Spanish singing sensation Shakira and soccer hunk Gerard Pique just announced the birth of their baby boy, Milan.
Milan is a place name that celebrates the busy northern Italian city Milan and, in Italy, suggests “a northerner” in the same way that the name “Vermont” would suggest “a New Englander.” Place names (such as Austin, Brooklyn, Frisco, and Dallas) are becoming increasingly popular in North America, but it makes sense to look at this name from a European perspective, because Shakira and Pique live in Barcelona.
The couple was thoughtful enough to explain what the name Milan (pronounced MEE-Lahn) means in several different languages: “dear, loving, and gracious” in Slavic; “eager and laborious” in Latin; and “unification” in Sanskrit. Frankly, I’m impressed by all the research they did on the origins and meanings of the name they selected, though I’m surprised they didn’t pick up on the obvious connection with the city of Milan. That’s like naming a child Cleveland, giving the origin (English) and meaning (“land of cliffs”), and not mentioning that it’s the largest city in Ohio, located on the banks of Lake Erie.
Do I like the name? Yeah, it’s kind of cool. Milan’s a happening place, with a pretty good soccer team, and the name has other positive meanings and associations.
In North America, the name would lose a little luster, though, because it would be pronounced mi-LAHN and mispronounced my-LAN. The European pronunciation would sound, to us, like a Japanese name from Gilbert and Sullivan’s delightful operetta The Mikado.
Let’s imagine what life would be like if Milan grew up in North America. One day, he heads to the motor vehicle bureau to get his driver’s license. They call his number: “A-58—my-LAN? Or is it mi-LAHN?” The motor vehicle clerk is probably not connecting the name with the city or the soccer team in Italy—which is what’s most cool about the name.
It’s probably a pretty cool name in Europe, but here I’d have to mark it down for spelling and pronunciation and the city of Milan’s fairly low profile in North America. Austin or Frisco, it’s not.
Verdict: One thumb up.
© 2013 Bruce Lansky
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