International names

Amsterdam Mamas: Choosing an 'international name' for your child

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What names work internationally? Amsterdam Mamas lists the best names that are easy to pronounce for both Dutch and English speakers — and some names to avoid.

As an expat in the Netherlands, picking a child’s name that appeals to English and Dutch speakers is tricky.

When we named our baby Calum, we were keeping it simple. There were so many Calums in every Scottish playpark that shouting our son’s name meant 10 little heads looked up expectantly. Who knew that four years later, after heading to the Netherlands, our wee man would suddenly have the most exotic name in class? And for some reason, everybody calls him Caylem.

We’re not alone. Many ostensibly simple names turn out to be cross-cultural headaches, like Lara, which is pronounced more like ‘Laura’ here, according to one mother. If you or your kids’ name includes a prominent G, it’s probably best not to move to the Netherlands where a name like Margo, another mama volunteered, is pronounced as ‘Mar-rhfhghghhfh-o’.

There’s not a lot you can do if you unexpectedly move abroad after naming your children. But then there are also parents who, after taking great care to choose a name that would work cross-culturally, hit problems they’d never imagined.

“We picked Raina as we thought it was simple, different, and impossible to get wrong,” explains one mother, “until the nurse signed her out of the hospital where she was born as ‘Rihanna’. We then spent days correcting the Kraamzorg and the consultatiebureau. Now at day care she gets called Rhina and every time I hear it, I grind my teeth.”

So, if you’re one of the lucky ones who haven’t picked a name yet, the list below is for you. There’s nothing like the benefit of experience, and as mothers in and around Amsterdam, we can help you with names work and what names don’t.

We have also thrown in some Dutch names we like, although many of these will, equally, suffer a mangling at the hands of English speakers. “Jeroen has been called 'urine' so many times he just switches to Jerome when we're abroad”, says one despairing mother.

For the most popular Dutch names, you can check here. Then there are the Dutch names we really don’t recommend, such as Fokje, Focko, Sikko, Joke, Freek, Floor and Ego. More on those here.

A note of caution about our survey — it’s entirely anecdotal, based on personal experiences, so there are inconsistencies. But hopefully you’ll find plenty of food for thought.

You could, of course, just ignore the cross-cultural complications and throw caution to the wind. As one wise mama says, “You never know where you will wind up, so choose what works for you and your family, and forget about the rest.”  

International names that work in the Netherlands
Adam

"I'm American and my husband is Arabic and we chose two names that seemed like they could go anywhere in the western world and Middle East: Sami and Adam. I'm very happy that they can travel anywhere and still have the same name."

Alastair "My husband is Alastair, and most of his own English relations spell it wrong 'Alistair'. He says he's never had any problems with it over here."
Alex "We decided to go for safe names worldwide, so Alex has had no problems so far. Sometimes he's called Alexander and I correct them, saying it's only Alex."
Alexander "A good international boys name is Alexander. It was my maiden name and wherever I travelled, it was easy and rarely mispronounced."
Alexandra "Easy to pronounce in Portuguese, Dutch and English."
Archie "They pronounce it fine but just lengthen it. I think they think it's funny. It gets lengthened to 'Archie Bunker' – a 1970 sitcom character – by the older Dutchies we know, and he is called 'Archie Parchie' by younger Dutch."
Charlie "That is just Charlie with a slightly 'sharlie' sound at times."
Clara "We were conscious when selecting names and tried to pick 'international' names. They're Clara and Mia, which seem to be easy and haven't been mispronounced yet."
Elisa "Elisa has never been a problem so far."
Emma "Emma works great in any language or spelling – you cannot go wrong. It's a fantastic, universal and lovely name."
Evan "Evan seems to be working well here so far."
Gabriel "I find that the schools, etc. respect that I don't pronounce it the Dutch way with the cough-throat clearing 'g'."
Hannah "My daughter is Hannah – and the midwife said the final 'h' was 'chic'."
Harmony "Harmony is a pretty good international name – it's almost the same in many languages, and I don't mind the French and Spanish variants either. It's the same pronunciation in Dutch but I just have to remind them to use the English spelling (not ie). The only place it wasn't great was when I was teaching English in Korea, especially the first year when I taught kids. Halmoni means grandmother in Korean and it's also how my name is pronounced in the language. Imagine going into a new classroom full of kids and saying, 'Hello, my name is Grandmother' when you're in your 20s!"
Hayley "Since we realised how the Dutch have difficulties with pronouncing our names, we picked 'easy' names that will be easy in all languages. So, Hayley and Roy. Except for the spelling of Hayley – no problem."
Ines "We are safe with our daughter Ines."
Isabella "I'm originally Australian and my husband is Dutch and we have two girls. I also have Italian heritage so we wanted to try and bring that in somehow too. We ended up with Isabella. It's pronounced almost the same in English, Dutch and Italian."
Jacob "Picked one that works. Picking a name with a Dutch father and a Kiwi mother was impossible. In the end, the father calls his son a different name than the mother. But the name I chose works in both countries. One of the few."
Kaya "No issues with Kaya at all."
Kimaya "Kimaya – no problems, usually."
Leo "I picked Leo's name because it's easy to spell and easy to say. You can't mess up too much. Nice and short and most importantly, international, at least in the western world. It's quite funny, when I was telling people the name we picked, people from almost every culture said, 'Oh you picked a traditional name from my country'."
Lola "My daughter's name is Lola, short and sweet. The pronunciation has held up well in all languages we've come across so far."
Luca "We have a Luca and no problems."
Lucas "If we'd had a boy, we were going to go with Lucas, pronounced fairly clearly in English, Dutch and Italian."
Maia "Our daughter Maia – often written 'Maya' here though – got lucky with a kind of international name."
Mia "We were conscious when selecting names and tried to pick 'international' names. They're Clara and Mia, which seem to be easy and haven't been mispronounced yet."
Myra "It sometimes gets pronounced as Meera but everyone tends to get it right most often."
Natalie "We have a Natalie and no problems. I just chose to spell it without the 'h'."
Nicolas/Nico "My boy is Nicolas but we call him 'Nico', which, I've been told, is a very Dutch name."
Oliver "Sometimes he gets called Olivier, but no problem with that since it is just the Dutch version."
"The Dutch are able to pronounce it correctly, even when shortened to 'Oli'."
Pippi Marie "Pippi Marie gets called 'Pip' by everyone including us."
Poppy "Poppy gets pronounced properly here."
Rafael "I chose a name indestructible in any language. Say it however you like: Rafael. Rafi. Raf. Rafje. Dragon. And as from today he goes by his self appointed name: Fafa."
Rhona "When I told the nurse at the hospital what we were naming our daughter and how to spell it, she said 'met een h, wat chic'. Still amuses me. No problems with pronunciation."
Riya "She was born here in Holland and we choose an Indo-Western name for her. The Dutch are able to say it perfectly."
Roy "Since we realised how the Dutch have difficulties with pronouncing our names, we picked 'easy' names that will be easy in all languages."
Sabrina "I asked the midwife while she was stitching me up how she would pronounce Sabrina. She pronounced it right and I was so happy – she totally would have had another name otherwise."
Sami "I'm American and my husband is Arabic and we chose two names that seemed like they could go anywhere in the western world and Middle East: Sami and Adam. I'm very happy that they can travel anywhere and still have the same name."
Scarlett "My daughter's name is Scarlett and it works here in Holland as well as the US, where my husband is from. People spell it with one 't' though."
Sebastian "Sebastian is easy in most languages."
Sophia "I'm originally Australian and my husband is Dutch and I also have Italian heritage. We ended up with Sophia and it's pronounced almost the same in English, Dutch and Italian."
Teàrlach "Good old Scots Gaelic but the Dutch are better at pronouncing it than the Scots!"
Tess "Our daughter Tess got lucky with a kind of international name."
Thomas/Tom "Thomas/Tom gets pronounced as we do here. I have more of a problem at home in the UK as he gets called 'Thomaaas' with the West Country drawl."
Una "Our daughter is Una, which seems to work great in both languages. We figured that this spelling was much safer than the 'Oonagh' version."

Names with issues

Addison "My son Addison is always pronounced 'Edison'. He even introduces himself to people with that pronunciation if they are Dutch. It doesn't bother me. Tommy Edison did some good things when he wasn't trying to sabotage Tesla."
Agata "My name is like Agatha Cristie but without h but they pronounce it with this terrible 'g' it drives me nuts."
Aidan "My son Aidan was called 'Eden' for a year and a half at peuterspeelzaal. It makes me mental because the kids also started pronouncing their names differently. Aidan become 'Iidan' and they spell it 'Aiden'. I insist my kids don't change how they pronounce their names and they in turn ask people to pronounce their names the correct way."
Ailsa "The Dutch variations on my name are endless, which is why I tried to avoid complicated (to Dutch people) vowel combinations in my kids' names. I always correct Dutch people who try to call me 'Ails'. They do love their single syllables."
Aljosa "My sons name is Aljosa. It's a real tongue twister. He decided on a nickname: Ali. Works much better."
Amelia "If you go with Amelia, everyone here will call her 'Amalia' or 'Amaylia'. The English pronunciation is just too difficult."
Amelie "I get a bit angry when our Amelie gets called 'Emily'."
Anabel "After a lifetime of people misspelling my name, I was determined that my daughters wouldn't suffer the same fate, so simplified the spelling of Anabel and Scarlet with no double letters anywhere. It was only later that I realised that Annabel (with double n) is more common in the Dutch language and she would have to fight the opposite battle with questions like 'are you sure your name doesn't have a double 'n'?' You can't win."
Angus "My son Angus gets called Ungoose, which drives me nuts but I wouldn't change it for the world."
Anjolina

"My daughter's name is Anjolina but people call her 'Anjeliena' or 'Anjelien'."

Anna

"I named my daughter Anna to avoid this issue. But here's still a long a or short a problem."
"Anna does okay — once we get past the 'Is it Anna or Anne?' queries)."

Annabelle "Annabelle is always pronounced 'Onnabel'." 
Anna-Sofia "The Dutch teachers at the crèche insist on 'Anne-Sophie'. Go figure."
Anne "Anne is a Fris boy's name by the way."
Aodhan "They call him 'Oidan' with an 'i'."
Aoibhinn "My girl is Aoibhinn and they call her 'Evien' or 'Evelien'."
Aoife "My daugjhter is Aoife and she gets 'Eve' or 'Eva'."
Ariana "We thought Ariana was simple to pronounce in the languages we use – Dutch, Spanish, English and French – but sometimes she becomes 'Ariane' or 'Adriana'."
Ashleigh "Just don't call your kid Ashleigh. My name gets changed to 'Arse-ley'."
Ava "I know a girl called Ava and the Dutch have huge problems with this."
Brody "We chose a Scottish name that would be pronounced the same in both languages: Brody. Turns out with the Dutch 'r' and the Scottish 'r' it's not quite the same but close enough."
Cal "My son's name is Cal, and the Dutch find the English 'a' pretty hard. He's 'Cul', 'Kyle' or 'Carl'."
Calum "Calum gets called Caylem."
Cameron "Although it is spelt Cameron, we would pronounce it Camron. They pronounce the 'er' in my son's name as 'Camerrron'."
Caoimhe "No one can even pronounce Caoimhe. I get: 'What a pretty name, how do you say it'?"
Cato "My husband is Cato which is a girl's name here."
Catriona "My name has always caused problems and it gets the exact same ones here — over-pronunciation of the 'o' when it's silent."
Cian "We chose Cian because we thought that would work here, but turns out the Dutch say 'Seejan'."
Clara "My daughter's name is Clara, pronounced 'Claire-eh' in the US, but here it is 'Klah-rah'. When we meet new (Dutch) people, she introduces herself with the Dutch pronunciation. She sees it as a translation of her name into Dutch instead of them mispronouncing it."
Clelia "We are Italian and German and thought to give our daughter an Italian name that will work well for a German, too (and we thought for a Dutch as well). The name is Clelia. No one blinks in Italy about it and in Germany they pronounce it perfectly, even if we get asked where we got the name from. And here? I have heard: 'Cylia', 'Clylaya', 'Clylya'."
Cohen "My daughter's first name is Cohen which is consistently pronounced as two distinct syllables by Dutchies. Still, plenty of English speakers have misheard it as 'colon'. (Yep, I named my kid colon but only because anus was taken)."
Craig "Just don't call your boys Craig as they shall say and spell 'Graig'."
Daniel "What does drive me nuts is at daycare, every label with his name on is spelt Daniël with two dots over the 'e'."
Deirdre "My own first name is Gaelic and often not correctly pronounced or spelled."
Donchadh "Donchadh gets 'Donuch' or 'Donout'."
Edith "Edith = Eedit."
Eric "Took me a while in a conversation about 'earache' to discover the topic was Eric."
Ethan "Big E's name was spelled 'Itin' by the Dutch lady at the library, pronounced 'Ee-fan' by Opa and pronounced 'Eat-ing' by most of our neighbours."
Euan "Iona and Euan were possibly the worst names for two children being brought up in th Netherlands. Euan is 'Eeuwaan'. Don't get me started on the spelling."
Evan "Evan is always pronounced 'Eeevan'."
Ewan

"If we had a boy he would be Ewan. But we thought, 'Are we putting him into a life where he needs to spell out his name every single time and repeat at least 1000 times? Glad it was a girl!"

Ewoud "My husband's name is Ewoud, an old school Dutch name pronounced 'Ayvowd'. For some reason my northern English family think there is an 'l' in there somewhere, so it's 'Evold', 'Ayvold', and my nanna has been known to call him 'Ewok'."
Felia "Was sitting in the verloskundigen waiting room looking at all the name cards, wondering what to call our daughter, when I saw a card saying 'Felia'. My husband explained it was from Ophelia, which I thought was really nice, until I realised how Felia is pronounced in Dutch, and what that would mean in English."
Finlay "Finlay gets his name written with an '-ey' on everything."
Francoise "I have had 'Franswaase' or 'Franswas'."
Gage "My nephew came to visit last summer and his name is Gage. We went to Starbucks and nearly keeled over laughing when they called him to pick up his order. That is one name that does not translate well to Dutch."
Germana "No words about my name. You can imagine the strong pronunciation of the 'g'."
Giulia "Giulia's name gets pronounced 'Iulia' to a point that even she was saying it like that."
Ian "For our third boy, we went with Ian figuring it is purely an English name so they can't mess it up. But helaas, at the hospital, the way they write capital 'i' and capital 'j' look the same so they thought his name was Jan. And most Dutch people seem to say something that sounds like 'E-jan'."
Imogen "I hate the way they say 'Im-oh-gheen'."
"My name gets mangled by most countries except England."
Iona "Iona has become 'Eeona'."
Isabela "Even though I told them to say it as Isabella, they say 'Isabel' and 'Isabayla'."
Ivo "My husband is Ivo, and it gets butchered in English. If they've seen it written first they call him 'Eye-vo', if they've heard it first and then try to spell it, they write it 'Evo'."
Jack "My eldest Jack came home and told me his name in Dutch is 'Jekk', with a real guttural 'kk' on the end, he corrected me until I got it exactly right! I love how he feels he has a Dutch identity!"
"My in-laws call my son 'Yack'."
Jakub "We are both Slovaks and named our son 'Jakub', nobody gets it right."
Jax "My son's name is Jax and I have to tell Dutchies how to pronounce it. They say something like 'Yax'."
Jeroen "Jeroen has been called 'urine' so many times he just switches to Jerome when we're abroad."
Joachim "Joachim is impossible for English speakers."
Joanna "I get called 'Yo-un' a lot."
Joaquim "In the Netherlands they say 'Yoakim' but it should be 'Choakim'."
Jody "I named my son Jody but the Dutch pronunciation is very bad – 'Iodi'."
Joost "My ex used to say, 'My name is Joost as in 'toast' but with a 'j''. And people would remember him as 'toast guy'."
Joy "A Dutch colleague named one of his daughters Joy and her grandfather continues to call her 'Yoy'."
Kalle "Only Scandinavians get it even close."
Karol "My boy is Karol but everybody mixes it with 'Karel'."
Keira "Our kraamzorg spent the entire week mispronouncing all three of our kids' names. Keira was pronounced 'Kira'."
Killian "Killian is 'Gillian'."
Krystian "My son's name is Krystian Arkadiusz, his second name even his Dutch father can't properly pronnounce."
Lane "My son's name is Lane, and they have a horrendous time trying to pronounce his name. It cracks him up to see them fumble over such a seemingly basic name."
Lara "Lara = Laura here. I started off pretentiously saying, 'like Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak' and now it's just, 'Yup, like Lara Croft'."
Layla "When we were trying to find a name, we liked Layla for a girl but were told it was to close to the Dutch word 'lelijk'."
Liam "Liam gets called 'Lyam'. It took my mother-in-law about a year though to stop calling him 'Lyam'."
Lois "My daughter Lois has been pronounced quite differently to how I intended on quite a few occasions. I think it's because we don't use the two dots above the 'i'."
Luke "We went for the name Luke. We were disappointed when people started asking, 'Is it Luuk, or Luc?'"
Maebh "I threw caution to the wind and called my daugher Maebh and wrote on the birth announcement that it rhymes with 'wave' and know it will haunt me forever."
Mairead "My name always gets a giggle from Dutch boys between the ages of six and 40 as it sounds like 'my ass' in Dutch."
Mairtin "Although it has a Gaelic spelling, I often think it was a lucky break we called our kid 'Mairtin'."
Maja "Maja is most often spelled 'Maya' by other parents."
Margot "I must confess we did ban Margot from our girls' names list because of its pronunciation in Dutch."
Matilda "We went for names that could be pronounced in Swedish, English and Dutch."
Max "Max is pronounced 'Mox', which is ironic as we chose the name partly because it was the only name that my Dutch husband and I pronounced the same."
Milo "I have a Milo which gets a lot of, 'Oh you mean 'Mee-low'."
Molly "I wanted to call Caitlyn 'Molly' but was politely informed by Dutch relatives that it's very close to the Dutch word for 'chubby'."
Octavia "Our daughter's name Octavia is always pronounced "Octarvia' in Amsterdam."
Olga "To my Dutch friends I am Olga, with the phleghm-in-throat-G, but to my international friends I am 'Ollie'."
Ollie "My Ollie is called 'Olie', like 'oil' here."
Paulina "I'm always called 'Paulien' or 'Pauline', my mother-in-law called me the latter for five long years."
Penelope "My daughter's middle name is Penelope and you should see people try to tackle that one."
Quinten "I would have loved to use Quinten or Quinn but 'Kvinten' or 'Kvinn' just doesn't do it for me."
Raina "We picked Raina as we thought it was simple, different and impossible to get wrong. Until the nurse signed her out of the hospital where she was born as 'Rihanna'." 
Romain "Romain is called 'Romine' when he's lucky." 
Rosalie "The Dutch here stress the 'Ro' instead of the 'lie', then her name sounds too weird to me."
Ruth "I get called 'Rutt' by the Dutch."
Saoirse "Our daughter's name is Saoirse (pronounced 'seer-sha'). We decided to go for a name no one can pronounce or write but a name we loved."
Sebastian "Dutch speakers pronounce Sebastian either in the French or Dutch ways, but never English."
Sheehan "Our kraamzorg spent the entire week mispronouncing all three of our kid's names. Sheehan was some variation on 'Shane'."
Simon "My husband is Simon but some call him 'See-mon'."
Sofia "For my eldest daughter I chose a Mediterranean second name: Anna Sofia and everybody had problems here calling her by her name so they call her 'Sofie', 'Sophie', 'Sofia' and 'Fia'!"
Stephanie "Stephanie is 'Stay-fan-knee'."
Steven "My son's Steven but his name is pronounced 'Stefan'."
Tate "My son is Tate, which is occasionally mispronounced as 'Tata'."
Thijs "It's just really funny to see at passport control in the US when they look at his name and don't even try to say it."
Tom "My son Tom is consistently called 'Tum' by Dutchies and it drives me demented!"
Torin "I chose Torin, which my German sister pronounces 'Torrin'. The Dutch don't bother going for the English 'r'."
Tristan "If you pronounce Tristan the English way, the Dutch assume the name is 'Christian' or kind of like 'Triest-ahn'."
Verena "What grinds my gears is the Dutch tendency to shorten any name to one – mostly the first – syllable. I cringe when people call me 'Veer'."
Victor "I hope he never has to explain his name as I do here sometimes with name and surname."
Vikki "I love how I'm more often than not called 'Wikki' — always makes me giggle!"

Dutch names we like

'ke' diminutive names "I really like the 'ke' diminutive names because they sound so cute, like Maaike, Hanneke, Lienneke. We sometimes call ours Elleke just because it sounds so cute."
Annemijn  
Anouk  
Eef "I love Eef, it's so cute and simple."
Femke  
Lodewijk "The really old-fashioned Dutch names are awesome. We were seriously considering Lodewijk had ours been a boy and 'Lodi' is an cool nickname."
Madelief "I love the name Madelief — it means 'daisy' and Lief on its own means 'sweet'."
Sander  
Saskia  
Sven "Not Dutch, but very common here."
Taco "I think the name Taco is adorable."
Tijs  
Willem  
Willem combos "I like the Willem combos — 'Wim-jan' and 'Wim-Lex', for Willem-Alexander, etc."




Catrìona Black / Reprinted with permission of Amsterdam Mamas / Expatica

Catrìona Black is an artist, writer and film-maker. She makes original handmade prints under the name Black Prints, and writes and illustrates picture books. She has made several short Scottish Gaelic films for the BBC, and was Sunday Herald art critic until leaving Scotland for the Netherlands in 2011. She has also worked in politics and PR. You can see more of her work at her Etsy shop, on her website, and on her Facebook page.

Amsterdam Mamas is a not-for-profit organisation providing support and information in English for international families in the Amsterdam region and across the Netherlands. From small beginnings on Facebook the organisation has grown into a lively community of more than 9,000 members with its own website, podcast, events and regular newsletters circulating to thousands of families each week.

Photo credit: Jason Lee

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