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Names and their meanings across cultures

–What does your name mean?

–What do you mean “mean”? 

–Yes, what does your name mean in your language?

–Well, I guess nothing… it’s just a name…


I was having this conversation with one of my colleagues from the Graduate Graphic Design track the other night. She is from China and I am from Mexico City. She explained that, in her country, parents choose their children’s names based on their meaning and how that would reflect on the individual’s personality. Makes sense, right? After all, our name is more than a sound that people associate with our face; it is an intangible part of how we are known to the world and to ourselves. 

Her name means “joy”.


Turns out that in Western Cultures, not all parents choose their children’s names based on their meaning, but for other reasons; such as to preserve the name of the father in male generations along the family —this is especially common in Latin American countries.

Another reason for choosing a name would be the way it sounds; some parents give their children two names that, when used together, bring a certain rhythm or nice combination to the sound. For that reason, in Mexico, the names Maria Fernanda, Luis Alberto and Francisco Javier refer to three different people and not 6. 

I have two names: Angeles Valeria, but all of my life I’ve gone by Valeria (for practical purposes mainly) but to most of my friends and colleagues I’m just Val; it’s easier to pronounce (you’ll find many students adopt a nickname to make it easier for others to pronounce it). 

    On a side note, I found this cool website that tells you how to pronounce names in different languages www.pronouncenames.com.

The reason behind choosing names and their meanings intrigued me, so as soon as I got a chance, I made a Google search and found that Valeria is a variation of the name of a plant called Valeriana Officinialis. So I’m named after a herb… interesting but not very flattering.

Some of these names are variations of a word in another language; my first name, Angeles, translates to English as angels which is related to the names Angela in English, Ange in French, Aniela in Polish, and so on.

Some names may also refer to religious meanings; certain names can be traced back to ancient times, and some others might refer to specific dates, times and even places: take for instance the names Georgia, India or America (all three mostly female names in Western Cultures). And, even though most parents have the best intentions when it comes to choosing names, some others are notorious for their not-so-inspired decisions; this is an interesting and fun article of names banned around the world.

I called my parents to ask the reason why they chose my name and I found that I am named after my father’s grandmother (Angeles) and my mom’s grandmother (Valeria). I think that is beautiful because it talks about how special their grandmothers were to them and how special I am to them (And them to me!).


In your culture, what is the main reason parents choose their children’s names?

Do you know what your name means? Start a search; you may find intriguing results! 



Val Lopez