Thursday, November 17

let's talk about: Salvador

Salvador is a relative newcomer to my list, but it's fast becoming one of my top middle name contenders. It bridges the naming gap between light and strong, carrying with it deep historical and political roots, and balancing a heavy religious meaning with a soft, unusual sound.

Salvador is from the Late Latin name Salvator, which means "saviour." Since the 1920s, it has been a steady presence in the US top 1,000, hovering around the 300-400 mark. It's currently on a bit of a downturn, resting at #459. Its relatively constant level of popularity combined with its familiarity as a word (and a country) means that while a little Salvador won't be one of multiples in his class, his name most likely won't get strange looks, either. 

I like its two most famous associations — surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, and the first democratically elected Marxist president in Latin America, Salvador Allende of Chile (his three daughters have a lovely sibling set — Beatriz, Carmen Paz, and Isabel). Guitarist Carlos Santana has a son named Salvador, and so do Canadian musicians Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk (they have three sons, Rowan, Lucca and Salvador).

Italian form Salvatore is appealing though it lacks the "-or" ending that I'm drawn to. In Spanish, a nickname for Salvador is Chava, but I like good old-fashioned throwback Sal.

A few people have brought up the idea that it might be a little odd to use a name from a culture you're not a part of. I think, for most, this is a personal decision. As a name lover, I would never dream of limiting myself that way. My favorite names come from all over the world, and I love the idea of using Salvador with my husband's surname, which is Japanese. That's when things start to get really interesting in the name universe.

What do you think — are you drawn to names from a certain country or ethnic group, and would you consider using one for your own child? Or do you think it's somehow wrong or insensitive? 


  1. Interesting! I just watched a movie for class set in El Salvador and the main kid's name was Chava.

  2. Rebecca -- in Ottilie's Mouk book there's a character named Chavapa. I wonder if it's related.

  3. Salvador is common name in Portugal, especially among higher classes, just like Sebastião.
    The -or ending is very trendy here - Leonor was n.º 2 for girls last year!

    In my country, we are not allowed to use names that don't fit into portuguese onomastics; when a name is too uncommon, most people think "oh, they must be immigrants"...

  4. Some of my favourite names are of Scandinavian origin, such as Jensen, Britta and Astrid, but I don't have a thimble of Scandinavian blood in me. Personally, I don't see the trouble with using names from other cultures.

  5. Salvador, nn Sal, is a super name!

    I think it would be a bit odd to only use names from your own culture - I'm pretty sure people who call their daughters Amelie aren't all French, and not everyone called Caleb is Jewish.

    I would not like to be restricted to only German, Scottish and Cornish names, myself.

    We're all part of the same great family, and we're all brothers and sisters of one another - so why not share names as all else?

  6. Salvador is a fabulous name. I also love Sandor. I think I would be tempted by Sol as a nickname.

    I'm pretty sure a lot of Dylans born outside of Wales (or Britain) weren't named because of Welsh ancestry.

    I haven't got a lick of Cornish in me (the nearest I get to it is Devon) but I absolutely adore Cornish names. Elowen is one of my front-runners.

  7. Massive Comment Warning (it'll be in two parts) haaaaa!

    Salvador is absolutely one of my favorite names! It's a perfect name, really.

    As for using names from cultures to which you have no link: I think it's a fine tribute to a culture, place, or friend you might love. And the thing is, if we only use 'American' names (ones that aren't Native American), for example, what would those even be? If we must only use names from cultures to which we have some ancestral ties, what of those who don't know theirs, or those whose histories were robbed from them when they were brought here? And of those who do know their lineage, do they still actually have any tangible ties to their great great great great great grandfather from Sweden, anymore so than they have ties to some much more distant Persian relative?

    I think we have to ask what it means to have a "tie" to a culture. Is some very distant blood tie more relevant than a life-shaping trip you've actually taken in your *own* lifetime? If you spent five years living in Japan, is that not more relevant than some bygone ancestral tie to an ancestor from Germany?

    So, I think what people mean when they suggest we shouldn't use names from *other* cultures, is that we (where the 'we' is even often pretty well defined) shouldn't use names from only *certain* other cultures. It's the process we use to differentiate which ones are tappable and which aren't that worries me. Can we only borrow from people who look like us? Look like us how? It is race? Is it religion? A sense of history? Why is it perfectly fine to use a German name but not an Arabic name? I think this is something we could stand to think about.

    Of course, one could argue that certain cultures shouldn't take names from certain other cultures due to the history between the two, particularly if the borrowers are taking from a group of people that have been abused and exploited by the borrower's culture. Or that some cultures due to their intense histories, dying languages, losses of lands, and very present senses of solidarity would like to reserve their names for themselves, only. I can certainly appreciate those arguments and they really resonate with me. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and history is relevant, so sensitivity is needed in some cases. I think it's a fairly simple matter of evaluating case by case (as so many things are), of really thinking through the choices we're making and why, and considering all the reasons to borrow or not borrow.

    I'd love to hear from someone who might not want their own culture tapped into by others. I think that's an important perspective to hear out.

  8. The rest is just a matter of conventionality, I think. The same people who claim it's pretentious to use a French name if you aren't French are fine with those French names with a longer history of appropriation.

    I understand wanting to honor a special cultural tie if it's still a part of your own experience (whether your own day to day, or via a relative that you knew well and loved), rather than choosing some random other. And I certainly get the appeal of digging into one's own family tree-- I don't think we can quite so easily write off the sense of personal history that gives us, even as we move farther and farther out from it-- but for a lot of us we just don't have many tangible *cultural* ties anymore, aside from our very present ones (which can come from all sorts of modern communities), so what sense does it make to pretend we do? It seems *at least* equally disingenuous for me to claim that I have some real tie to Sweden through my great great great great grandmother as it does for me to pick a Finnish name just because I like it's meaning and sound. So I think it's fine to honor your distant (or not so distant) past if it strikes your fancy, but it's okay to borrow from others, too, as long as we're thoughtful and try to be sensibly and historical sensitive in particular cases. case by case...always works like charm. Massive comment, I know. ; )


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