Living as a multiracial person has its challenges. Most of us write about our experiences with the many cultures that define us, or how others react to our racial and ethnic makeup. But there is one thing we may not ordinarily think about that is very important to people of multiple races — our names.
My first name, Gianna, is Italian. My second is originally French, but then my family went to Puerto Rico via Spain, so it’s a bit of all three. My mom is half-Italian and found my first name in a baby name book. It all sounds innocent enough. Gianna is an increasingly popular girl’s name and has been in the top 100 girls names for a few years.
Still, though, people ask me what “kind of name” it is. Most are perceptive enough to know that it is Italian; therefore, they assume I am 100 percent Italian. Others really have no idea, and most of the time I hear variants of “Joanna” or “Gianni” when people struggle to remember my name.
Just the other day, at work, someone told me that my name sounded Middle Eastern. I understood this least of all. Yes, people had always told me my name seemed “ethnic,” but Middle Eastern? When I tell people I am Puerto Rican, often I get the response, “but your name is Italian.”
That’s the tough part about having a mixed race child — what do we want to name them? Should a half-French, half-black child have a French name? Should a Chinese and white child have a traditional Chinese name, or an English/Irish/Scottish name? I have wondered before what I would name my own children someday and the only thing I can decide is that it won’t be anything like Gianna. I’ve always liked my name because it was pretty, but it’s easy to get tired of the constant mixups and questions about my ethnicity.
The most important part for parents is to agree on what they want to name their child and stick with that. But with multiracial couples who are about to have children, I caution you to think carefully about what name you are going to give your kid. What kind of questions will they be asked when they get older?
I do not encourage submitting to some people’s ignorance when it comes to names. But names are a vital part of a person’s identity, especially if they are mixed race. And really think about it if you want to name a girl Gianna!