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Is This Name Too Silly for a Blond?

My husband and I both love the name Esmeralda (Spanish for emerald). However, I have heard that name is too Spanish/Mexican and would look silly on a blond little girl. I am torn apart and don't know what to do. I am afraid I will regret not using that name if choose not to, but I also don't want my baby being teased all the time.
- Wanting an Emerald

Much like the gemstone it refers to, Esmeralda is a bold, elegant name—a little bit flashy, yet strong beneath that dazzling surface. No wonder it caught the eye of 19th-century parents after novelist Victor Hugo bestowed it on his heroine in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The name sounded entrancingly exotic in a sea of Annes and Elizabeths, and has been used in English-speaking countries since. It's a romantic alternative to mild-mannered antiques like Emma and Lillian .

That exotic sound may be part of what attracts you to this name, as well as what turns you away from it. For while the things we describe as "exotic" can entrance us, the word can also suggest "foreign, different, not-like-me."

In the past generation Esmeralda has been a fashionable choice among Mexican-American families. At its late 1990s peak, the name ranked as high as the top 50 in border states. So there certainly is a chance, particularly if you live in a region with a large Mexican-American population, that strangers may assume a little Esmeralda has Mexican heritage.

My question is why your concerned friends think this assumption—easily corrected if ever expressed—would necessarily be a problem. The notion that a Spanish name "looks silly" on a blond girl is a little hard to swallow. There are plenty of Spanish-speaking blonds, and plenty of Spanish girls' names (Isabel, Dolores) that have become global favorites.

Are they worried your daughter might face discrimination due to a perceived Mexican background? Or are they rather promoting this discrimination by suggesting that being taken for Mexican, even for a moment, is a negative? Or could they simply be coming up with excuses for rejecting a name they don't happen to like? Since their criticism is troubling you, you might go back to them for an honest conversation.

I also recommend that you reconnect with your reasons for loving the name Esmeralda. You probably knew, and liked, that it was a Spanish name popularized by a French novel, so it doesn't make sense to treat that global style as a negative now. Names cross cultural borders all the time. (Are all the Natashas you know Russian, and all the Seans Irish?) If you follow your heart to this name, I think your daughter will be just fine.


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September 23, 2013 3:11 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I say go for it. It is a beautiful name and unlike when we were kids, you will find many international names on the playground these days! Esme is a great nickname too if your daughter ever feels overwhelmed by the long version!

September 23, 2013 3:40 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Ignore your friends, who are stereotyping cultures. There are many Spanish and Mexican blonds.

September 23, 2013 10:45 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I don't know what these particular friends meant, but I don't think that the feeling that a name is incongruous with another's particular looks/colouring/culture is necessarily laden with judgement. It could just be that, due to experience, they're having trouble picturing it, and not that actually being a person who "fits" the name is a bad thing. Isn't it possible that if these people were given the opportunity to meet a little blonde Esmerelda that they would adjust their opinions? (Plus, for many of the child's classmates, she will be the first/only Esmerelda they encounter, leading THEM to stereotype Esmereldas as blonde!)

September 24, 2013 12:25 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I know blondes named Carmen and Maria. Heck, I know Hispanics w/ blonde hair! Does not matter.

September 24, 2013 12:26 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

One of the first telenovelas (Latin American soap operas) I watched was Esmeralda. The main character was played by a blonde Mexican actress.

September 24, 2013 12:51 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

We live in Tucson, and named our little blond boy Felix. Every other Felix we've met is Latino, but it hasn't been a problem at all.

Go with Esmeralda. It's a lovely name.

September 24, 2013 1:13 PM
By Karolyn (not verified)

The only hesitation I would have is if the meaning of the name is incongruent. But Esmeralda means emerald! Even with my hesitation about meaning, there are LOTS of Jennifers/Guineveres who are not "fair, light skinned."

Esmeralda is a beautiful Disney Princess name and doesn't seem very popular.

I am having a similar question about Silvia vs. Sylvia and Beatrix vs. Beatriz; we do live in an area with a large Hispanic population and our own heritage is Slovak/Ukrainian and Welsh/Anglo/Maori. Growing up with an uncommon-but-familiar AND creatively spelled name, I would want my children to have uncommon-but-familiar names that are the most expected spelling. In our area, the most common spellings would be Silvia and Beatriz.

Interesting question and not as completely obvious as everyone says. Cultural sensitivity is totally reasonable to consider. Yay for little Esmeralda!

September 24, 2013 1:16 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Well let's not play the race card here, people...I understand the concerns behind the objection. While it's true, you can use any name you want for your child, I (as a very un-ethnic caucasian of English descent) would have felt awkward giving my child an obviously Spanish, or Japanese, or German, or even Italian (which at least we have in the family tree) name. It's less about race and more about culture - call it a cultural misappropriation.

There's nothing "wrong" with me naming my children Hachiko, Esperanza, Hans, and Valentino...but would it be fair of me to give them a name that doesn't 'belong' to me? And give them a lifetime of explaining that no, they aren't Japanese-Italian, mom just thought it sounded cool?

September 24, 2013 8:56 PM
By Abi (not verified)

@ Anonymous (Sept 24 1:16 PM) - I don't think it's fair that you would say a name doesn't 'belong' to someone because they don't have that ethnicity in their family tree. Abigail (my name) is a Hebrew name, and as far as I know, I have not got a single drop of Hebrew blood running through my veins. I do, however, have English, Scottish, Kiwi and Aust. Aboriginal blood. This doesn't mean I wasn't allowed to be named Abigail, or that my name should have been limited to the ethnicities I can lay claim to. It also doesn't mean that I can't name a future daughter Giuliana, for example, because they won't have Italian blood. I'm not trying to have a go at you, I guess I just don't understand how you feel a name has to 'belong' to its place of origin.

@Wanting an Emerald - As far as using Esmerelda goes ... well, it's not my style, honestly, but if YOU love it, then go for it! :) Better to gift your little one with a name you love and cherish than one you're less sold on. I don't think it matters where the name comes from - if it's given with love (for the name as well as your baby girl), isn't that the main thing in naming?

September 24, 2013 9:43 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Again, it's not about ethnicity or race, it's about culture.

Abigail is a Hebrew name, but it has a centuries-long history of use as an English name (as do many Biblical names which originated with another ethnic group), which makes it an in-culture name for someone of your background.

September 25, 2013 2:07 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My guess is that the sudden rise of this name during the 1990s is due to two (or more) popular motion pictures. For one, the 1994 movie "Pulp Fiction" which had a cab driver named "Esmarelda Villa Lobos" (Esmeralda was spelled incorrectly by the producers). Another movie was Disney's 1996 "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (from the book by Victor Hugo as previously mentioned) which also had a character named "Esmeralda."

September 25, 2013 11:35 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

go with it if its what you like, if youre not sure, then you can middle name it. stick with something that compliments it or flows nicely with it.

September 25, 2013 12:51 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Hair color doesn't matter IF its your culture. I think if its an "honorary" name that you have a personal connection to (my mother's best friend, etc) it can work, too, even if its from different culture. But otherwise? Well, not appropriate in my book.

September 26, 2013 12:40 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My daughter's name is a common Hispanic name. However, she's actually named after a German relative. People do sometimes ask whether she has Hispanic heritage but it's really not an issue for me or for her. I think Esmeralda is a familiar enough name in English-speaking cultures (Disney character, for crying out loud) that it won't matter a lot.

I don't think you can entirely avoid picking a name that a child could be teased for. I know someone named Nancy who was teased for her name all the time.

September 27, 2013 7:52 PM
By another anon (not verified)

My first thought when I hear the name is Caro Emerald, the Dutch singer. That's her professional name; she was born Caroline Esmerelda van der Leeuw.

There's also a peripheral character in a Lord Peter Wimsey story name Esmerelda who is called Meraldy which is just adorable.

Esmerelda works in many cultures and the name itself fits the trend of melodic names that end in 'a'.

September 28, 2013 4:16 AM
By Nat (not verified)

Of course there are blond Mexicans but this child is not one of them. When you use an uncommon name that screams a certain culture- like Altagracia or Kofi or Seralait- people are going to wonder about your relationship to it. If you have zero relationship then yes you and your child will get looks and people talking behind your backs.

Everybody is not going to like your kid's name no matter what you choose so you just have to go with what you love and deal with it

September 28, 2013 11:49 AM
By Elizabeth (not verified)

I agree with those who say the concern should not be about teasing or "looking silly" -- neither of those are valid concerns with this name -- but cultural appropriation. Using a name from another culture can (depending on the circumstances) be insensitive and inappropriate, like wearing a Native American headdress "just because." But I don't think Esmeralda is one to worry about. Despite the Spanish origin, it's been used in a variety of cultures for a long time now. It's just pleasantly unusual, not something that would leave people going, "wait, what do you mean she's not Hispanic?"

September 28, 2013 1:42 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Esmeralda is not a name only used by Spanish-speaking cultures. Plenty of people use names that are not from their culture. While I agree certain ones are off-limits (Native American, for example), in general it is not a big deal.

The point about there being Spanish blondes is that you cannot always tell a person's culture by looking at them anyway. SO people will judge even if you are a Mexican blonde (my friend gets questioned all the time.)

September 28, 2013 8:25 PM
By Indiechick (not verified)

I tend to agree with the mother's friends. And no, it's not because of racism or fear of being perceived as being Spanish or Mexican but the fact is that it's really unusual to choose a name that is from outside the common culture/outside your culture. Your child will *constantly* be asked where she got the name why she has the name. It will get tiresome. I have a more unusual name and it is annoying to always get asked about it. People will wonder why she has the name. Esmerelda isn't as bad as some in terms of being perceived as foreign. It won't stand out that much, so I'm on the fence about it. If you love it, it's not *that* unusual that you shouldn't use it. But if I were to name my child something like Ming even though I'm caucasian, it would be a burden to my child because everyone would focus on it and question why he had the name. Your child wants to stand out for themselves, not for a name that doesn't seem to fit.

September 30, 2013 11:25 PM
By Jan K (not verified)

I am Asian American and my children have names that are commonly seen as French and Spanish. I could have gone with Emma and Sophia ("American" names) but wanted something more unusual and liked the sound/meanings of the names I chose. I did think about possible "cultural mismatch" but it hasn't been an issue. I think people are more accepting of unusual names today but it's true, you could get a lot of questions. There are fewer cases of white Americans choosing more ethnic names, but one interesting case can be read about here:

October 13, 2013 11:18 PM
By Ruby (not verified)

"Exotic" is such a subjective word. I have red hair and freckles, and I spent the bulk of my clumsy teenage years in a small town full of Hispanics. My mom kept calling me exotic because I was, compared to my classmates (let alone to bolster my flagging self-esteem).

I can definitely see a blonde Esmeralda. Even though the name is Spanish, the sound is natural in English. Go for it.

October 18, 2013 5:49 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Just silly for anyone to think of. How many Maria's or Marie's are not Hispanic or Italian? How many Tatiana's or Anastasia's are not Russian? Don't care if you are from a border state (I am) and would not think anything of a blonde Esmeralda! Love it.

October 28, 2013 4:03 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

For God's sake, don't do it! He'll be bullied mercilessly throughout his entire childhood! Plus, I can GUARANTEE that the day that he turns 18, he'll change his name to something that's NOT ridiculous!

January 28, 2014 10:41 AM
By Προσκλητηρια Βαπτισης (not verified)

@Anonymous "There are many Spanish and Mexican blonds"
I don;t think so... Yes there are a few (natural) but most of them are not natural!

November 24, 2014 11:30 AM
By Caro O. (not verified)

Hahaha. You made me LOL! I would agree if the baby was a boy. Otherwise it is just not that big if a deal. Yes, a couple people will assume that she has some Hispanic heritage, but WHO CARES? Enjoy the name ad be prepare for her to hate it because it is long and her friends will make up a cute nick name and girls OFTEN go through a phase where they hate their name anyways.

November 24, 2014 12:30 PM
By Annee (not verified)

"Dearest Esmeralda, in another age
Antiques would be modern, we would be the rage
Silk would be in fashion, we would dress in lace
Love would be the passion and the saving grace."

November 24, 2014 2:05 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

This business about not using a name because it doesn't "belong" to you is just plain insulting. The concept that you should take a name you love, or that has special meaning for you off the table because it is traditionally associated with another culture is ridiculous. I assume this only applies if you are Caucasian, because immigrants of all backgrounds give their children traditionally English or Western European names all the time.

My godparents were Japanese, and played a huge role in my upbringing, despite the fact that I have auburn hair and am as pale as they come. So if I want to give my very non-Asian children a Japanese honor name, I have no qualms whatsoever about doing so. But to be clear, I don't even think you need someone of significance to be able to use a name from another culture. We love the name V@leska, and aren't taking it off the table because we don't have Eastern European or Russian ancestry.

Maybe it's because I grew up with an unusual name, but I think kids are always going to have to answer questions about their name unless it's generic. And it's a measure of your parenting that they are able to do so in a polite manner, and with grace.

November 25, 2014 9:16 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Also, how do you know your daughter will be blond?

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