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Our extended family has a new member! A perfect little Christmas gift for my cousin and his wonderful wife!

Grumpy BabyBut what a turmoil the little fellow caused, even before he was named!

In Bulgaria, grandparents-grandchildren name continuity is a very powerful tradition. For us, naming our children after our parents is a sign of respect and gratitude.   I was named after my father’s grandmother. My brother, after my grandfather. My cousin, after our grandmother, and so on, going generations back.

We don’t know why, but my cousin’s wife decided to break the tradition and give her son a unique name. It’s not that big of a deal and no one would have normally noticed anything (because many people follow the tradition, but many also don’t), but it somehow created some tension… or should I say, bitterness. The issue is that the grandfather-to-be really wanted the child to be named after him. He actually said out loud that he would love to give his name to the only son of his only son.

Without questioning the mother’s choice not to honor her father-in-law, I was just wondering, what or who do parents in other countries choose to honor when naming their child?

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Did you know that the second names in Bulgaria are derivatives of the father’s first name? The father’s name gets the suffix –ov for boys and –ova for girls.  For example, if Katerina’s father is called Ivan Petrov, her full name would be Katerina Ivanova Petrova (wink wink to all Vampire Diaries’  and Nina Dobrev’s fans!). In contrast, American parents come up with both their child’s first and second name. Some of my American friends’ first name is “regular”, while their second name represents their ethnicity or cultural heritage: like Shalini or Ryan.

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You celebrate Birthdays? But do you celebrate Name Days? Bulgarians do.

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Why do Bulgarians spit on a baby for good luck?

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I recently had a conversation about the way Americans and Bulgarians perceive family names and what impact they have on our life choices.

My American interlocutor said that he was once offended when someone tried to learn more about him by asking “What does your father do?” Instead, he though, they should’ve asked “What do you do?”  Why should my father be a benchmark for me, he said.

I disagree. To me, my father and my family are a source of pride. I am honored when I am connected or compared to my father because to me this means that I have lived up to a great expectation.

But I don’t know if I’m thinking in such a way because I’m Bulgarian or because I’m me.  

Maybe it’s because I’m Bulgarian: In the States, you middle name is randomly chosen, just as your first name.  But in Bulgaria, my middle name is the first name of my father. We always carry our name first, then the name of our fathers, then the name of our family kin.

I can’t escape thinking that this concrete bondage creates a feeling of duty.  My interlocutor agreed and said that Americans whose name ends in “Junior” usually belong to a rich and old elite where succession of businesses or careers is also typical (such families are the Bushes, the Kennedys)

But then, maybe it’s because I’m me:  Speaking of family names, maybe my particular family name matters even more than the Bulgarian naming tradition. I know that my last name is unique;  really, it’s very uncommon and you couldn’t even pronounce it. We are an old and large family, and I know that anybody who carries this last name is my relative.

Because our name makes our kin so distinctive, I feel that whatever I do, I have a last name to live up to. Otherwise, my failures will be traced back to my family and might hurt its reputation.

 I wonder, if I had a more common name, if I were called Brown or Smith or Ivanova or Petrova, would I still have such strong emotions for my name? You tell me.

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