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Exotic Lite Baby Names

by Pamela Redmond

Maybe you want an exotic name for your baby....but not too exotic. Something international, yet recognizable to most Americans. Your category? Could be the Exotic Lite baby names here, from a range of cultures.

Gently exotic names are becoming more popular as more Americans are celebrating diversity and searching for names that represent their ethnic heritage or blend cultures. The Irish Liam, rarely heard outside the Emerald Isle a generation ago, is now the Number 1 boys' name in the US and wildly popular throughout the English-speaking world as well as non-English-speaking Europe.

On the girls' side, the Spanish Isabella has ranked highly in the US for a few decades now and also is a top name in countries as diverse as Australia, Ireland, Germany, and Sweden.

Along with Liam and Isabella, other Exotic Lite names that rank in the US Top 100 include Mila, Camila, Layla, Aaliyah, Valentina, and Quinn for girls, and Mateo, Angel, Santiago, Jose, and Leonardo for boys.

Exotic Lite names favored by Nameberry visitors include the Scottish Isla, Irish Maeve, and multicultural Amara for girls. For boys, Nameberry's top Exotic Lite names are the Irish Finn, the Hindi Aarav, and the Indo-Iranian Aryan. A bit further down the list are Elodie, Astrid, and Adah for girls; Soren, Kai, Declan, and Luca for boys.

Some Exotic Lite names are popular in a wide range of countries, languages, and cultures. Along with Maeve and Finn, these truly international names include Kai, Luca and Lucia, Enzo, Mila and Milan, Teo and Mateo.

If you're looking for a name that works in the English-speaking world but also holds a lot of international style, one of the Exotic Lite names could be for you.
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MaeveHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish
  • Meaning:

    "she who intoxicates"
  • Description:

    Maeve appears in Irish mythology in two forms, one as the powerful Queen of Connacht, the other as the queen of the fairies. Maeve of Connacht was a warrior queen, famous for starting a war in attempt to steal her ex-husband’s stud bull. Other spellings are Meabh, Medb and Meadhbh, which are connected to mead, a honey-based wine that was produced in many ancient cultures.

KaiHeart

  • Origin:

    Hawaiian
  • Meaning:

    "sea"
  • Description:

    Kai has many origins, but in the US is most commonly referred to as being of Hawaiian derivation, meaning “sea.” In Europe, Kai is largely considered to have Frisian origin as a diminutive of the name Kaimbe, meaning “warrior.” Kai is also found as an independent name in African, Chinese, Turkish and Native American cultures.

IslaHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish place-name or Spanish
  • Meaning:

    "island"
  • Description:

    Isla, the Spanish word for island, is also the name of a Scottish river, an island (spelled Islay), and the red-haired actress Isla Fisher, married to Sacha Baron Cohen. A top girls' name in the US, Isla is also popular overseas, especially in England, Wales, and her native Scotland.

FinnHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish
  • Meaning:

    "fair or white"
  • Description:

    Finn is a name with enormous energy and charm, that of the greatest hero of Irish mythology, Finn MacCool (aka Fionn mac Cuumhaill), an intrepid warrior with mystical supernatural powers, noted as well for his wisdom and generosity.

MiloHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin and Old German
  • Meaning:

    "soldier or merciful"
  • Description:

    Milo is most commonly considered to be Germanic name derived from the Latin word miles, meaning “soldier.” However, there is evidence to suggest it also may have independently spawned from the Slavic root milu, meaning “merciful.” Milo predates brother name Miles, a variation that evolved when the name immigrated to the British Isles in the Middle Ages. Mylo is an alternate spelling.
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FreyaHeart

  • Origin:

    Norse
  • Meaning:

    "a noble woman"
  • Description:

    Freya is derived from the Old Norse name Freyja, meaning “Lady, noble woman.” It is the name of the Norse goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. Freya can be considered a feminization of Frey or Freyr, the name of the goddess’s brother.

RowanHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish and Irish
  • Meaning:

    "rowan tree; little redhead"
  • Description:

    Rowan – a strong surname and nature name (it's a tree with red berries) – is deservedly growing in popularity. Some scholars identify Rowan as originally a girls’ name, related to Rowena and Rhonwen, while others say Rowan's always been used for both genders. Sharon Stone chose the Roan spelling, which also relates to the reddish color, for her son, while Brooke Shields used Rowan for her daughter. Yet another increasingly popular spelling is Rowen.

SorenHeart

  • Origin:

    Danish and Norwegian variation of Severus
  • Meaning:

    "stern"
  • Description:

    This gentle Scandinavian name, soft and sensitive, is being discovered in a major way by parents in the US. It's most closely identified with the nineteenth century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, but there have been modern fictional Sorens as well, in The Matrix Reloaded and the book series Guardians of Ga'Hook, Charlie and Lola, and Underworld.

ElodieHeart

  • Origin:

    French, variation of Greek Alodia
  • Meaning:

    "foreign riches"
  • Description:

    Elodie derives from Elodia, the Spanish variation of Alodia, a gothic German name associated with Saint Alodia. Saint Alodia was a child martyr in 9th century Spain, along with her sister Nunilo. In France, Elodie is spelled Élodie, with an accent over the E.

AstridHeart

  • Origin:

    Scandinavian
  • Meaning:

    "divinely beautiful"
  • Description:

    Astrid is derived from the name Ástríðr, which is made up of the Old Norse elements that mean “god” and “beautiful.” Astrid has been a Scandinavian royal name since the tenth century, and many people associated it with the Swedish author of the Pippi Longstocking stories, Astrid Lindgren. Related names include Asta, a diminutive used throughout Scandinavia, and Astride, the French form. Despite their similarities, Astrid is unrelated to Astra, a Latin name meaning “of the stars.”
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EnzoHeart

  • Origin:

    Italian variation of Henry, also diminutive of Vincenzo and Lorenzo
  • Description:

    Enzo originated as the Italian variation of Heinz, a German name derived from Heinrich, related to Henry. It has historically been used as a short form for Italian names such as Vincenzo and Lorenzo. The most famous bearer of the name is Enzo Ferrari, founder of the luxury sports car brand.

QuinnHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish
  • Meaning:

    "descendent of Conn"
  • Description:

    Quinn is the Anglicized version of the Irish patronymic surname Ó Cuinn, meaning “descendent of Conn.” Conn has two possible derivations—the Old Irish cond, meaning “intellect,” or cenn, meaning “chief.” One of the most notable Quinn clans was from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

AriaHeart

  • Origin:

    Italian
  • Meaning:

    "air; song or melody"
  • Description:

    Aria has origins in both Italian and Hebrew. In the former, Aria's literal meaning, air, is meant as a musical term denoting a kind of song or melody. Hebrew Aria is a variation of Ari, meaning “lion.” In Persian, Aria is a male name, and in Indian it is considered unisex. Arya is an alternate spelling.

LyraHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "lyre"
  • Description:

    Lyra is a constellation name taken from the lyre of Orpheus. It contains the star Vega and thus could make a melodic choice for a parent interested in music, astronomy, or mythology. It has more depth and history than Lyric, is more unusual than Lila (which it rhymes with). It debuted in the US Top 1000 in 2015.

LucaHeart

  • Origin:

    Italian variation of Luke and Lucas
  • Meaning:

    "man from Lucania"
  • Description:

    If there was once a bias against this charming and venerable Italian name for possibly sounding too feminine, consider it gone. Since Luca entered the boys’ names U.S. popularity list in 2000, it has shot up in popularity. It's a popular choice throughout Europe as well.
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AmaraHeart

  • Origin:

    Igbo or Latin
  • Meaning:

    "grace or bitter"
  • Description:

    Amara is the Italian word for bitter, from the same root as Mary and Miriam. It has separate roots in West Africa as a name that means “grace” in the Igbo language. These two meanings are the best-known, but Amara is also a Sanskrit name meaning immortal and a Mongolian name meaning peaceful.

MateoHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish
  • Meaning:

    "gift of God"
  • Description:

    Mateo is a Latinate form of Matthew, which derived from the Hebrew name Mattiyahu, consisting of the elements mattan, meaning “gift” and yah, which references the Hebrew God. Mateo can also be spelled Matteo, which is the Italian variation. Matheo is an archaic Spanish spelling, although it is used in France as Mathéo.

AnastasiaHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek, feminine variation of Anastasios
  • Meaning:

    "resurrection"
  • Description:

    Anastasia is the feminine form on Anastasius, a Greek name derived from the word anastasis, meaning “resurrection.” It was a common name among early Christians, who often gave it to daughters born around Christmas or Easter. There are handful of saints named Anastasia, including the patron saint of weavers.

IsabellaHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish and Italian variation of Elizabeth, Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "pledged to God"
  • Description:

    Isabella is the Latinate form of Isabel, a variation of Elizabeth which originally derived from the Hebrew name Elisheba. Variations Isabelle and Isabel are also popular, with the Scottish spelling Isobel another possibility. Newer alternatives include Sabella and Isabetta.

ZionHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "highest point"
  • Description:

    Zion has taken off in recent years, especially after singer Lauryn Hill used it for her son in 1997 and incorporated the name into a hit song. It combines a user-friendly Ryan-Brian sound with the gravitas of religious significance. The Hebrew pronunciation is 'tzeeyon'.
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ElioHeart

  • Origin:

    Italian and Spanish from Greek sun god, Helios
  • Description:

    Elio is a sunny and spirited Italian and Spanish name that makes a great crossover prospect, which could catch on as Enzo has. Elio is also currently popular in France, ranking in the Top 250.

LiamHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish short form of William
  • Meaning:

    "resolute protection"
  • Description:

    Liam originated as a nickname for Uilliam, the Irish variation of William. William is an English name from Germanic roots that was brought to Ireland when the British fled England following the Norman Conquest. The Irish began using English names, including William, which led to the development of Uilliam and its short form, Liam.

AthenaHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek mythology name
  • Description:

    The given name Athena was derived from the city name Athens, which is of uncertain origins. In Greek mythology, Athena is the name of the daughter of Zeus who was the goddess of wisdom, warfare, handicrafts, mathematics, and courage, among others. She was the great patroness-goddess of the city of Athens. In the Odyssey, Homer describes her as 'sparkling-eyed Athena.'

MicahHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "who is like the Lord"
  • Description:

    Micah is a biblical name that growing numbers of parents are looking at as a more unusual alternative to Michael, projecting a shinier, more lively image.

ElenaHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish, Italian, German, Greek variation of Helen
  • Meaning:

    "bright, shining light"
  • Description:

    Elena, a pan-European version of Helen, has roots in Spanish, Italian, Slavic, and Romanian, among others. Helen, the name from which it derives, came from the Greek word helene, meaning “torch.” Alternate spellings include Elaina, Ellena, and Alena.
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LuciaHeart

  • Origin:

    Italian, feminine variation of Lucius, Latin
  • Meaning:

    "light"
  • Description:

    Lucia is derived from lux, the Latin word for light. It is considered to be the feminine form of Lucius as well as the Latinate spelling of Lucy. Due to its connection to light, Lucia was traditionally given to babies born as daylight was breaking.

MilaHeart

  • Origin:

    Slavic, Russian
  • Meaning:

    "gracious; dear"
  • Description:

    Mila is a given name with Russian and Slavic provenance. It began as the diminutive form for names such as Ludmila, Milena, and Milica. Mila can be a nickname for any name containing the element mil, meaning “gracious” or “dear.”

MalachiHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "my messenger"
  • Description:

    An Old Testament name with a Gaelic lilt, Malachi entered the list in 1987.

DeclanHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish, meaning unknown, possible "man of prayer"
  • Meaning:

    "man of prayer"
  • Description:

    Declan is the Anglicized form of the Irish name Deaglán. St. Declan was one of the first missionaries to bring Christianity to Ireland, preceding St. Patrick. Originally from Wales, he founded the monastery of Ardmore in Ireland.

LaylaHeart

  • Origin:

    Variation of Leila, Arabic
  • Meaning:

    "night"
  • Description:

    Layla is derived from the Semitic element layl, meaning “night.” It has roots in the Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian languages. In the Arabic story Qays and Layla, Layla is the subject of the poet’s unrequited love. Among the many alternate spellings are Leila, Laila, Laela, Laelah, Laylah, Leyla, Lejla, and Leighla.
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AlinaHeart

  • Origin:

    Slavic
  • Meaning:

    "bright, beautiful"
  • Description:

    Alina is one of the scores of global variations on the classic Helen, well used in Poland and Russia, and also heard in the Celtic and German cultures, as well as in the US. Alina might be a long form for a daughter you want to call Lena or Lina.

AryanHeart

  • Origin:

    Indo-Iranian
  • Meaning:

    "warrior, honorable"
  • Description:

    Aryan derives from the Sanskrit word ārya, meaning “honorable” or “high-born.” As a term, Aryan was used to describe Indo-Europeans—particularly Iranians—who shared common religious, cultural, and linguistic history. It was later misapplied by the Nazis to refer solely to Germanic and Nordic Caucasians, ultimately corrupting the term.

AmayaHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish version of Amaia or Japanese
  • Meaning:

    "mother city; the end; night rain"
  • Description:

    The Spanish form of Amaya is both a given name and a surname, originating from the Spanish mountain and village of Amaya. In this context it means “mother city” or “the capital.” Amaya can also be considered a derivation of Amaia, a Basque name meaning “the end.” In Japan, Amaya is a surname.

BrodyHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish, English, and Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "broad eye or broad island"
  • Description:

    The energetic Brody is a name that claims different meanings and origins depending on whether you're looking at its Irish, Scottish, or English history -- and Eastern Europeans claim a version too. An alternate spelling is Brodie.

FionaHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "white, fair"
  • Description:

    Fiona entered the American consciousness with the opening of the 1954 Broadway musical Brigadoon, but didn't come onto the U.S. popularity list until 1990.
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AnyaHeart

  • Origin:

    Russian diminutive of Anna
  • Meaning:

    "grace"
  • Description:

    Anya is a Russian variation of Anna, which came from the Hebrew name Hannah. Anya is the form found most frequently in Russia, Poland and other East European countries, while Anja is the spelling usually preferred in Germany Norway, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands. In the Hungarian language, Anya also means mother.

SantiagoHeart

  • Origin:

    Place-name or Latin
  • Meaning:

    "Saint James"
  • Description:

    Santiago is a spirited Spanish name with great crossover potential: a place-name (it's a city in Chile), a surname, and the patron saint of Spain. It's a name on the rise in the charts.

AmelieHeart

  • Origin:

    French variation of Amelia
  • Meaning:

    "work"
  • Description:

    Emily gets a Bohemian spin and a French accent when it becomes Amelie. This favorite among French girl names has been gaining notice here thanks to the charming 2001 French film Amelie; it entered the American popularity list in 2002 and is now solidly established in the Top 1000.

AxelHeart

  • Origin:

    Scandinavian variation of Absalom
  • Meaning:

    "father of peace"
  • Description:

    A classic in its native Scandinavia, Axel has a cool rock 'n' roll flavor in the US, thanks to Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose (born William). Axel is a popular Scandinavian form of the Biblical Absalom, who was a son of King David, and is the name of the title character of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom.

ValentinaHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin, Feminine variation of Valentine
  • Meaning:

    "strength, health"
  • Description:

    Valentina is a more exotic and artistic ballerina-type successor to Valerie; a pretty, recommended choice. Mexican-born actress Salma Hayek and husband Francois-Henri Pinault named their daughter Valentina Paloma.
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DiegoHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish variation of James
  • Meaning:

    "supplanter"
  • Description:

    The energetic Diego is rising rapidly along with a lot of other authentically Spanish baby names that work perfectly well with surnames of any origin.

SeamusHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish variation of James
  • Meaning:

    "supplanter"
  • Description:

    Parents who have tired of Sean are now contemplating Seamus, the Irish form of James, which has a lot more substance and verve.

ArielHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "lion of God"
  • Description:

    Ariel is a male Biblical name, seen there as the messenger of Ezra, and also used as a symbolic name for the city of Jerusalem, while Shakespeare used it for a (male) sprite in The Tempest.

AaravHeart

  • Origin:

    Hindi
  • Meaning:

    "peaceful"
  • Description:

    Aarav is derived from the Sanskrit root “rav,” which is related to peace and music. Aarav is also associated with the concept of wisdom. It has traditionally been a common name among Hindus, who intentionally select names to inspire particular values in their children.

AntonioHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish and Italian variation of Anthony
  • Meaning:

    "priceless one"
  • Description:

    Antonio is a Shakespearean favorite -- the Bard used it in no less than five of his plays, and has long been a ubiquitous classic in Spanish-speaking countries, where the nickname Tonio is also prevalent. Antonio is also among an elite group of perennially popular names in the US, where it has always been among the boys' Top 1000 since baby name record-keeping started in 1880.
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LeonardoHeart

  • Origin:

    Italian and Spanish variation of Leonard, German
  • Meaning:

    "brave lion"
  • Description:

    For centuries this name was associated primarily with the towering figure of Italian Renaissance painter-scientist-inventor Leonardo da Vinci, and was scarcely used outside the Latin culture. But then along came Leonardo DiCaprio, who was supposedly given the name because his pregnant mother felt her first kick while looking at a da Vinci painting in the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, and who would make the name young and handsome and multi-cultural.

    Leonardo is a popular choice among other attractive Italian and Spanish names for boys, and its cousin Leo is popular as well.

JoaquinHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish variation of Joachim
  • Meaning:

    "God will judge"
  • Description:

    Actor Joaquin Phoenix (brother of River, Rain, Liberty and Summer) highlighted this one, then Kelly Ripa began talking about younger son Joaquin on her daily TV show, and presto—it's now one of the hottest and most appealing multicultural baby boy names.

CarlosHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish variation of Charles
  • Meaning:

    "free man"
  • Description:

    Notable namesakes include musician Santana, writers Fuentes and Castaneda, and numerous athletes. Carlos Irwin Estevez is the birth name of Charlie Sheen.

LilianaHeart

  • Origin:

    Italian and Spanish variations of Lilian
  • Meaning:

    "lily, a flower"
  • Description:

    This melodious and feminine Latin variation of the Lily family is a favorite in the Hispanic community and would work beautifully with an Anglo surname as well. It's among the Spanish and Italian names for girls that make smooth transitions to the English-speaking world. The late Sopranos star James Gandolfini has a daughter named Liliana Ruth.

HamishHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish variation of James
  • Meaning:

    "supplanter"
  • Description:

    Just as Seamus/Seumus is Irish for James, Hamish is the Scottish form — one that's not often used here, but still redolent of Olde Scotland. If you're ready to go further than Duncan and Malcolm, out to Laird and Ewan territory, this may be worth consideration. It also sounds just like the Yiddish word for homey.
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