Exotic Lite: Girls’ Edition

exotic baby names

There are some names that are not quite English, or American, but not quite not English either.  These include international variations of classic English names – such as Katarina for Katherine – and names that are widely heard around the world but remain unusual in English-speaking countries.

The list below – we’re just doing the girls today – is taken from the most popular names rosters throughout Europe and South America and, in a few cases, further afield.  If you want an exotic name for your daughter that sill feels familiar, this list is a good place to start.

ADI – Israeli favorite meaning jewel, pronounced ah-DEE and used for boys as well as girls.

ALBA—Pronounced AHL-bah, this means dawn and is popular in Spain.

ANNIAnne diminutive used as a full name in Finland.

ANNIKA – Golfer Sorenson has made this one more familiar in the U.S., but it’s most popular in Denmark.

AURORA—This lovely name meaning dawn is growing in popularity in the U.S., but is most widely used in (odd pair) Finland and Italy.

BEATRIZ – Form of nameberry favorite popular in Portugal and Brazil.

CHIARAClaire equivalent – it’s pronounced kee-ahr-ah – popular in Italy and Switzerland.

FREJA – While Freya is popular in the U.K., this form of the name usually pronounced fray-ah is number two in Denmark.

GIULIA – That’s Julia, spelled the Italian way becoming trendier in America.

INES – Pronounced ee-nez, this form of Agnes is popular throughout Europe but right now, especially in Belgium.

KATHARINA or KATARINA – So many forms of Katherine, Kaitlyn, and Kate have been heard in the U.S. in recent years that it’s definitely time for an update, perhaps to one of these forms, popular in Austria and Eastern Europe.

KAYA – This popular name in Malta, which may be pronounced ky-ah or kay-ah, also has roots in Japanese, Turkish, Zulu, and Hopi Indian, and is also connected to a Jamaican slang term for marijuana.

LEA – Very popular in Germany, Switzerland, and France, this form of Leah may be pronounced as the original or as lay-ah.

LENA or LINA – This simple name is extremely popular in its Lena form in German-speaking countries and is popular as Lina in Belgium and Lithuania.  It can be short for such names as Carolina or Polina, but it most fashionably today stands on its own.

LEONIE – L names dominate many of the European popularity lists, and this lion-like name is number one in Germany, two in Austria. Pronounciation is LE-o-nee.

LILIT – This fresh spin on the whole Lily/Lilian genre is from Armenia.

LISETTE – This delicate French diminutive of Elisabeth has an old-fashioned feel, but is popular in Estonia and charming anywhere.

LORE – Popular in the Flemish region of Belgium where it’s considered a short form of Eleanore, another form of the name means  “flower” in Basque.

LOTTE – This short form of Charlotte – very popular throughout Europe, though hardly exotic – is well-used in the Netherlands and Flemish Belgium.

MAJA – Cognate of Maya or Maia, found most often in Sweden and Poland.

MARIAM or MARYAM – Arabic form of Mary found throughout the Muslim world.

MATHILDE – The French pronounce this mah-TEELD, but the Danes and the Dutch, where it’s also popular, say it like Matilda.

NADIA – Popular in Morocco and Pakistan along with Eastern Europe.

NOA – The number one girls’ name in Israel has different biblical roots from its male cognate, Noah.

NOOR – Familiar internationally as the name of the (American-born) former queen of Jordan, this lovely choice meaning light is on Belgium’s top ten.

PETRA – Feminine form of Peter popular in Hungary and Croatia.

SEREN – Gorgeous name that means “star” in Welsh and is popular in Wales.

SHIRA – Popular for Jewish girls in Israel, pronounced SHEER-ah.

TEREZA – Most forms of Theresa have not been fashionable in recent years, but this Czech number one name has zest and freshness.

VALENTINA – A name popular in Switzerland as well as Argentina and Chile, also stylish among Latino families in the U.S.

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15 Responses to “Exotic Lite: Girls’ Edition”

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peach Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 1:32 am

These are right up my alley. I love Alba, Aurora, Annika, Beatriz, Giulia, Ines, Katharina, Leonie, Lilit, Lisette, Mariam, Mathilde, Nadia, Seren, Tereza. So fresh and lovely!

disa_lan Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 3:17 am

I love this list! My favorites are Adi, Annika, Beatriz (love this spelling and Beatrix too), Ines, Lea, and Leonie.

Annie Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 6:57 am

Alba is also Scots Gaelic name for Scotland. It comes from the Latin for “white” so would fit if you were looking for a “colour” name

pippa Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 10:46 am

Love this list! Petra is a favorite of mine.

Kathleen Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 11:12 am

great list. Petra and Seren were both tops on my girls’ list!

Ann(TobysMommy) Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 11:40 am

Oh I love Seren so much! I wish I could convince my husband that it isn’t a poisonous gas…
Great article! I love a lot of the names on here. Freya/Freja has always been a favorite of mine.

Annika Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I like Valentina, Shira and Mariam best (also a charscter name in Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” among the also beautiful Laila and Aziza).
Petra, on the other hand, is my cousin’s name and I do not know anybody with that name under the age of say 40-50, so it seems quite outdated to me but maybe it’s fresh in the USA…

“Ernestine” Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Wow, some of these are really cool… Beatriz is growing on me and I’ve never heard of Lilit but it’s certainly pretty!

Charlotte Vera Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Lovely! Noa used to be a favourite of mine — ever since I discovered the female by that name in an obscure passage of the Old Testament. I’m not as fond of it as I used to be, but I love that it’s on this list.

Vera Says:

September 10th, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Lovely list! My daughters name is Petra, and Seren was in our top 3 choices for our baby girl, but our family kept mispronouncing it 🙁

teabee Says:

September 11th, 2009 at 1:07 pm

It’s cool to see a spotlight on these names! I’m a longtime fan of several (Aurora, Shira, Nadia, Petra) and am intrigued by many of the others.

Stacy Says:

September 14th, 2009 at 9:06 am

I love many of these!

Katharina has been on our list for quite a while, and is really in our top two girl names. For us, it’s a slight exoticism, and also has the bonus of being shakespearean.

And I’ve always liked Leonie, Nadia, Beatrix and Mathilde. I also think Marthe is a lovely choice.

Chelsea Says:

September 26th, 2009 at 12:59 am

So glad you mentioned Portugal, haha! I hate the name Beatrix and Beatrice, but Beatriz, pronounced in the Portuguese way, is so gorgeous… too bad people not in Portugal (i.e. in the US) don’t pronounce it the Portuguese way 🙁

Oh and also, Nadia is fairly common in Portugal as well. Another great name.

Kat_Taylor Says:

February 8th, 2012 at 8:02 pm

How do you pronounce it [Beatriz] the Portuguese way?

elifsu Says:

July 14th, 2015 at 6:14 am

Kaya is a girl name in Turkish though, it means stone.

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