … if that matters.
I could really use some outside perspective on this!
Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Congratulations on your first!
Here’s the thing: unless you go the very most traditional route, and you’re Mr. and Mrs. Smith, surname decisions can feel a little challenging for every family. After all, there’s no one right answer.
Still, it sounds like you’ve settled on using his surname, which is something in the Hernandez/Garcia/Martinez/Lopez camp, right?
That seems to leave you with only one question: how Irish should your kids’ first names be?
A few things leap out at me:
Plenty of Irish names are favorites with non-Irish families. The world is filled with kids named Liam Rodriguez … and Aiden Chen. Just like American parents without any specific Irish heritage have embraced Ryan and Molly, so have families from other countries and cultures.
Lots of traditional names cross multiple languages beautifully. Okay, maybe not Tadhg. But Sebastian and Daniel are favorites in English and Spanish, and both familiar in Ireland. The same is true for names like Nora and Emma. If your only goal was to find a name that crossed cultures, the list would be long.
But that’s not it at all, right? In fact, it sounds like your Irish identity is something that could easily be lost in your child’s name – or at least hidden in the middle spot, while your husband’s surname is going to be carried on regardless.
It might be a mismatch, but it doesn’t feel like a problematic one.
Given how very popular Irish names continue to be in the US, chances are your child won’t feel like the odd-one-out.
So what does this mean for choosing a name?
All of your favorites – really! – are in.
If this baby is a girl, Maeve sounds like the perfect choice. Maeve Murphy LastName is a great mix of spirited Irish energy with just enough tradition thrown in. And Maeve feels brief and complete – it could easily balance out a longer last name.
Maybe that’s why I’m most drawn to Finn for your son. It’s mainstream enough that I’ve met Finns who aren’t at all Irish. (Plus, there’s Finn from Star Wars, which makes the name not only international, but intergalactic, too.) Finn Murphy LastName has tons of appeal!
While your hesitation is completely understandable, I think it makes sense to embrace both of your heritages in a single name. The alternative, after all, is to choose more conventionally American first names. And while that would be completely fine, if that’s what you wanted, it’s … not.
Don’t talk yourself out of the names you love.
You’ve got a great list and your husband is on board. Your child’s name will represent your family’s combined heritage with style and grace. That’s a win!
I had a bunch of things I tried writing, and nothing felt quite correct, so I’ll just say it like this- your kid will *probably* be happy to have a name you were passionate about, that reflects their heritage, and is as pretty as the ones you’ve listed. Go Irish! Go hella Irish! Names are a collection of sounds people use to get your attention, and we’re the ones that give them meaning. The love you have for the name, and for your child, are the important part. There aren’t society-levels of bad things with the names. You’re not picking Lucifer, y’know?
It’s not mismatching, it’s multicultural! Your family is multicultural, so of course the names will be multicultural!
With more and more families formed with various backgrounds, we need to normalize this!
You don’t need to be Miguel Sanchez to “really” be Mexican and you don’t need to be Greer O’Neill to “really” be Irish. Your kids will be a mixture of those cultures, so embrace that mixture in their names 🙂
As a person who is half Irish and half Mexican, to be honest it makes me sad seeing questions from parents worried about first and last names matching (not just you! This comes up so much). The truth of it is that a lot about them won’t match – and it’s important to see that as beautiful or at least neutral, and not hide it. People will ask questions about their skin tone, why they don’t speak Spanish (like your husband has experienced), or if they are even related to you or your husband. What I’m saying is, they aren’t going to escape that feeling even if you don’t give them part of you in their name. Having part of both sides of the family in your name is even more important when you’re mixed race, and you can have both of your cultures represented in your name.
Just like there’s nothing wrong with Julio Murphy, there’s nothing wrong with Maeve Garcia. It’s beautiful. If you wanted a name that is easy to say in Spanish, Liam and Fia are good examples. Killian and Aiden are close enough to the sounds available in Spanish that they could make them work for sure.
KM, thank you for commenting – and for putting it so well.
As someone who grew up with a very French first name paired with a very Irish last name, I can confirm that it caused exactly zero problems, and I liked having both sides of my heritage represented in my name.
I’m Molly “IrishSurname” and I grew up steeped in Irish-Americana. A sibling and cousin both have spouses from Spanish-speaking countries, so the combination of an Irish first name and Spanish last name, or vice versa, sounds natural to me. I also grew up hearing about, e.g., Bernardo O’Higgins and the flight of the earls — there is so much history between Ireland and Spanish-speaking countries! I particularly love Fia in your situation. Maeve seems to be the Erin or Molly of this era, in terms of how beloved it is by Irish-American parents.
Fia would work especially well with a Spanish last name! It’s a potential nickname for Sofia.
One of Ireland’s greatest heroes was Éamon de Valera, the first president of the revolutionary Irish Republic who was instrumental in securing independence from the United Kingdom.
He was born in the United States to an Irish mother and Spanish father.
If he can represent both sides of his heritage in his name, your kid can, too!
Now that is a marvelous + very on point fact! Thank you, Hannah!
This is a pretty interesting question. I’ve always shied from using a name that I didn’t feel entitled to use based on my heritage. But you’re entirely within reason (and I love that it signals your side of the family) to choose an Irish name. And I agree you’re choosing ones that people without an Irish background are also choosing, they’re becoming more mainstream, so I don’t see any true signaling of a certain background with those choices.
I actually had the same issue as your husband, that my French first name made certain French people assume that I would be fluent. And many of those people were very offended when I was not fluent. Even though my surname is German. No one has ever assumed I’d be fluent in German. In any case, I could understand not choosing a traditional Spanish first name with a Spanish surname, if he was trying to avoid his experience in his children’s names. It also made me not want to choose a French names for my kids, even though I do have a French Canadian background.
All that to say – I echo everything everyone else and Abby is saying – go with the names you love! It’s not easy to find a name you love. And Maeve + indeed is a delightful combination of your daughter’s heritage. Or whichever boy name you choose. I honestly think you’d have more people commenting if you gave your child an entirely Spanish name.
I understand your concern. We too tried to match the non-Anglo background of my husband’s last name. With our daughter we succeeded in finding a name that was the same both languages and is very well used both cultures so it doesn’t confirm/deny linguistic ability.
With my son, not so much. There literally wasn’t a name that was the same in both languages. And using the non-Anglo name implied a lot more linguistic ability than we were comfortable with. So we went all Anglo Saxon with his name.
And it is absolutely fine! Use the name you love.
Speaking as a college instructor, I hear all sorts of names paired with Hispanic last names. I wouldn’t worry about the cross-cultural sound of it. And your right—I never assumed that students with a non-Hispanic first name spoke Spanish.
You’ve found names you both love! As Abby says, don’t talk yourselves out of them! My kids are actually Callum, Lachlan, & Maeve very-Dutch-last-name, so I think you’re fine! And have great taste! Their middles are German, Welsh, and Arabic, so I’m clearly all for mixing and matching to your heart’s and heritage’s content!