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Surprisingly International Baby Names

October 25, 2020 Emma Waterhouse
surprisingly international baby names

Sayinternational baby names” – and what springs to mind?

Hands up if you said Anna or Adam! It’s true: there are plenty of popular names that feature near the top of the baby name charts in multiple countries. But if your tastes lean towards more uncommon choices, finding a cool and quirky baby name that also works internationally can be a struggle.

Today, we’re rounding up 18 surprisingly international baby names. What makes them surprising? They all have roots in multiple languages and cultures – and work well in several more – but they are also very uncommon in the US. In fact, none ranked in the Top 750 baby names for 2019.

Fresh International Girl Names

Eira

A light, bright Welsh name meaning “snow”, Eira also has roots in Norse mythology. It derives from Eir, the name of a goddess associated with healing and medicine. It is pronounced the same way in both Welsh and the Nordic languages: AY-rah.

Gaia

Most familiar as the name of the Greek Earth goddess, Gaia is also the feminine form of the common Roman name Gaius (the praenomen, or first name, of Julius Caesar), which may derive from Latin gaudere “to rejoice”. Today, Gaia is a Top 20 choice in Italy, where it literally means “happy, carefree”.

Noor

Sleek and simple Noor is the most common spelling of the Arabic name Nur – meaning “light” – in both the UK and France, with their large Muslim populations. But it’s even more popular in the Netherlands and in Belgium, as a Dutch and Flemish short form of Eleonora or Nora.

Suki

How sweet is Suki? A traditional English nickname for Susannah, Suki also has roots in the Japanese language, where it means “beloved”. Spell it Sukhi, and it’s an uncommon Indian name deriving from a Sanskrit word meaning “happy, content”.

Tula

A short form of Tallulah, which in turn can derive either from the Irish Tuilelaith “princess of abundance” or from Choctaw, meaning “leaping waters”. Tula is also a Filipino name meaning “poem”, a Greenlandic variant of Tora (the feminine form of Thor), and a Spanish diminutive from Gertrudis.

Yara

Familiar in the US thanks to HBO’s Game of Thrones – but still not popular, at #765 in 2019 – Yara (or Iara) is a water nymph in Brazilian folklore, whose name means “lady of the water” in Tupi. In Arabic, via Persian, the name may mean “courage, strength” or “friend, helper”. And in Hebrew, Yara means “honeycomb”.

Cool International Boy Names

Faro

A 7th-century French bishop bears this ancient name, a short form of Germanic names containing the element fara “journey” (e.g. Faramund). But it’s also a Spanish, Portuguese and Italian word meaning “lighthouse, beacon”.

Idris

This handsome Arabic name, meaning “interpreter, scholar”, is also used in Turkey and West Africa (alongside the variant Idrissa, the birth name of actor Idris Elba). But it’s also a Welsh name meaning “ardent lord”, belonging to the legendary giant Idris Gawr.

Lev

The most famous historical Lev is surely Lev Tolstoy – often Anglicized as Leo, since the name literally means “lion” in Russian. But in Hebrew, it means “heart”, making Lev both a sweet and strong choice.

Luan

Another “lion” name – this time in Albanian. But Luan might just be the king of the surprisingly international baby names! In Portuguese, it means “moon”. Its Irish meaning is “hero, warrior” or “light” (via Lughán). In Chinese, it’s the name of a mythical bird, the sighting of which is said to bring peace. And in Vietnamese, Luân (pronounced “LWUN”) means “reason, logic”.

Rohan

A popular cross-cultural choice in England and Wales, Rohan is still uncommon in the US, at #752 in 2019. A Sanskrit name meaning “ascending”, it’s also an Anglicization of the Irish surname O’Ruadhain, meaning “descendent of Ruadh”. Rohan is also used in both Scotland and Jamaica as a variant spelling of Rowan.

Tor

A Knight of the Round Table bears this strong and simple name, which has a second Arthurian connection in Glastonbury Tor whose name derives from Old English torr “hill”. Tor is also a modern Scandinavian form of Thor, as well as a Hebrew name meaning “turtledove”, and a West African (Tiv) name meaning “king”.

Rare International Unisex Names

Hiro

Best known as a Japanese name, Hiro has multiple possible meanings (depending on the characters used), including “abundant”, “generous” and “prosperous”. It’s also the name of a demi-god in Polynesian mythology. Spelled Hero or Iro, it’s a female name from Greek myth, also used by Shakespeare.

Jura

A Scottish island name used for both sexes in its native land, famous as the place where George Orwell wrote his dystopian novel 1984. Coincidentally, Jura is also a Slovak and Croatian form of George. And it’s a female name in Japanese and Lithuanian, where it means “sea”.

Neo

Derived from Greek neos “new”, Neo has never ranked in the US Top 1000, although it came closest in the years following the release of the first Matrix movie in 1999. In Japanese, its possible meanings include “love”, “cherry blossom” and “center”. And in Tswana, it’s a unisex name with the wonderful meaning of “gift”.

Rafi

A cool nickname for the Hebrew Raphael or Raphaela and their international variants, Rafi is also an Arabic, Urdu and Bengali masculine name meaning “exalted”. In the Sami language of northern Scandinavia, Ráfi is a female name meaning “peace”.

Sol

This easygoing nickname hasn’t ranked in the US Top 1000 since 1938, but it has risen a little in recent years with the resurgence of parent name Solomon. In Roman mythology, Sol is the name of the sun god (in Norse legend, Sól is a goddess, also called Sunna). In Spain and Portugal, it serves as a short form of two Marian names: María del Sol “Our Lady of the Sun” and María de la Soledad “Our Lady of Solitude”.

Zia

Found in Switzerland and Hungary as a diminutive of names like Luzia and Terezia, zippy Zia is also the Italian word for “aunt”. In Arabic and Hebrew, it’s a masculine name – meaning “light, glow” or “swelling”, respectively.

What are your favorite surprisingly international baby names? Share them below!

About the author

Emma Waterhouse

Emma Waterhouse — better known as @katinka around these parts — joined the team in 2017, writing about everything from where to find a cool vintage boy name to why some names become popular memes. As Nameberry's head moderator, she also helps to keep our active Forums community ticking. A linguist by background, Emma speaks six languages and lives in England's smallest county with her husband and three young children. You can reach her at emma@nameberry.com.

View all of Emma Waterhouse's articles

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