Baby names
What's in a name? A whole lot, actually... Image Credit: Shutterstock

Choosing a new baby’s name has never been more complicated. Traditionally it was simple. Names were handed down the family tree, and new babies were just given the name of their grandparent or a relative. Easy. But today? It seems each pregnancy is an opportunity to ‘discover’ the perfect, most unique or unusual name (while also considering every possible nickname and anticipating the ways in which any potential school bullies might be able to mock it).

From Gwyneth Paltrow’s 'Apple', to Kate Winslet’s 'Bear Blaze' and Kourtney Kardashian’s 'Reign', celebrity couples are pushing the boundaries between unique and bizarre, repurposing common words into monikers and both blending and blurring meaning and traditional gender boundaries.

Regular couples are following suit, spending hours on baby name websites, trawling by theme, origin or meaning, in search of the ideal title for their little one.

But what happens when you’re doing all of this while living as an expat abroad? There are even more factors to consider – from pronunciation issues, to name meanings getting lost in translation and more.

For British mother Louise Emma Clarke - who had possible baby names swirling around her head since she was a little girl - having all three of her babies in the UAE made things a little different from how she expected they would be. She shares her thoughts on the delicate balance that has to be struck when picking a name for your new baby while living as an expat in the UAE...

Louise Emma Clarke reflects on her time in the UAE
British mother and author Louise Emma Clarke struggled to strike the right balance when choosing the names of her children while living in the UAE

I never expected to give birth to my babies in the UAE. I always imagined I’d be in a local hospital back in my native UK, close to my parents and sister, with my school friends flocking around me to argue over who next got a cuddle. I had names in my mind for those future babies too - and all of them, of course, were very British. After all, they’d be British babies, with a British home, and a British family around them.

But life doesn’t always turn out the way we imagine - and whilst pregnant with my first baby as an expat in Dubai, the fact we would be bringing up our baby in the UAE for at least for a chunk of his childhood weighed heavily on our discussions. During that time, I’d meet regularly with fellow pregnant mummies - and we’d sit together, mulling over possible names for our babies, as we swigged decaf-coffees and stroked our bumps. And as we imagined greeting our babies for the first time with their newly-picked monikers, our thoughts usually fell into the below categories…

1. Can the name be pronounced easily?

At this point, I was a good few years into my stint as an expat and I was already growing impatient with the furore that my married surname caused whenever I tried to book anything on the phone - so choosing a name that could be pronounced and spelt easily, that was phonetically simple, and that my own child could spell to their friends (who would no doubt be from all corners of the world), was hugely important.

2. And if it couldn’t, was I prepared to spell it out?

Some of the names that cropped up in conversation wouldn’t be easy to pronounce - and I swayed between thinking it was the worst decision I could make for him and stubbornly wanting to stick to my guns. After all, we wouldn’t be expats forever - and maybe a few years of spelling out his name to health clinics and nursery receptionists was worth the hassle if I felt strongly it was the right name for him.

3. Did we want to give a nod to our homeland?

I have always loved strong, traditional British names - and being away from home propelled this to new levels. Giving my child a name that hinted towards home was a way to retain a bit of our identity in a very multicultural place.

4. Or did we want to honour the place our babies were born?

But having said that, we felt tempted to give a nod to the UAE too - and Arabic names, especially as middle names, quickly started filtering into our discussions.

5. How does the name translate?

Whilst we supped our decaf-coffee one day, a friend recounted a story of a colleague who lived in the UAE and was unaware for years that his name translated to a (not so pleasant) word in the Arabic language. And on that note, we all agreed that running names past Arabic speaking friends before we made it official wasn’t a bad idea!

6. Do you love it?

But lastly - and most importantly - we had to love it. Really love it. All of the prior points were important - but given we’d be saying that name (or yelling it up the stairs) for years to come, we needed to think it was the best name in the entire world. It had to suit him. And it had to suit us.

So we came to a decision. His name would be Stanley, which we thought was perfect. And when he got a brother two years later, we chose Wilfred. And when their sister followed three years after that, we chose Mabel. I loved them then - and I love them now. And that’s lucky, as I spend a lot of time yelling those names up the stairs when dinner is ready - just like I’d always imagined.