Personal Story

I Gave My Daughter a Hard-to-Pronounce Name—I Hope She Doesn’t Hate It

i gave my baby a hard to pronounce name"
i gave my baby a hard to pronounce name
Source: Caitlin Gallagher
Source: Caitlin Gallagher

Long before my husband and I got married (actually, if I’m being completely honest, long before I was ever in a serious relationship), I kept a list. The list. Many women know the one I’m talking about: The list of secret baby names that you’ve carefully curated over the years in hopes of one day using on your own children. It’s a list I’ve guarded fiercely, only sharing with a select few, as I have always loved unique names that you don’t hear very often. If I had a name on my list that suddenly became popular or someone I knew used, I would let go of it (I hardly knew you, Evelyn). So, before I gave birth to my first child, my daughter, I thought long and hard about what name I wanted to give her. It had to mean something, but it also had to feel like her. A few minutes after I laid eyes on her, we named her Saoirse (pronounced Seer-Sha). 

I know what some of you might be thinking: You named her what? As many traditional Irish names go, it’s not at all spelled how it’s pronounced and most people look at it for a few minutes before guessing something like “Say-or-sea.” And I get it. If I didn’t already know her name, it would absolutely trip me up, too. But after years of gathering the most unique and beautiful names I could find, I love that we went with Saoirse—even if it’s a hard-to-pronounce name. And I really hope she doesn’t grow up hating it.

Having a Hard-to-Pronounce Name Might Make Certain Things More Difficult

An old conversation with a coworker kept resurfacing in my mind throughout my pregnancy when my husband and I would talk about baby names. They had a mildly unique name that was still easy to pronounce, but they said they would never give their own child a name like theirs to help them avoid the “hassle.” That “hassle” was a childhood spent correcting teachers during attendance when their name was called, dealing with mean kids on the playground teasing them about their name, having anxiety about filling out forms, and so on. It was a badge my old coworker wore not-so-proudly for most of their life, although they did say that they came to appreciate their unique name in adulthood.

Even after Saoirse was born and we shared her name with all of our loved ones, there were still a few comments like, “Good luck with that name!” or “That’ll be a tough one growing up!” And while I know they were all made with light-hearted intentions, it still made that old familiar doubt creep back up in my mind. Did we do the wrong thing by giving her this name? Are we cruel?  

It Honors Her Heritage

But I look at Saoirse’s name with such a different lens. While it is very unique and might cause some frustration for her (case in point: her dad’s name is Ultan, another very Irish one, and whenever he orders coffee he just tells them it’s Patrick), it’s also so specific to her story. Her dad and I met and fell in love while I was living in Ireland for graduate school, and we got married there a handful of years later. We brought her back to Ireland for the first time when she was six months old to meet her very large family, and she’ll grow up going back to visit every year.

Ireland is such a big part of who she is, and Saoirse is a beloved Irish name that means “freedom.” Everyone there knows it and never hesitates to say, pronounce, or spell it, which I think will make her feel right at home whenever she steps off the plane and back onto Irish soil. She’ll hear, “Ah, Saoirse, welcome back!” instead of, “Say-or-sea? I’m sorry, did I butcher that?” I love that for her. There’s also the very famous Irish actress, Saoirse Ronan, who has done a lot of the leg work for the rest of them by being well-known and clarifying the pronunciation in countless interviews (thanks, girl!).

I Want Her Name to Empower Her

But I also think Saoirse will be in good company when she’s here at home. Unique names seem to be the norm now, and I have a feeling her preschool class roster will look more like “Bronwyn,” “Ophelia,” and “Zara” rather than “Bill,” “Mary,” and “Dan” (although those names are beautiful, too!). I want to empower her from the beginning to own her name and make sure the people around her know how to pronounce it. She shouldn’t feel bad about politely correcting someone and explaining the importance of getting it right going forward. Everyone deserves that courtesy.

I love her name so much, and I’m so glad we chose it for her, however unconventional it might seem to some. Because even on the off chance there will be more than one Saoirse in her class or it becomes popular in the U.S., there’s only one her. And her name is a part of her extraordinary uniqueness.

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