When Giving Your Child an English Name Goes Wrong

For many years, it has been popular in Latin America to give your child an American sounding name, with the hopes that this might make them stand out from the crowd and be more successful. My husband, Carlos, and his siblings, were given traditional Spanish names, so I was surprised the first time I met his cousins and was introduced to a Jonathan, Kathy, Andy and Alex.

Carlos and I have two of our own children, and we chose a middle road by picking “bilingual” names – or names which are easily pronounced and common in both English and Spanish, (at least for the first name. The middle names are Spanish.)

Naming a baby is a very personal decision, and while I find Spanish names more beautiful, that’s my personal opinion. I don’t judge anyone who gives their child an English name, especially when pinned to it are hopes for that child’s future, and much love.

That being said, sometimes baby naming goes wrong. Sometimes people choose English names not really knowing the meaning of the words. Unfortunately for the individual, hilarity ensues.

“…un niño mexicano fue bautizado como “Yahoo” debido a que sus padres, haciendo gala de un romanticismo circense, querían inmortalizar la suerte de haberse conocido a través del chat.” – (source: David Hildago Vega of ElComercio.pe)

“En el registro [salvadoreño] no faltan nombres como Madonna, Mafalda y Sony, por mencionar algunos casos entre las mujeres. Pero los nombres de ellos no se quedan atrás: Obispo, Leo Dan, Matusalén, Pitágora y Excel, son algunos ejemplos. Hay hasta salvadoreños con nombres de ex presidentes de Estados Unidos, como Regan y Lincoln. Tampoco faltan los nombres famosos que están mal escritos. Como ejemplos figuran: Rayniero, Cadis, Lenon, Abellana y Vienvenida.”
– (source: Hunnapuh.Blogcindario.com)

(More funny photo IDs here.)

Chone, Ecuador is known as “la capital de los nombres raros”, (the capital of weird names.) Examples of some of the names found there? Frank Sinatra, Alí Babá, Burger King, Lincoln, Stalin, Puro Aguardiente, Vick Vaporup, and Land Rover. (Read more [en español], about other strange names that have popped up in Ecuador, as well as Argentina and Venezuela: Taringa.net)

(Source: Taringa.net)

“En el registro de Portoviejo…[Ecuador], reposan las actas de Luz Divina, Ford Chevrolet, Selva Alegre, Oferta Bienleída, Sostenes, Semiencanto, [y] Perfecta Heroína…” (source: Pitodoble.com)

It isn’t just Latinos who choose inappropriate English names. This phenomenon is found throughout the world thanks to English being the most popular second language, and American culture so pervasive. Funny English names can be found in Taiwan as well as other countries. The phenomenon of butchered and inappropriately funny use of English is so common in Japan that it spawned a website called Engrish.com, where people share photos of signs, T-shirts, and other strange English they encounter overseas.

Is English your native language? Don’t be so quick to laugh. Who doesn’t know someone with a Chinese tattoo? Well, instead of “love, peace, unity”, it may very well say “General Tso’s Chicken”.

56 thoughts on “When Giving Your Child an English Name Goes Wrong

  1. Hilarious i love it!
    I passed summers in Haiti as a child, and it was the same there. But the Haitians have even less access to American media, so instead of being named for popstars, presidents, or other famous people, they were called after American products that made their way to Haiti in the form of charitable donations. We knew kids named Windex, Nike, Polo, Kraft, Cowboy,and other words pulled right from the labels of the goods they were sent, or logos on clothing.

    • That is fascinating! … I can only imagine if roles were reversed, and it was Americans who were inundated with a more dominant culture/language, we would be naming our gringo children “Salsa Verde”, “Goya”, “Inca Kola”, and “Penicilina” for girls … “Vicente Fox”, “Gaucho”, “Sombreo” and “Pollo Campero” for the boys ;)

  2. great post. being an english only speaking white girl from the suburbs i especially liked the tattoo point you made. for realz! i have often wondered – how do these people know it really means what they think it means? from seeing it on a celeb? anyway – good post. “james bond” was my fave on the above.

    • I know – If I ever got a Chinese symbol tattoo, I’d probably check with at least a dozen native speakers first – and it’s probably important to have a native speaker as the tattoo artist as well, since even a slight design change could render it incomprehensible or alter the meaning!

  3. Hysterical post! without intending to be either. I love the idea of the Asian tattoos- I’ve often thought about that. When My oldest son was a baby we were at a Japan festival and there was an artist doing calligraphy on little red banners. We had him write Max on one (his name) and as it dried, I took it to the woman taking the money, she said “the fan for Mike?” We said no, it should say Max. She gave a cryptic explanation that it was the same name, etc. I still chuckle to this day when I pass that red paper banner in our hallway at home.

    The tattoos I see on people make me think about that. You’re right, probably the name of a take out place.

    • Too funny about the banner. As for the Chinese tattoos – I’m not just guessing that some of them are wrong – there’s a news story linked there in the blog post if you’re interested!

  4. Tracy, this post makes me glad my name is just the good old San Juan Martin, lol! Imaginate si me hubieran puesto Disneylandio, AHHHH, what a nightmare that would have been…but you’re right, Latinos are not the only ones with crazy names. Que me dices de Apple, Coco, Happy, etc. I really dislike those types of names – they are just so random!

    • Well, celebrities are crazy – that’s a given. LOL.

      My younger son goes to school with a kid named “Wisdom”… dang. Talk about pressure!

      • Wisdom! That’s too much. I would change my name or beg my parents to change it for me before I could do it myself. You have to think about how much fun your kid is going to get made fun of based on the name you’re giving them. I can already hear the comments that poor kid’s going to grow up with: “Great going Wisdom!” “Thank goodness we’ve got Wisdom on our side! NOT!” “Well since you’re so smart, why don’t you enlighten us Wisdom!”

        I could keep going, but jajaja!!

  5. Buenisimo!!! And yes, “creativity” sometimes doesn´t go the right way, no?
    I´ve also heard of a few Usnavy´s, Usmail´s, Anivdelarev´s (for Aniversario de la Revolución in the calendar), Leidydi´s (Lady Di) and so on.

    Aaaalso, how about those Yobanas, Yobanis, Yonatans and such! LOL!!!
    Thanks for the laughs! Un abrazo!

    • “Vic” is the name of the father-in-law on George Lopez… but I imagine that’s short for “Victor” and not “Vaporub” LOL.

  6. Yo conocí a un niño llamado Osterizer y no podía creer la razón por la cual lo habían llamado así( la madre era una señora del campo quien llegó a trabajar a una casa como cocinera. Nunca había visto una liquadora y quedó fascinada con lo que dicho electrodoméstico podía hacer, así que bajo el encanto que éste le produjo, decidió llamara a su hijo asi).
    Hablo por la gente de mi país, quienes son usualmente personas muy sencillas de mente y corazón y que se ven maravilladas ante una persona famosa, un lugar o producto favorito (también conocí a Argelia Guadalupe, América Lorena y Méjico José = todos hermanos). Talvez la madre era fanática del mapa mundi!

    • I can’t imagine that many of them did. Many of them are already well into adulthood judging by the I.D. photos – and also, the names may not strike them as funny since they’re not native English speakers. If they stay in their towns more or less for their entire lifetime, they may not even realize, don’t you think?

  7. That was funnY! Loved ur post! I needed a good laugh! You are right about the names were chosen in love which makes them more likeable i guess.

    I know a kid named Noledge….. prounounced Knowledge….. they should’ve just spelled it correctly ya know…. LOL

  8. BTW creo que el chico llamado Email nos está mintiendo! Juzgando por la cara, no creo que sea tan joven como para llevar ese nombre. Talvez Apollo 13, London Tower, Ford Model T, Churchill, etc etc!

    • Yo estaba pensando la misma cosa! Good eye!… Or maybe his parents were so hip and ahead of things that they came up with it before it was invented!

  9. The biggest criteria I had when we named our kids was if the names sounded good if you had to yell it off the back step! LOL! Can’t have any tongue twisters when your kid is in trouble.

    I also love the tattoos where people spell things wrong! Those are the best!

  10. Interesting note about the bilingual names. I know a lot of folks of our generation who do the same.

    My family has some funny traditions/habits regarding names as well.

    There are about a dozen uncles named Francisco. Another dozen named Julio. That’s on my grandma’s side. On my grandpa’s side, there is another dozen Julios. It is confusing as hell. LOL

    We have multiple generations of teachers in our family. Each generation would get enamored with names they saw in books, or specific authors, and in turn would name their kids after them.

    Then there is my dad who took my middle name from some Russian psychologist. Word is he wanted all of us to have at least one Russian name, so it is.

    • I love names chosen from literature. I thought about naming one of the kids Roque, but as much as I love Dalton, I don’t love the name… plus, the kid would end up being called Rocky – ya sabes.

      I had other names picked from books too – like Atticus (To Kill a Mockingbird), but Atticus Lopez is a little too weird.

      You’ll have to tell me your middle name later!

  11. haha. I’ve heard about this. My dad’s parents were very young when he was born (15!) and his siblings followed shortly after. They were all named after popular movie stars of the day. I also know lots of hippies that want to name their kids awful things like “moonunit” The bad name thing is everywhere.

  12. ahhh pero no olvidemos los nombres que al ser combinados con los apellidos suenan divertido como: Zoila Blanca Luna, Elba Lazo, Benito Cámelo, Dolores de Cabezas, Blanca Bocanegra, Yonny Loconozco etc etc!

  13. LOL, can’t stop laughing! I just translated this article to my mom who only speak Spanish and she remembered a neighbor named “Italia” because she was born in Italy. A lot people named their kids after the place they met.

    • I knew an Italia, too! I think her heritage was Italian.

      Glad you and your mother enjoyed. I love when people share my blog with their family :)

  14. And yet, some name mistakes have built empires! Apparently Oprah’s father spelled her name wrong on the birth registry, and the rest is history!

    Then there are the hippy children. I personally knew a Marygold, Rainbow, Jewel, Shiny, Moonstar and Golden… poor kids. Wait! Didn’t a celebrity name their kid Apple? And don’t forget Moon Zappa too!

    (PS I am a big fan of INgrish)

  15. That is so funny! I can’t wait to show this post to my hubby! I’m a social worker at our hospital and have seen Latino parents name their kids “Female” and “Sir.” For real.
    I even met one named “Fries” who this happened to and the parents later tried to change it. And they did! I was proud they navigated the system enough to actually change the name! too funny!

  16. En Cuba conoci una jovencita que se llamaba “Sutnamiss”……otra fue llamada “Katiuska”….su padre la llamo asi por un misil cuando estuvo en union sovietica….ahh! hasta “Mislaidis”….Miss Ladys…..

  17. I will never get over this. Joan Sebastian is never going to be a very masculine person in my mind, when his name is the same as my own Aunt Joan.
    Wouldn’t his talent and the horse-riding-while-singing thing have made him stand out from the pack, regardless?
    Actually had somebody in Mexico tell me she named her son Brian because someday when he is grown if he goes “mojado” to the United States, people might think he was actually born in the US, and he might get a better job that way. (Oh, but his accent, especially when he introduces himself as Bri-Yan, that won’t give it away?)
    I completely fail to understand this one.

  18. I know I’m replying super late, but I just had to tell you about someone I met the other day!! I work in a pawn shop so I have to see people’s ID’s when they pawn or sell anything. Well, this woman came in for the first time to pawn something and when she gave me her ID I almost fell on the floor laughing! Her name was Chilindrina! She told me that her dad was obsessed with El Chavo del Ocho. He said that if she would have been a boy, he would have named her Quico! I couldn’t believe it! And for me, well my last name is what throws people off. My last name is Larraza (pronounced la raza) lol people never believe me that that’s my last name until I show them my ID!

    • Jajajajaja! That’s hilarious. I guess she should be happy she wasn’t named “Labrujadesetentaocho”? LOL

      Jennifer La Raza … sounds like a rap persona – I like it! :)

  19. Americans don’t fare much: at my old job, we have over 15k employees throughout the country. Got to see alot names working in Payroll. One stood out: Tarantula. She pronounced it Taran-Tuh-la…emphasis on on the TUH…

  20. My daughter’s name is Donna, she cracks up the way our non English speaking friends pronounce her name or half the time they spell it as Dana.

  21. My coworker and I are rolling laughing at these. I’m mixed (Mexican and Irish and identify as a white Mexican-blond hair and very pale skin- & I speak Spanish) and my coworker is Mexican so we laugh at growing up “Latino” all the time and we all have crazy name relatives. I have a cousin named “Honorina” and, of course, as kids we all called her “Gonorrhea”

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