Names in Euskera


Aitor, Maitane, Anartz and Haizea, celebrating my 100th post.

Today is my 100th post! I’ve been updating for a year an a half, have about four consistent readers (2 parents, 1 sister, 1 random—God love ’em), and can honestly say that writing has become my biggest passion here in Bilbao. In 2014 my goal is to grow A Thing for Wor(l)ds (I have some fun series in mind!), venture into the intimidating world of freelance writing, and continue to pull inspiration from this unique and beautiful pocket of Spain er, The Autonomous Region of Basque Country.

So while I’m busy hitting milestones in the blogging world, I’m also knocking them out of the park at school. Four months after starting my job, I can finally say with only mild hesitation that I can name all 300 of my students at Zorroza High School. Four months, you cry??? Before you knock me for memorizing at a snail’s pace, allow me to provide some insight into names in Euskera (Basque).

In Basque Country they do things differently. They eat pintxos instead of tapas; they receive gifts from Olentzero instead of Santa Claus; and they call their sons Txema instead of Jose. Names in Euskera aren’t your basic Pablos or Marias, the ones you grew up roleplaying in your high school Spanish book—those are child’s play. Instead, I have spent the last four months in Bilbao desperately reviewing my student rosters and sweating bullets when I recount names at the start of each class. I’ve created mnemonic devices to remember the pronunciation of “Ingartzi,” and where the accent falls in “Aingeru”; I’ve been laughed at for saying “AitanE” instead of “AitanA,” and “Mikel” instead of “Mikel”; I’ve blindly called on an Iker and just hoped there was one sitting nearby. And what sin did I commit in a past life to get a Naia, Naiara, Ainara, Anere, and Enara all in the same class?

Here’s a little game to illustrate what I’m talking about, and to culture you all in Basque ways. Guess which names in Euskera are masculine and which ones are feminine. (Answers below.) If you dare, you can also try reading them all in one breath.

Aitziber, Iñaki, Igarki, Iñigo, Alazne, Zuriñe, Imanol, Aixa, Garbiñe, Gaizka, Ziortza, Gotzon, Irati, Oihane, Josebe, Ingartzi, Uxue, Orkatz, Ekaitz, Unai.

Wasn’t that fun? Can you see why it’s taken me so long?

There’s one Jenny in my school, and I owe her big time. She’s probably developed acute stress disorder from being called on so much in English class. If all the other kids’ names were as easy to remember, I’d spread the love a bit. In the meantime, thanks to such specialized attention, Jenny is fast becoming a pro at third-person present conjugation.

So there you have it, names in Euskera in a nutshell. You thought the toughest part of my job was getting my students to be quiet. But really, it’s remembering what name to yell before I demand that he shut up.

Answers (m-masculine, f-feminine): f, m, m, m, f, f, m, f, f, m, f, m, f, f, f, m, f, m, m, m.

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  • I love how very non-Spanish Basque names are, and they are actually starting to spread outside of the Basque Country! In my elementary school here in rural, coastal Galicia, I have a 3-year-old boy named Iker and then girls named, variously, Ainoa, Ainara, and Aitana…it gets confusing sometimes! But they’re really pretty names.

    • Really!! The names have spread to Galicia? Do those kids have Basque roots, maybe, or are they entirely unaffiliated with Basque Country? I know a girl in Granada named Idoia, but either her parents or grandparents are Basque.

      • I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing everyone here is 100% native Galician, especially in a tiny, rural farming community in far-western Galicia ;)

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  • Congrats for this post!! As a basque expat currently living in Indonesia I definetely enjoyed it. You made me laugh. I completely understand the complexity about it. Even spanish people (the not basque ones) are unable to pronounce them properly. Btw, my name is Mikel! Greetings from Jakarta

    • Thanks, Mikel! The hardest part about your name is that the accent falls differently than it does in the Spanish Miguel :) Where in Basque Country are you from, and what are you doing in Indonesia? Thanks for checking out the blog!

  • Bahaha I feel your pain! Iker is always a good go-to. Ibai or Ibia (sp? lol) is one of my other favorites. There is a poor girl named Sara (pronounced like American Sarah) in one of my classes and I always call on her hahah.

    • Sometimes I feel like the English-spelling ones are almost the hardest: I always want to say Jessica but it’s pronounced Yessica, Jon is Yon, Ethan is Etán, Jonathan is some weird combination I haven’t got down yet….Sheila is Seyla. Ugh.

  • Jess

    Kudos to you for learning all your student’s names. I’m struggling big time hahaha I’m pretty sure I say Lide and Leire exactly the same as well as Irati and Arrate. Also realised today you say chomi for txomi which I had been pronouncing Tomi.

    • Hahah ya that Tx always gets me. My director is named Tontxu, and some colleagues are named Txemi and Txetxu….I”m just constantly confused :(

  • I loved this post! Regardless of masculine or feminine, I didn’t even register half of those names as people names haha.

    • Thanks girl!! Ya, to the English eye they don’t even look like words, let alone people…..

  • Lucy

    Love it! I was in the Basque Country for a year, in the east of Gipuzkoa, and my “Jenny” was a guy named Pablo ;) I have a very special place in my heart for Basque names now, though.

    • Hahah I always call on her because we share the same name, but I also love all my Jons, Pablos, Lauras, and Ethans. But once I got used to the Basque names, I find it so normal that everyone and their mother is named Iker or Aixa!