Exotic Lite: Boys’ Edition

We recently looked at girls’ names popular around the world yet exotic-sounding in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, and today we turn to the boys’ version of this kind of name.

If you’re looking for a name for your son that has an international flavor yet is not too obscure or difficult to understand and pronounce, you might want to consider these choices.

ALESSANDRO – A top name in Italy, makes Alexander both softer and sexier to the American ear.

ALEXEI – Russian spin on Alex or Alexander popular there, pronounced Alex-ay or (less popular) Alex-ee. Down side: Its similarity to the very popular girls’ name Alexa.

ALFIE – While Alfie is far from unknown in the U.S., it’s vastly more popular in England, where it’s in the Top 10. In the U.S., not even in the Top 1000 – though the name’s cuteness and friendliness is likely to change that before long.

AMIT – A simple yet exotic name popular in both India and Israel. Virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, yet since we’re hearing more from the girls’ version Amity, why not this friendly name too?

ANDERS – To the American ear, one of the classic Scandinavian names, still very popular in Sweden.

AXEL – Tough-guy name that’s the tops in Finland.

DAAN – The Scandinavian short form of Daniel is the number one boys’ name in The Netherlands and is also in the top 10 in Belgium.

DMITRY – Pronounced dih-MEE-tree and also spelled Dmitri, the double-consonant beginning makes it feel both more foreign and more intriguing.

EMIL – A 1960s German film based on a 1920s German novel, Emil and the Detectives, introduced this name to the U.S. It’s very popular now in Finland and its similarity to the mega-popular Emma and Emily may give it fresh life in America.

ENZO – A cross-cultural surprise, this Italian version of Henry and short form for several names ending in –enzo is the top name in France. Actress Patricia Arquette chose it for her son.

FABIAN – Ancient saints’ name that means “bean grower” last got widespread exposure in America via the doo-wop singer. Today, stylish in Austria. While Americans pronounce the first syllable fayb, in Europe it’s fahb.

FLORIAN – Popular boys’ name in Germany and Austria still considered a bit too flowery for their sons by many American parents. But with more boys’ names inspired by female trends (Emmett from Emma, for instance), Florian just may stand a chance.

FRANCESCO – The number one name in Italy, more familiar in the U.S. in girls’ version Francesca.

HANS – Classic Scandinavian name popular in Denmark.

IVAN – This form of John is popular in Belarus while Ivano is stylish in Croatia. If you have Eastern European roots, this might be an inventive way to honor an ancestral John.

JAVIER – Thanks to actor Bardem, this Spanish favorite and variation on Xavier is familiar to English speakers as hahv-ee-ayr.

KILLIAN – Another cross-cultural surprise, this Irish name meaning “church” is trendy in France and is just beginning to be heard more in the U.S. too.

LACHLAN – Pronounced lock-lan, this Scottish name is a favorite in Australia and has a surname feel trendy in the U.S.

LARS – Americans see this Scandinavian name as having an Old World feel, for better or worse, but it’s popular in present day Netherlands, Sweden, and Flemish Belgium.

LAZAR – This version of Eleazar, meaning God helps, is popular in Serbia. While other forms of the name – Lazaro, Lazarus, Laszlo – are cutting-edge stylish in the U.S., this streamlined version is virtually unknown. Pronounce it la-ZAHR, not laser.

LEON – A top name in Germany that’s fallen far from favor in America, but with the resurgence of all names lion-related, this one has a chance.

LINUS – This musical mythological name is popular in Finland, but yes, there are all those blanket jokes (we restrained ourselves, but barely).

LUCA and LUKA – Very popular boys’ name throughout Europe that’s just starting to be heard in the U.S. as a substitute for Luke and Lucas. Yes, it does feel a tad feminine and is sometimes used for girls.

MATHIS – If you love Matthew but just can’t let yourself pick a name that’s been in the U.S. Top Ten for decades, consider this version, popular in Belgium and France. Pronunciation: Mat-TEES, like we say the name of the painter Matisse.

MILAN – Italian city name – and first name of author Kundera – popular in Belgium. Streamlined and urbane.

PERSweden loves this Scandinavian variation of Peter, supremely simple yet extremely exotic, a wonderful combination.

RASMUS – Variation on the ancient name Erasmus – he was a Dutch philosopher – popular in Estonia, Finland. Takes hipster Rufus and Remus one further.

REN – Unisex name popular in Japan, meaning water lily. Eminently usable in the west, except for the Stimpy association.

SANTIAGO – Spanish name that means “Saint James” and is popular in Argentina as well as among Hispanic parents in the U.S., it’s also a place name and a vibrant surname.

SEM – Dutch favorite that’s a variation on the Biblical Shem, who was a son of Noah. Up side: It can be an alternative to Sam. Down side: It will forever be mistaken for it.

SOREN – Popular in Denmark and starting to be heard here, it’s a variation on the Latin Severus, a Harry Potter choice.

THIJS – Its pronunciation is simpler than the spelling suggests: it rhymes with nice. Popular in the Netherlands, it was chosen by the Today Show’s Matt Lauer for his son.

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15 Responses to “Exotic Lite: Boys’ Edition”

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smismar Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 12:08 am

Linus is very near the top of my boys’ list. I know, I know… but it comes up what, twice a year? Halloween and Christmas. There is a great namesake in Linus Pauling and I think it sounds distinguished.

Charlotte Vera Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 2:36 am

Quite an interesting list — I think I enjoyed it more than the girls’ edition. It amused me to see Lars up there. My dad and his four siblings (born in the late 50s / early 60s) were all given extremely typical German-Canadian names (Peter, Ralph, Betty, etc.). Their middle names followed the same trend — that is, except for my dad, who for some reason was given the middle name Lars. It always throws people for a loop when they find out what the L
in his name stands for.

I have a French Canadian friend who just named his twin boys Mathys and Florian.

Amy Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 6:13 am

love the name Anders. also Ren and Per are quite intruiging but i worry they are just a little too short. they sound too much like nicknames. also would just like to mention, the name Lachlan is not pronounced lock-lan in Scotland. I know 2 Lachlans and both are pronounced lack-lan. it is also a popular Scottish surname, McLachlan (for the lock-lan pronunciation it would be McLauchlan). I have never heard the lock-lan version before!

Stacy Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 6:51 am

I know babies named both Luca and Mathis, interestingly enough.

Great list, I have always liked Emil. I’m also a fan of Alessandro, Leon and Soren. Killian is lovely as well, but I would suspect it would be more coopted by girls. I can’t get past the blanket for Linus, although I’ve heard of quite a few people considering it on some boards I frequent (and there is a set of triplets I know of where one of them is named this.)

Abby Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 9:02 am

Ah, Alexei. The name that didn’t stick on Aly. It’s still one of my favorites. (And it remains on the back of his hockey jersey.)

I recently met a handsome (not even a drop Scandinavian) Hans. And we have a lovely, 3 month old half-Peruvian, half-German neighbor named Santiago. It’s fun just to say his name!

Tracey R Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 10:26 am

My best friend named her son Ren. I think she was taking Japanese at the time. It fits just fine in the Midwest small town near a big city. I really like it. At the time I was afraid of the Ren and Stimpy connotation, but that really hasn’t come into play that I know of. To me, it sounds both unique and strong.

Kristine Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 11:22 am

I’m related to a lot of Hans, Anders, and Sorens up the family tree…and my last name is Rasmussen (Rasmus). I really like Scandinavian names. =)

susan Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 1:32 pm

I’m waiting for the blog on Exotic Heavy!

Boston Girl Says:

October 8th, 2009 at 6:54 pm

I’m like Kristine, big on Scandinavian names. They’re not so far removed from English names, and they sound good, just unique enough to be unusual but not so much that they sound weird. Strange that they’re not more in use in this country, but I suppose everyone is more into names that come from Latin-derived languages (Spanish, French, Italian). I’m always hunting for new Scandinavian names, since I have fictional Scandinavian settings in my stories and the cast of supporting characters and walk-ons is always getting bigger… 🙂

peach Says:

October 9th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

I am a fan of Scandinavian names too: I have a number of Anders in my family tree and am trying to get hubby to warm up to it as a middle name for a potential son. It’s actually working! This boys list is pretty interesting all around. Other names I like — Enzo, Mathis, Luca, Milan, Lazar, Dmitri, Alfie. I don’t like Killian because of the first four letters spelling “kill.” It reminds me a little of on of my guilty pleasures — the Russian/Greek name Kiril (kee REEL with a rolled “r”), if only pronunciation wasn’t so tricky for American tongues.

http://legitbabenames.wordpress.com/ Says:

October 13th, 2009 at 1:23 pm

A lot of these are fantastic. I know Sebastian is already popular, but I think fits very well in this list.

Leah Says:

March 21st, 2010 at 4:17 pm

We have the name Andreas picked out for our first son. It honors his Austrian grandfather. The name is quite popular in Austria and also Finland. Anders is nice, but Andreas has more of a punch in my opinion. Soren is nice too but I’m not sure if I’d want to go with the German or American pronounciation.

vim876 Says:

April 13th, 2010 at 3:01 am

I associate Linus with Linus Torvalds of Linux fame, not with Charlie Brown. Maybe it’s an age thing?

Ariana Says:

May 25th, 2010 at 6:22 am

Im a huge Audey Hepburn fan, so to me, when i think of Linus, I think of the character in the movie Sabrina.

Laulau Says:

July 29th, 2013 at 5:45 am

Florian is great name, the ultimate choice for the “prince charming”. I guess this idea in my mind comes from some Disney tale?

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