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Anika has written in to the blog about a name she is considering but is unsure about. Her husband’s family is Indigenous Australian, one side being from the Wakka Wakka people of south-east Queensland. They have been told of a name Mirri Yannan meaning “falling star”, but it is from a language of northern New South Wales.

Anika adores the name Mirri, and its meaning of “star”, and would love to use it. However, when she did a search for the name, the meaning of “dog” was returned by Google. She doesn’t like the idea of her daughter thinking her name means dog, and now she’s not sure about it.

This is an issue I raised in my article about Australian Aboriginal names – there are lots of Aboriginal languages, and a word may mean something pleasant in one language, and less appealing in another. For example, Merinda can be taken from a Sydney-area language meaning “beautiful”, but in South Australia it means “leech”. This isn’t unique to Australian languages. Pippa is becoming a popular name in the English-speaking world as a short form of Phillipa, but in Swedish it is vulgar slang for “to have sexual intercourse”, while in Italian it means “masturbate, hand job”.

I read through some dictionaries and language guides in regard to the word mirri. It does mean “dog” in the Ngiyampaa and Wiradjuri languages of New South Wales. Mirri also means “face” in the Paakantyi language from New South Wales, and “sun” in the Gooniyandi language of northern Western Australia. So it has several meanings in different Australian languages.

I tracked it down in a dictionary from the Kamilaroi or Gamilaraay people from northern New South Wales. Their word for star is mirii, and mirii yanan means “shooting star” (meteor).

So I think you have a couple of options open to you. You could use Mirri or Mirii, which is said exactly the same way (I rang the very helpful Visitors Centre and asked).

If you are truly bothered by mirri meaning “dog” in another language, then mirii sounds like the solution to your dilemma, as well as being the word you were originally looking for.

I think Mirii makes an extremely pretty name for a girl, and I love its meaning of “star”. I hope you use the name, in whichever form you like best and feel most attracted to.

(Some information in the article from Macquarie Aboriginal Words, published 2006)