Please help us spell this name
September 8, 2016 10:00 PM   Subscribe

My spouse wants to name our daughter Sema. The closest pronunciation to how this name is pronounced in his native language is here under Catalan. I think that some would read Sema and assume "Seemah" which is not the name. But how can we spell this name for Americans to pronounce it easily?

Beyond the pronunciation issue I worry that the spelling Sema is written too close to semen and this may lead to teasing later. What about Seyma? Sayma? Sehma? What other spellings might work? How would you want this pronounced name to be spelled?
To be honest, I don't love any of these spelling and I worry that this is a hard name for people to say. And, moreover, I'm hesitant to give my child an unusual name especially in this political environment. I've read all the studies about how people judge others based on their names. And my child will already have her father's unusual, hard to say, and obviously foreign last name.
If it matters: this child having a first name that represents my spouse's culture is very important to him and this particular name holds a lot of meaning for him. I'm okay with this because it is so important to him.
Spouse has agreed that she can be called Sammie/y or Sam as a regular nickname.
We live in the US.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (92 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by BoscosMom at 10:07 PM on September 8, 2016

Saima would work, too.

I have a name that people mispronounce (it's a very American name but one with a lot of variations, so it gets messed up constantly). It's not the worst thing in the world; most people ask how to pronounce my name or what I preferred to be called.

I would be tempted to just go with "Sema." It's very pretty. She can always put Sammy or Sam or S. on resumes, or introduce herself that way in school/at work/before an interview. There are few situations in life where you HAVE to use your full, legal name.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:07 PM on September 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

posted by BoscosMom at 10:07 PM on September 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think the original spelling is fine, and the pronunciation is compatible with how it "looks". I believe that if anyone pauses over it, once they hear it said, they'll be fine (and actually in my head I said it way you prefer it without any idea how it should be said). I don't think adding more consonants is a good idea.

I sympathise with your reservations about having such an un-English name, in an English speaking culture, and while I can sympathise with your spouse's feelings, is there any possibility that your daughter could have an "English" name as well as one to reflect her father's culture, or perhaps instead of, given her surname is from his culture already? Maybe it could be a name that has special significance for *you*.

But I also think Sema is a pretty name, and has a pretty meaning. Our societies don't become more varied if we are all the same, after all.
posted by glitter at 10:21 PM on September 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

Sema is a gorgeous name. Go for it.
posted by suedehead at 10:25 PM on September 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Semma - like Emma with an S.
posted by Small Dollar at 10:26 PM on September 8, 2016 [37 favorites]

I think you are catastrophising a little bit here.

Firstly, kids will tease children regardless of name or spelling. It sucks as a parent but it's part of childhood. And honestly when I think about who was picked on, and why - both in my time as a child and working for five years as a childcarer, names were totally irrelevant.

2) just give your kid the normal spelling. Its not a big deal. All over America there are people whose names are "strange" to someone. They are happy, they are successful, they are fine correcting names where required.

My surname is garson, rhymes with carson. People often try to pronounce it like "garcon", French for boy. It doesn't bother me and never has. Some people still get it wrong when I correct them, it's really no big deal.

My eldest, five year old, daughter is half viet, her name is quynh, you think a lot of people know how to say that? Even more delightfully, how viets themselves pronounce it varies dramatically by which region of the country they are from. My daughter loves her name, happily tells every one how to say it, had never been teased about it, etc.

If the catalan name is sema, name the kid sema. I dunno dude, it sounds a little to me like you might be projecting your own anxieties about difference and being different on to other people? It's really not a big deal in this day and age. We love in multicultural societies and it's something to celebrate, that diversity. I'm from rural QLD, Australia, a haven of the most reactionary and racist citizens of my country. No one has had a problem with my daughters name when I go back there. And if they did, fuck them right in the ear, it's their problem not mine or my family's.

Sometimes in pregnancy, everything can feel a bit out of control, and I think it's natural to want to assert control, and plan and contingency plan etc etc. I would urge you to relinquish some of that desire to control, if you can. Kids, in so many ways, defy our expectations and plans and wishes. If you just go with it, you might be surprised, looking back, how little it mattered.

Best of luck with whatever you decide.
posted by smoke at 10:31 PM on September 8, 2016 [23 favorites]

Honestly, I think the simplest, most natural-sounding spelling is Sema. The problem with Seyma/Sayma is that it elongates the 'eh' sound into an 'ey' sound, so if you're really concerned the I would go with Sehma.

Maybe give her a more neutral middle name that she can use if she prefers? That said, you'd be surprised how badly people cock up even supposedly simple names. My friend Maria keeps having to explain to people that she's not Mary, Marie, or Miriam, just as a datapoint. I have people cock up Tammy on a regular basis, so. Name her what you want and don't worry too much about pronunciation.
posted by Tamanna at 10:32 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


But look, you have four different answers already, and I can come up with at least two versions for each spelling, including mine. People mess up my simple name all the time, or they call me a different name that's similar -- but NOT short for -- my own. Sometimes they call a super common name that starts with the same first letter. People are lazy with names; they'll mess it up no matter how it's spelled. And kids will find a way to tease other kids no matter what their name is. Go with the original spelling, since that's kind of the point. It's beautiful.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:33 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seyma? Sayma? Sehma?

I think any of these would get reasonably close pronunciations, with a preference for the first two. I think Sema would be constantly mispronounced.

The advice I give parents that want to give their child an unusual first name is to give them a fairly conventional middle name and let them use it if they prefer. I've known people that wanted a name that let them fit in during elementary/middle school but switched back to their unusual name when they had more self confidence.
posted by Candleman at 10:33 PM on September 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you're worried about her having an ethnic name, why not call her officially Sarah Mary – names everyone can cope with – and make it "Séma" for short? Then you get to have it both ways.
posted by zadcat at 10:34 PM on September 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like Semma with the double m.

As for having a 'foreign' last name, well there really isn't hardly anything BUT foreign names in the US! My own name has been a lifelong conflict between it's spelling and it's pronunciation: depending on if they read it or hear it first, people do one or the other, never both, correctly. (Heck, between them, my father, his two brothers and their parents pronounced it four different ways...). My point is, don't let that worry you: other people's reaction to your husband's last name will be the same for your children whether they have easy or hard first names.
posted by easily confused at 10:39 PM on September 8, 2016

If I could go back and get my folks to standardize my name, I would do that. That said, for me "Semah" gets the closest to approximating the Catalan pronunciation.
posted by hungrytiger at 10:45 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love Séma or Sémah with the acute accent, or Seima/Seimah without.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 10:51 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a name that is mispronounced almost daily. Sometimes I correct people, sometimes I don't. I like that my name is somewhat unusual and stopped caring long ago that people screw it up.

Sema is a very nice name.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:06 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I read it as S EE ma. (Long e). So there's that data point. Also the US pronunciation on that website is with a long E.

I like Semma but I think unless your name is dead simple it's going to be mispronounced and misspelled. Also a name is going to get made fun of for something or kids will find something to be picked on for.

I'm Crystalinne (Pronounced Crystal-lin)- I've gotten insane spellings and pronunciations and teasing. (I dunno why but people want to call me Crystal Light or Crystal Meth a couple times uhg.) It drives spell check crazy because of the word crystalline and my name Crystalinne. I finally asked my dad why he didn't name me "crystalline" you know, like the word. And he said that he wanted it to end in a "lin" not a "line" Trust me. It didn't work. Should have been Crystalynn. Or something like that to get the desired affect on a more regular basis.

I don't hate it. In fact I like my name a lot. It's unique. But if it was spelled more phonetically though I think it would have saved me literally hours of correcting people over the course of my life. I know when it's my turn at a doctor's office because they come out eyes glued to the chart trying to figure out how to pronounce it. Then I correct them or say they did fine. Then they laugh and say "Oh yeah, all of us back here were trying to figure it out!" Every. Damn. Time. And I go through the routine to humor them. It's like a little dance that I have memorized. But again, it doesn't bother me, it just is part of my life. But it is a bit cumbersome.

If you separate your fears, do you like the sound of the name? If so, what spelling would you and your husband like the most? The original or a variation? Don't base your decision off of people judging them. I mean don't name your kid "buttstank" but we're all going to be judged based off something. And I think more unique names are becoming more common.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:23 PM on September 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

You know people are generally introduced verbally, right? I personally am way happier being called Lauren-uh by a nurse calling me into my appointment or someone else reading my name than I would be if my parents had named me Lorayna.

Edit: Literally forgot my real name isn't my username here, my first name is spelled Lorena.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:25 PM on September 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Semma seems like the easiest way to get the pronunciation right. I've got kids with names we had to choose phonetic spelling for from another language. No one gets in right in English. But get as close as you can and correct people when you introduce the baby. Say it lots of times (unnaturally more than you normally would) and it will imprint on your friends and family.

And.....then kiddo will get to school and their name will be totally bastardised. Or a sibling will give them a nickname that sticks. Forever. (Ask me how I know!)

Congratulations by the way. And I think it's a lovely name.

(I know a Seema but she's Iraqi and it's pronounced quite differently to Catalan. )
posted by taff at 11:33 PM on September 8, 2016

I think if you spell it Sema and then just introduce her as "Sema, it rhymes with Emma" it will be very easy for people to remember and she'll get to keep the spelling her father's culture uses. My niece's name is basically Madeline, but with a weird variant spelling and I honestly think the made up spelling just makes things more confusing.
posted by MsMolly at 11:38 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I read the name and instantly thought oh no, "seema"/"semen".
So just my datapoint, I think that yes, the kids would tease.

I think "Sehma" or "Sayma" would be less ambiguous. The kid will spend a lifetime spelling out her name either way. But then, so do millions of other people. And it's a good name.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:53 PM on September 8, 2016 [14 favorites]

Semma would be easiest for pronunciation. (I think it would be less likely to inspire the deviation you fear then Sema, but then kids are creative. But yeah I immediately thought "Semen" also.)

Ethnic Firstname + ethnic Lastname is not that helpful as far as jobs are concerned, as things stand currently, according to some research on hiring practices (and what I've experienced and heard from other people with two ethnic names). Non-ethnic first name + ethnic last name is better as far as that's concerned (research-wise). Sema - which I agree is lovely - reads as more "ethnic" than Semma does, to me, fwiw. (Semma could be read as the effect of parents being innovative.)

If you do with Sema/Semma, I would definitely do something to give this kid some kind of out at school and later on, either a middle name or the Sam/Sammy variation. Or just make Semma/Sema the middle name and let her decide if she wants to use it.

Also, having a very unique name that's e.g. the only hit on a Google search, is not fantastic, ime and imo, given the odds of youthful exuberance leaving a permanent cookie trail online. (There is an appetite for this, with which I'm sympathetic. Not a bad thing to have a more common name that can get a bit lost in a search. Or that at least a few other people have, for plausible deniability.)

(I would have strongly preferred not to have had an unusual, ethnic full name that causes me and everyone else consternation. Beyond the things I've mentioned, which are real for real issues for a lot of people, it sucks when introducing yourself becomes aversive. Yeah I could have modified it, but idk, my name is just my damn name, everything else feels dishonest.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:13 AM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm with cotton dress sock; my first name caused a lot of "Oh, you're...?! I didn't think you'd be white!" at decades-ago kiddie birthday parties. I am quite confident I am the only person with my full name in the world. I'm good with it now, but my kid got one of the most conservative and easy to pronounce names out there. There have been others with her name. She'll have some degree of plausible deniability for weird web whatnot. But every single mention of me, no matter how crazy the ex it came from (or whatever), on the web is indeed to do with: me.

If I meet somebody and do not correct them on my name, I will then see them regularly for years; rather awkward. If I meet somebody and do correct them, I will get a funny look, an "okay," sometimes a repeat mispronunciation (if they have read it before meeting me and determined that it is pronounced a particular way, that sticks in their head), and then never see them again, and feel like a fussbudget.

I put initials on stuff like university essays. There was a slight resurgence of the hippie ethos at the time and people routinely asked then if I had made my name up myself. Putting it on a serious paper I'd worked hard on felt like the equivalent of doodling a smiley face, so I was just a pair of initials for a while.

Between the first name seeming flaky/ethnic and the last name just "unique" I have no doubts at all it is part of why I have had horrible times applying for jobs. You have two equal resumés on your desk -- you want to get things over with -- do you call the person whose name you can pronounce, or the one where you will have to stumble over it and ask whoever answers the phone? Also, what if the person doing the hiring is a bigot? Or simply very conservative, and figures anybody with a weird name might not be made of the right stuff? I could never open a store or restaurant and name it Myfirstname Café, and I would have a trying time running for public office... People are not eager to recommend things they risk mispronouncing.

At very least, provide a middle name that could be enjoyed as a first name so they can be "S. Boringname Lastname."

I would keep the traditional spelling. It means a two-word explanation instead of (long intake of breath) "Well, it comes my name is actually...but my parents thought people might mispronounce it or make fun of it like that, so they made up this variation..." Stick with established tradition instead of introducing a new element of "unique" to something that is already unique, I'd say.

(Oy, vey -- that page has different pronunciations listed for English Canada and French Canada!)

It's hard to choose also-known-as for your kid before they're born -- my guess would be that one day she'd come home and announce that from here on in she is 'Em,' and thoughts of 'Sammie' will be firmly shut down.

Teasing would be the least of my concerns; kids will find a way to make fun of anything, and it can add a little bit of quick wit and good improv if your kid is accustomed to dealing with it. I changed schools a few times and had good repartee for any name teasing to fire back, and ended up friends with a few kids who initially talked to me to tease about the name(s). (All bets are off if the kid is shy, though.)
posted by kmennie at 12:46 AM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think you should call her Sema and own up to the name. Your apprehensions seem to stem from the fact that Americans are inherently racist and will not accept anything that is not distinctly Anglo. Hmmmm. Look what naming that baby Barack Hussein back in 1961 did to him. Are you sure you're really confortable with what your husband wants?
posted by Kwadeng at 1:54 AM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

"Give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right."
Warsan Shire
posted by Chrysalis at 2:25 AM on September 9, 2016 [18 favorites]

How about modifying it slightly to Selma? It sounds almost the same.
posted by mareli at 2:35 AM on September 9, 2016

Sema is also the Turkish spelling (same pronunciation as the Catalan from what I gather) for the form of meditation that sufi mystics practice - I think it's a beautiful name, and you don't need to try to 'normalize' the spelling or name. Another frequently used spelling is 'Sama', which could work well, especially if you're planning on a Sam/Sammy nickname.
posted by and her eyes were wild. at 2:46 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

My last name, not my first, is NEVER pronounced correctly. EVER. As a kid, it was a giant pain in the ass, compounded by being a military brat who constantly had to be around new people. It hurts to be different, in any way, as a kid. To have to be "that kid with the weird name" again and again is just a sucky thing. Childhood is hard enough. It really is. My take on this is, why would you choose to put that burden on your child? Her name will be hers to carry into the world. Staking a claim for uniqueness etc. is an adult concept. Kids come to that SO much later.

I've kids in tears because yet again, there's never a pencil or a license plate or a whatever with "their" name on it in stores or gift shops. That's just another data point...

Alternate spelling would help a lot. I vote for Sayma, because it seems to be the one that best represents the pronunciation you want. It's very clear. I doubt anyone would not get right.It also removes the likeness to "semen" which is going to happen no matter what you think. Kids are cruel.

When she is older she can change it to the other spelling if she wants.

That you are even asking, tells me that perhaps you are not comfortable with bestowing a name that will (even a little bit) cause your daughter to have to go through any of this type of stuff. ??
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:00 AM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

When it comes down to it, kids are seldom the ones who are a problem with unusual names. When we gave our daughter a very unusual name, I definitely heard, "Are you sure she isn't going to be teased?" from adults who, in truth, probably just don't approve of unusual names. Never has she been teased by any child.

Go with the name you love.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:27 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have friends who named their kid Eoin (pronounced Owen). He is doing fine.

Sema is a beautiful name, and if that's how it's spelled, I don't see a reason to change it, especially if you are going to call her by a nickname anyway. As someone pointed out above, people usually introduce themselves orally first anyway. And there's never a guarantee that even the most common English names will be pronounced correctly.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:05 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cema/Sema/Sima is also a Yiddish girl's name; pronounced "seemah".

Nthing Semma/Saima for the way you want it pronounced.
posted by brujita at 5:28 AM on September 9, 2016

I have a fairly normal name, used in the bible, and common in the US and parts of Europe (and used elsewhere, too, for that matter). People still misspell it every which way, shorten it, and surprisingly often mispronounce it.

So my point is that there isn't a perfect way to insulate from this no matter what you pick. I think Sema is a lovely name, especially if it has family meaning. I'd stick with that spelling, but the Semma variation makes sense, too.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right." Warsan Shire

I call bullshit. If you're concerned about how people pronounce your daughter's name, spell it in a way that makes it probable it will be pronounces correctly. If you don't care about that, spell it any way you want, and you and your daughter spend a lifetime correcting people. But don't blame it on the other people.
posted by Dolley at 5:38 AM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

My name is a word in the English dictionary and people still fuck it up. Just because you have an Anglo name doesn't mean you're going to be insulated from teasing.

And why let the bastards win? Yes, it sucks that people are more willing to discriminate against you based on your name, but do you want them to rule your kid's life? It's going to be decades before she gets to the point where names may have more material effects, and with any luck her generation's going to be the one that makes things fairer for all kinds of names.

As far as the name in specific: the link was ambiguous about pronunciation, and "Seema" is a not-uncommon South Asian name. It's pretty and good as it is.
posted by divabat at 5:41 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I call bullshit. If you're concerned about how people pronounce your daughter's name, spell it in a way that makes it probable it will be pronounces correctly. If you don't care about that, spell it any way you want, and you and your daughter spend a lifetime correcting people. But don't blame it on the other people.
My family is from Nigeria, and my full name is Uzoamaka, which means “The road is good.” Quick lesson: My tribe is Igbo, and you name your kid something that tells your history and hopefully predicts your future. So anyway, in grade school, because my last name started with an A, I was the first in roll call, and nobody ever knew how to pronounce it. So I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking, and in her Nigerian accent she said, “Why?” I said, “Nobody can pronounce it.” Without missing a beat, she said, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.
- Uzo Aduba
posted by divabat at 5:42 AM on September 9, 2016 [37 favorites]

Even if you've agreed to give your child a Catalan name, if you don't like this particular name, it's ok to tell your spouse that you don't like this name, without having to justify why, and for you both to find another one you like better.
posted by lazuli at 5:49 AM on September 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

Another vote for Semma, only because Sema reads as See-ma. It's a gorgeous name, though. i have a very common name that is never mispronounced, but my brother has a French spelling of a super common name. He is always "[Name] with a [letter]." It doesn't bother him too much.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:49 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

When it comes down to it, kids are seldom the ones who are a problem with unusual names.

Um, that's just not true, like incredibly the opposite of true... Kids have hugely sensitive antennae for difference of any kind, and will ruthlessly exploit it for fun (or just any reason at all).

Barack Hussein called himself Barry for the longest time, certainly through school - he did not have it easy, per his memoir. I mean yeah, things happened to have worked out extremely well in his case, but there are many, many under- and unemployed people with challenging names who have to fight hard to even get seen. Yes, the reasons for that are racist. But why make things more difficult for your daughter than they have to be, knowing some fights are coming anyway?

I think parents who inflict "difficult" names on their kids because they want to be "interesting" or have ideas about honouring or preserving ethnic tradition are not really focusing on the fact that their kid is going to need to adapt to the society in which s/he lives. Quite honestly, I think it's a bit selfish. That name is something she's going to have to live and deal with on a daily basis. I mean, be kind, help her out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:52 AM on September 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

everyone's experience is different, and everyone's relationships are different, but as an immigrant (albeit one largely in a privileged position) myself:

- i am surprised you don't mention your partner's preference on spelling. first, it's a name from his culture and second, he's the one with experience of navigating your culture as an outsider.

- i, personally, would not mess up a perfectly good name because some of the locals are too dumb to figure it out. living in another culture is way more complex than this small problem and changing the spelling makes it a nothing name with no real roots or history.

- in this particular case, more and more americans are "spanish aware" (the pronunciation is close to catalan, forgive me) anyway. i think people will understand quickly.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:54 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was given one of the most standard Genesis-based names out there, attended about a dozen different schools growing up, and never once got teased about the name by anyone outside my family. I'd keep the "semen" thing in mind ("oh no" was my first reaction too) and go with "Semma" if your spouse doesn't mind.
posted by teremala at 6:07 AM on September 9, 2016

I have an extremely unusual first name and I second everyone saying that kids will be absolutely vicious if there is any way to do it and that racism in hiring is a problem if you have a name that doesn't read as Anglo.

It's also going to be more and more of a problem to be the only person with your name - one stupid thing I did at nineteen is going to follow me around the internet until I die because of my name.

I'm not saying not to name your child what you want, but you should think about what the implications are based on what people who do have unusual ethnic names are telling you.
posted by winna at 6:07 AM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm a college professor in the Northeast. When I see an unfamiliar name on my roster, and I'm not sure how to pronounce it, I go to and search for it. Usually I find it, and I can practice a few times before taking roll on the first day.

I wouldn't choose the spelling "Semma" because that will prompt English speakers to use an open vowel sound (ε), rather than a closed vowel sound (e). I think the standard spelling "Sema" is fine. If you want to give your daughter the choice of using a more "conventional" name at some point, consider giving her a middle name that has some connection to your family.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:14 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Many commenters here have said "it wasn't a problem for me, she should just learn to deal with it."

That's great if she's an extrovert - it's a great conversation topic, and she might enjoy explaining it to everyone she meets.

But what if she is an introvert? It becomes this constant daily burden that she can't escape.

I like the idea of Fancyname Boringname Lastname. That gives her a chance to come into her own.
posted by metaseeker at 6:17 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

My name was a problem for me (even now) and I still find the implication of "you should just give her a 'boring' name" extremely troubling. This is her culture. This is her heritage. She has every right to have a name that reflects that. There's already enough problems out there with cultures being whitewashed and erased because oh, apparently it's "selfish" to give a name that's not "normal". Apparently it's a "constant burden". How fucked up is that, that something core to her being is 'selfish' and a 'burden'?
posted by divabat at 6:22 AM on September 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

No matter how you spell it, she's probably going to be telling people how to pronounce it and how to spell it. So you might as well go with the easiest (and shortest) spelling.

(Also, yeah, I thought "semen" too, and I think no matter how you spell it the pronunciation is just near enough for some people to make that association anyway.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:24 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a weird, hard-to-pronounce name, and I still remember the stress of waiting for substitutes to get to it, messing it up, and having the whole class titter. I was a shy kid and it was Not Awesome. I don't have a middle name, so I made one up and went by that through junior high.

Sema is a lovely name, but I really think she'll have an easier time if it's spelled to help with pronunciation, like Sayma or Sahma. Nthing the advice of giving her a more conventional middle name so she can switch back and forth if she chooses.

I was raised in a hippie community, where a lot of kids had pretty unusual and sometimes unfortunate names, having been named, as Steve Martin puts it, "by parents who could not conceive of a time when they would not be infants". I don't think you're overthinking here--you're just being considerate of your child and the person she's going to be.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:33 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I like Sema and I think you should stick with the original spelling. It isn't difficult to say, it will just require telling people how to say it. I think "rhymes with Emma" is a great, succinct explanation. I think the type of name that is receiving the greatest resistance above is like "Qzoxytclona*" or something where people look at it and their brain explodes because they can't begin to imagine a pronunciation. Most people will probably erroneously assume "Seema", but it's not hard to correct them to "Semma" and I don't think it's any more traumatic than having to say "No, it's Katy with a y, not an ie".

That said, here is how our family solved this problem. We also have an ethnic heritage to consider, so we named our kids Anglofirst JapaneseMiddle JapaneseLast. The key for us is, we use both names. At school, and out in the Anglo world they go by their first names. At home, and in the Japanese world, they go by their Japanese names. Neither child has shown a whit of confusion and they freely answer to both. Literally the only point of confusion is what to put on the birthday cake when my parents are visiting (they mostly use the kids' English names).

So, if your husband's main concern is that he wants to call your child Sema, and yours is that you want her to have a name that is more accessible to the anglo world, this is a solution that may be worth considering.

*I did my best to avoid all resemblance to any existing ethnicity, sorry if I failed
posted by telepanda at 6:35 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

How fucked up is that, that something core to her being is 'selfish' and a 'burden'?

What's "core" to anyone's being is their daily reality, not second-hand memories of a place they may never visit (or may only visit).

This is her culture.

Nope, her culture is where she lives now. If she's living in the US, she is going to be mostly eating burgers, not Home Country food, except when grandma visits. Culture is not something essential, it's not genetically transmitted - it's the ground of a person's lived, day-to-day, contemporary experience.

This is her heritage.

This is a point. My view is that a middle name is a good place to honour that.

In reality, within two generations, "heritage" will be an interesting footnote in a genealogical tree, if it occurs to some sentimental descendant to draw one up. It only matters in any kind of vital way to the immigrating generation and their immediate offspring. For the latter, usually in a complicated way.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:39 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also I'll check back in a few years with updates on the playground taunting. No issues yet, but she's still very young. My mom's response to my daughter's Japanese name was "It looks like Yucky. Aren't you worried that everybody's going to call her Yucky?"

THANKS MOM. by which I mean FUCK RIGHT OFF. She has a lovely, traditional name with personal meaning to us (it uses elements of grandma's and great-grandma's names) and we stand by it.

Since the kid is already used to answering to two names, it will be easy for her to choose down the road which she would like to tell people.
posted by telepanda at 6:43 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

A good whack of the proposed alternate spellings make little sense to me -- phonetically, they do not do what they need to do -- which I think should be another vote for keeping the original spelling. There are people suggesting "X or Y" where X and Y would be pronounced quite differently. The pronunciation will need to be corrected here and there no matter what. People are on the whole not very good with these sorts of things, and, again, "It's Catalan" (oh? Are your parents... Are you first-generation... Do you speak... Isn't that interesting!) is easier and, I promise you, much nicer to say than "My parents made it up" (= parents are flakes, conversation shuts down). The former is something most adults can respect -- the latter, not so much.
posted by kmennie at 6:49 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would pronounce it See-mah if I were to guess. I don't think you'd find many people (in the US) that would pronounce it with a short 'eh' sound. Also, literally the first thing I thought was "oh god, that is so close to semen". That's kind of two strikes right there against it.

If you want to convey an "ay" sound with the name, Sayma or Saima would work.

If you want to convey an "eh" sound with the name, Semma or Sehma.

It's a pretty name and I hope you find a good alternate spelling!
posted by amicamentis at 6:56 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wonder if some part of your hesitance about this name is that you didn't pick it. Your daughter is already getting your husband's last name, where is your heritage evident? Being okay with something isn't the same as loving it. What name would you pick if you got to reflect your own heritage? What names are in your family? I think figuring out if there's something else you particularly want would be helpful. After you've done that, talk with your spouse about potential first and middle names and see if there's a way you can be happier about the name you're picking.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:58 AM on September 9, 2016 [19 favorites]

Firstname Anglo, Middlename Heritage, is how we do it by my immigrant family.

But I also am nthing that it sounds like your baby - your first daughter - isn't really getting much of YOU in the name, and it sounds like you're feeling pressured by cultural concerns into making the name all the way your husband wants, as though your culture and heritage isn't important too. That seems like an important issue to resolve as well.
posted by corb at 7:21 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Semma is fairly close. Sema will always be pronounced as Seema.

About unique ethnic names: I have a unique ethnic name that my parents thought was very elegant. I have hated it my whole life. It's too late to change it, and the damage, including the constant feeling of "other"-dom and outsiderness (it isn't even a common name in its language-of-origin country), as well as resentment of my parents' bad decision making, has been done.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:24 AM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, in my little family, dad gives last name, and mom who carried babby around in her body for ten months is final arbiter of first name.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:31 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think will get you closest...
I read it as a shorter e-- like 'cement' 'cemetery'
posted by calgirl at 7:33 AM on September 9, 2016

Another vote for Semma, which looks less weird than some of the proposed alternatives (Sehma, etc.) and gives the proper pronunciation. I don't really get the "just give her the name no one can pronounce, they can learn to deal with it" philosophy—your kid's name should not be a learning experience for the human race at large at the expense of causing her unnecessary trouble. (Also, what fingersandtoes said.)
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Please, for the love of god, give it the simplest spelling and let people figure out how to pronounce it. Any name spelled in a complicated way is super irritating, both as the so-named person (constantly having to spell their name) and for others who need to spell it. Plus there are so many opportunities for misspellings on official documents and that's a pain to correct. And in the end, no matter how it's spelled, people are still going to ask how to pronounce it. Just keep it simple.
posted by vignettist at 7:43 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Spell it the way it's spelled in the culture it comes from. Choosing a name to represent a culture and then obscuring the connection with an Americanised spelling seems perverse.
posted by Segundus at 7:46 AM on September 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

As a person of color with an ethnicity I'm proud of I'm honestly hurt and disheartened by how aggressively some posters are pushing ASSIMILATION AT ALL COSTS!!! Kind of wonder if they're the people throwing any application from someone not named Jane Dickenson in the trash, honestly.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:52 AM on September 9, 2016 [18 favorites]

Why do people keep talking as if the name is Catalan? The poster said "The closest pronunciation to how this name is pronounced in his native language is here under Catalan." (Emphasis added to make clear the name is not Catalan.)
posted by languagehat at 7:53 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

For every kid getting teased on the playground over their name, there's an adult struggling to reconnect with a culture their parents distanced themselves from to "protect" them.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:53 AM on September 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

Semma is good for making the pronunciation obvious, but I think Sema is fine too (I'd pronounce them the same).
posted by ssg at 7:57 AM on September 9, 2016

I'll chime back in, in case my remark wasn't clear. Hating an unusual name is not a rejection of culture. I love my culture. I am borderline aggressively proud of my heritage. But I hate my awkward name, not because of its ethnicity - as I said, it's not even common in its country of origin - but because it is just awkward in its uniqueness. It has always, always been a hurdle. Changing it would be even more of a hurdle. I resent my parents for burdening me with it. Don't make their mistake.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:04 AM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

A minor point: I would think the spelling "Semma" would break down syllabically as Sem-ma, which is not quite the same thing as Se-ma. I think more unusual names are more commonly accepted now and I would just go with Sema.
posted by Quiscale at 8:15 AM on September 9, 2016

Sema is beautiful. I have an ethnic first name and an ethnic last name. I hated it growing up because of school teasing and name related jokes. Now? I wouldn't change my name if you paid me and I love it. It drives me crazy that my mom can't be bothered to pronounce it, I put a headshot on my resume to mitigate ethnic prejudice which definitely exists and sucks, and I have gotten into the habit of saying then spelling my name for people. I'd still much rather have my cultural name then Sarah or Jessica or Kaitlyn.
posted by Marinara at 8:20 AM on September 9, 2016

When I was a kid growing up in rural Arkansas, my best friend Sima didn't have any issues with people getting adjusted to her name. We all grew up with her, so it was natureal. Our parents followed. Strangers who'd make a fuss about a foreign name were met with blank stares from all of us. We had a Seema, pronounced the same, in our school, too.

Worry less about what could happen, especially if you're already thinking about calling her a nickname. I have a very formal first name that no one ever calls me, and instead I go with a shortened nickname that was what my parents called me. It feels just as much like my name as does the formal one.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:23 AM on September 9, 2016

Kind of wonder if they're the people throwing any application from someone not named Jane Dickenson in the trash, honestly.

Maybe they're the people whose resumes are getting binned??
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:28 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

My great-aunt was named Sema and her name was always pronounced correctly. I don't think it's that hard?
posted by anotheraccount at 8:31 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

My brother is the most wanting to fit in kind of person in the world & has a very unusual name sort of a mutated Russian name which if I put here you could google & find him as I've only ever found 1 other person with even a similar name. He hates standing out in anyway, will do stupid life threatening shit to fit in & be accepted kind of hating it. Despite all that he loves having a strange name despite the teasing he got at school, he liked it so much he gave his daughter an equally interesting & stand out name.

I'd also spell it Cimah, (Ci like Citizen), Or Simah instead of Se at the beginning.
posted by wwax at 8:54 AM on September 9, 2016

To me, the Catalan pronunciation sounds like it would be spelled Seyma.
posted by hydra77 at 9:28 AM on September 9, 2016

I'm with Juliet Banana on this one. Admittedly, when I read the question it did read a little "Americans are dumb, how do I pander to their stupidity?", and that might have set the tone of the thread, but a couple of these answers are really insensitive and borderline racist, imo, so you might have been reading that correctly.

I have a friend who gave her daughter a short unusual name and all it took for me was to ask, on reading it, how to pronounce it. And now it's not an issue. And it's a beautiful name.

I think Sema (which on reading I immediately pronounced in my head as Semma - go figure), is lovely, and you should reject your fears and go for it.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:29 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, I know this is kind of a difficult topic and folks have valid reasons for feeling strongly from at least a couple different perspectives, but let's please collectively recalibrate this toward Ask MetaFilter-ish answer-the-original-question and away from the kind of back-and-forth argument that might be okay on the blue but not so much on the green.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:48 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to change my answer slightly (above I said "just say Sema, but it sounds like Emma"), because every time I've scrolled past this question on my dash I pronounce Sema as Seema in my head, even though I already know that's not how you intend it to be pronounced. So now I think I'm on the side of spelling it Semma if you want people to get that pronunciation easily.
posted by MsMolly at 9:55 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think Sema is beautiful, but alternatively maybe Saema could work? Though I don't think an alternative spelling is necessary. My name is Anna, and people often pronounce my name as AHHna. I just kindly correct them.
posted by anoirmarie at 10:01 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a Latin alphabet language, spell it Sema.

To be honest, I don't love any of these spelling and I worry that this is a hard name for people to say.

It will be no matter what. But that's the choice you're making and re-spelling the name that is significant to him/his family seems like a worst of both worlds. You have a name you dislike and you've anglicized it.

For what it's worth I have no real knowledge of Catalan or any romance languages and pronounced it how it's intended upon reading it the first time.
posted by French Fry at 10:03 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you should stick with Sema.

My first name is Andrea. That's reasonably familiar to all English speakers, but there are pronunciation options so people still constantly ask me how to say it. Same thing happens to Megans, Saras, and (as Juliet Banana pointed out upthread) anyone whose name ends with -ena. It's not really a big deal.
posted by tangerine at 10:22 AM on September 9, 2016

It's a little hard to put the burden of breaking down structural racism on the back of a little girl not yet born.

I learned to pipe up with 'here!' when the teacher would pause in bafflement while calling roll because my name always, always flummoxed them. I've had markedly different results sending in my resume with initials as opposed to my full name. I have had terrible nicknames because people 'couldn't say' my name. I've spent a lifetime dealing with barely-veiled snickers when I introduce myself because my name is odd.

I wouldn't change my name, but it's unfair to pretend that those of us in this thread who actually have different names are being unreasonable in pointing out the downside.
posted by winna at 11:12 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I also have an unusual first name, which looks like it should be pronounced Donna, but it's not. I have to say it twice and spell it every time I meet someone new. As others have said, you get used to.

My advice to people giving their children an unusual name is to make sure there is a story that goes along with it, because nice people will comment on how it is a lovely and unusual name, and they will ask about it. For your daughter, being able to tell people that the name honors her father's native culture is a nice story, so you're all set.

For anyone else reading this, please don't give your child an unusual name because you think it sounds cool. That is a lame story have to tell constantly for the rest of your life.
posted by donajo at 11:13 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I vote for Sema. The proper pronunciation isn't non-intuitive for English-speakers, and there are many names in English with ambiguous pronunciations anyway (e.g. Caroline). It doesn't look silly* or obscene in English. And let's say, when she grows up, she moves to her dad's home country - now she's got a misspelled name.

*Unusual names do matter. My name IRL is a common English word, but it's cutesy - think something like "Rainbow". I'm really lucky I don't work in a conservative field like law.

In reality, within two generations, "heritage" will be an interesting footnote in a genealogical tree

Maybe in the old days. But now we have the Internet and cheap air travel. I follow news and media in HK and frequently chat with my relatives who live there. Some of them spend half the year in Canada, half the year in HK. Diaspora works differently now.
posted by airmail at 11:36 AM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have an easy-to-pronounce/easy-to-misspell first name, a tease-magnet last name and an identity combo that prompts its share of "where are you from?" queries from people who don't even know what I look like. I do not believe that my parents were "selfish" in inflicting that on me, nor do I believe that they had placed the burden of dealing with structural racism on my back.

That burden is placed on my back by actual racists.

I vote for Sema as well, and I would also leave it up to her to choose a more assimilationist nickname as she gets older and let _her_ choose if she wants to fight that battle or not. To a degree, if you give her an Anglo name then you're also taking away that choice and already implicitly telling her not to take pride in her heritage.

For what it's worth, I did opt for a more assimilationist nickname when my family emigrated to the West, but I also opted to keep it spelled a little differently, so it pronounces normal but spells differently than Anglo default. I was teased mercilessly on my first year in America by some bullies, for my name amongst other things, but I also knew then and believe now that those jerks would've teased me even if my name was John or Bob or something else.

I think at the end, the question is what values do you want to instill in your child? Do you want them to blend in and believe that part of the melting pot is assimilating into a homogenous culture, because perhaps the heritage of your earlier generations brought you shame? (that's totally normal and that's totally a personal decision to choose to reject that part of heritage!) Or do you want that heritage to be an actual part of their identity and let it be a tangible part of them from the beginning of their life?
posted by bl1nk at 12:02 PM on September 9, 2016 [12 favorites]

I think the discussions on spelling and justification are irrelevant. If you're not completely happy with the name you shouldn't be going with it.

When my wife and I chose names we were both able to veto any suggestion for any or no reason at all. Out of a whole bunch of names we came up with a combination that passed all of our tests and we both thought "definitely yes" to.

I don't think you need to argue the reasons for your reservations at all. Just say that you don't like it and keep looking for different ones.
posted by tillsbury at 12:26 PM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've listened to the Catalan pronunciation several times now, and reading through the thread there hasn't been a single spelling that would make me say that pronunciation on my first try. I think you should just stick with Sema; it would be really sad to change the spelling to have the same problem regardless.
posted by gatorae at 12:37 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

This has been a pretty fighty thread about cultural heritage and there are people with OPINIONS on both sides.

But the thing is - I think you have to choose the name based on what YOU want for your family, because without a time travel machine you can't go 30 years into the future and ask your daughter whether she's Team Ethnic Heritage or Team Screw Kimchi I Want a Grilled Cheese.* There is SUCH a breadth of human experience, much of it on display in this thread, that there just isn't any way to know.

It reminds me very much of the threads asking "Should I have another baby so my child can have a sibling?" You get equally fighty comments ranging from "i hate my brother and wish he had never been born" to "only children lead a solitary and warped existence" to "i could never feel whole without my sister" to "eh, i could take her or leave her". You can't predict the future, so you have to make the second-child decision based on what feels right for your family as it is today.

Ultimately it boils down to - do you (plural) want to raise a Sema? A Sam? A child for whom Sema is your special name at home, and has another name for the outside world - perhaps one that you (singular) love? I think the best you can do is choose a name that is meaningful to YOU, perhaps with a side consideration of leaving some options open depending on how your child's personality turns out. (As a more trivial example, I am called a solidly androgynous nickname and have been since birth, but my full name gives options for clearly feminine names I could use if I wanted to change that.)

*actually the best choice is (c) a grilled cheese with kimchi on it but i'm not gonna try and make that into some weird cultural metaphor. i'm just gonna wish there was one sitting on my desk right now.
posted by telepanda at 1:47 PM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

I am a teacher, so I get to see lots of creative naming/spelling. Kids with unusual names are usually primed to remind me how to say it or immediately offer a different name when asked.

Sema is nowhere near the weirdest name for any of my students. If it's that important to your spouse, go for it, or alternately, the "Semma rhymes with Emma" is a good idea too.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:27 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm with Metroid Baby and telepanda on this:

(a) people are going to misspell and mispronounce anything that isn't a super standardized Anglo name so you might as well spell it the usual way because I'm truly not sure if changing the spelling would help at all here. It doesn't look that super hard to spell/pronounce once someone gets used to it, but that doesn't strike me as being an intuitive name to figure out however you spelled it.
Unfortunately, I think you're gonna get semen jokes once she hits puberty regardless of the spelling. But kids are creative in bad nicknames for well, lots of things.

(b) if you're this concerned about it causing her difficulties getting job interviews and the like in 20 years (and I think kmennie has a point about how if people are nervous about trying to say your name, they may not want to engage with you), or being the only Sema Whateverthelastname is on the Internet, I'd go with a standard American first name and Sema as a middle. We really don't know if the kid is going to like the name or how it will affect her yet, but using Sema as a middle sounds like it would minimize the issues you're talking about and she can go by whichever name or pick something later. Or at the very least if she's not the kind of kid who wants to explain her name to every new teacher and substitute, she wouldn't have to.

However, I get the impression that your husband is set on Sema as a first name even though you sound unthrilled about it, so....
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:32 PM on September 9, 2016

Ever since the Great Vowel Shift vowels have been spelled and pronounced in English in a way out of step with most of the rest of the Latin-alphabet-using European languages, and we lost most of the lovely pure vowels that Italian, German, Spanish, etc. still have. Continental Europeans and Latinos will have no problem recognizing and pronouncing the first vowel in 'Sema' as an /e/. This makes it a cosmopolitan name, which is good! Don't cater to the provincial quirks of English orthography by trying to find a spelling for a sound that's going to be unnatural for most Americans anyway. The result will be misleading.

I do, though, like the idea mentioned above of optionally using an acute accent over the 'e': Séma. This would give Americans a heads-up that the name is pronounced in a way out of the ordinary for them.
posted by bertran at 8:38 PM on September 9, 2016

Also, variations in pronunciation of a name are not a bad thing, either. My given name is the ultra-ordinary 'David', and I kind of like that it can be pronounced in various different ways by people from different speech communities.
posted by bertran at 8:55 PM on September 9, 2016

Looking again through the above responses, 'Saema', suggested by anoirmarie has a nice look, if you do go for a re-spelling. It is apparently used for the target /e/ sound sometimes in Irish orthography, and for the similar /ɛ/ sound in later Latin. (I hear the /e/ in the Catalan sample, but many responding here are hearing /ɛ/, as in 'Emma', perhaps, again, because the American English vowel system lacks /e/.) People wouldn't automatically know how to pronounce it; but they would know it isn't the /i/ sound of 'see' or 'sea'.
posted by bertran at 9:22 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going to agree with going with the name, but doing a bit of a spelling shift of the name, and along with others above I like Saema. I also agree with using a middle name that is significant to you and perhaps less unusual to give her alternatives down the line.

I really don't think you need to be wedded to some one true "traditional" spelling of a name. My mother and her family immigrated to the US when she was 6. Her original first name was Inge, which is a perfectly nice name, and pronounced (approximately) as Inga. In Germany, everyone knows the name and knows the final e is pronounced, but when they hit the US, people started calling her Ing or Inj, and not pronouncing the final e. She got tired of that, changed the spelling to Inga, and never looked back.
posted by gudrun at 11:42 AM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

This may depend on where you live? I grew up in California, learned Spanish in school (like most of my peers) and default to Spanish when pronouncing non-English words. I assumed "Sema" would be pronounced something like "seh-mah" or "say-mah." Maybe that's a useful data/anecdata point...
posted by sibilatorix at 3:13 PM on September 10, 2016

It's completely hit or miss whether people will mock her for her name or not. You have no idea, and I really hate this adult obsession with "minimizing bullying" by going full Ellis Island on everyone.

There was a lot of cruel bullying in my elementary school, and I can't remember a single instance of anyone mocking someone's name. The closest I can remember is someone calling me and my best friend Adam "Adam and Eve," which was gross to us, but otherwise... she may or may not have bullying experiences, she almost definitely will have people struggling with pronunciation/spelling unless you name her "Emily" or "Bob" or another Anglo name with exactly one spelling, and she'll probably grow up to think "now that I'm not a teen, I'm glad I have a beautiful and sophisticated name that makes me feel close to my heritage."

If she hates it, she can change the spelling or take a nickname, like many before her.

I mean, my friend Anna gets called/spelled Anne, Ann, Hannah, etc. People do not care about details. "Sema" is the simplest way, and if people call her "See-ma," welcome to life as someone with a vowel in their name. It's not going to destroy her.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:02 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Very late to the party here, but Sema doesn't seem particularly weird, foreign, or impossible to pronounce in comparison to other once-unusual names that people had to learn to pronounce, like Ian or Chloe. A lot of people have unusual or non-intuitive names.

Just today I came across the name Adalyn for the first time, which has three equally likely pronunciations. No idea what I would do if I came across it on a list that I had to read aloud. And I bet there aren't parents out there losing sleep over whether little Adalyn will feel different or less than if someone can't pronounce her name. She'll just go around saying "It's like Ada, and then Lynn. Adalyn."
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 PM on September 13, 2016

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