Pandas!! (GIANT PANDA/WOLONG/SICHUAN/CHINA)Zoos often hold contests to name new baby animals, and I typically don’t cover them for a host of reasons.  I’m making an exception this time because Atlanta has pandas.  I live in Washington DC.  We, too, have pandas, but they’re presently under lock and key thanks to this little squabble that you may have heard about on the news.

More importantly, a comment in the panda article touched on an issue.  All of the possible panda names are Chinese: Mei Lun and Mei Hua, Lan Tian and Bi Shui.

The comment reads as follows:  These are American pandas – they were born in ATL. Why do they have to have Chinese names that most Americans won’t be able to pronounce (even with the phoenetic “help” here) or remember what they mean? Historically, many immigrants came here from other countries and gave their children American-sounding names to show their citizenship. Why not give these babies names that the public will be able to remember, pronounce and talk about with others?

At first glance, the comment seems like unnecessary bashing.  It is customary to give animals born in captivity names that reflect the languages native to their homelands.  It’s a sign of respect for cultural origins, a reminder that we have moved away from the days when we called elephants Jumbo, a more dignified approach to naming the creatures in our care.

Except that I’d recently been talking with prospective adoptive parents about how to bridge the gap between their child’s culture of birth and the one in which he or she will grow up.  It’s a complicated issue, and most advice seems to suggest looking for compromises.

Equally challenging is naming a child when you’re a newcomer in a country.  My husband’s parents tried to choose “American” names for their children.  They did okay, though my husband’s given name – Arthur – was wildly unpopular in the 1970s.  I know a family from China who named their daughter Alice because Alice in Wonderland made it one of the few English language names they knew.

Other families look for compromise names – Laila, Lida, Vivek called Vik – that work in both languages.

It’s an interesting question.  How do you balance two cultures when it comes to choosing names?  Every family’s circumstance is different.  The Atlanta pandas will have the same kinds of names they would have if they were born in the Beijing Zoo, but we usually make very different decisions for our children.

Elsewhere in baby name news:

  • Cade, Landry, and another football coach name for baby #3?  Nothing wrong with the pattern, but it seems a little unkind that the husband failed to mention his source of inspiration for Landry.  And possibly Cade, too.
  • Kim Kardashian has been spotted wearing a Nori necklace for her directionally-named daughter.
  • I might have dismissed Pepper as unwearable a few years ago, but I’m not so sure now.  The Toronto Sun has another great Kristin Rushowy baby name story, and nope, this baby wasn’t named after the Iron Man character.
  • This Richmond Magazine article seemed like pure silliness until I got to the very last possible name suggested by the dad-to-be.  It’s a charming, Winnie Fallon-esque reference.  Hope they go with it.
  • Poetic, once-used place names make for an interesting category of names.  Caledonia is one of the best examples of the possibilities no longer found on maps.
  • This is an interesting conundrum at Swistle.  Friend #1 and wife are due with a baby boy quite soon, and plan to call him Xander. Friend #2 and girlfriend – not currently expecting, or planning to be expecting – are upset, because Xander was their top choice for a future son.  Swistle’s advice is (as usual) spot on.
  • What would you name a twin brother for Edith Katherine?  Okay, mostly I posted that because I really love hearing Edith in use again …
  • There’s a Disney starlet named Zendaya.  Could she catch on?  I’ve yet to track down her origins, but 117 girls were named Zendaya last year, so it seems like she’s one to watch.
  • Along the same lines: heard Whisper suggested as a girls’ name on a forum.  My first thought was “no way,” but ends with -r is a big category for names right now.  Harper, Piper … maybe Pepper?  Possibly Whisper?
  • Richenza is fascinating – I’ve heard it before, but had no idea there was so much history to the names.
  • Great middle names in this post at For Real: Guthrie, Fox, Magdalena-June, Ogden, August, Walker, Littlestar.

That’s all for this week.  As always, thank you for reading – and please stop by Nameberry tomorrow for a discussion of last week’s celebrity birth announcements, and the hottest letters in Hollywood right now.

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I love Guthrie… I’m tossing it around as a possible first name for a boy. I’m thinking Gus as a nickname.

  2. Since you mentioned Whisper, did you happen to notice the last name on For Real’s list was “Whysper Rebecca”? I can’t say I care for the trendy spelling.

    1. Hettie, I *completely* missed that! But I agree – Whisper is daring, and probably a tough name to wear. But going through life as Whysper-with-a-y is doubly challenging. I understand the urge to re-spell it to make it more like a name … but I don’t think that works. Jordyn-with-a-y makes sense, as does Rylee-with-two-es. Other names are always “Kaitlyn-let-me-spell-it-for-you” – even if the name has the most common spelling. But noun names? My vote is always to use them full strength.