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image_previewA reader named Beni wrote in some time ago to ask if I could verify that the name Macalla was from an Australian Aboriginal language, and had the meaning “full moon”.

If you do a quick Google search, this interpretation does pop up on a few baby name sites, but they do not explain which language it is from. They also offer Mikayla or Makayla as being “derived” from this name, when we know that is not the case at all, so it starts to look rather unconvincing.

Even before searching these dubious baby name sites, I was already suspicious, because there is no letter c in the orthography of Australian Indigenous languages – a hard c sound, such as in the word carrot, is always shown as a k.

Feeling unsure of where to look next, I replaced the c with a k and tried searching for Makalla instead. In the National Library records, I found an album by a Western Australian musician and performer named Mervyn Mulardy; it was called Yatangal, and one of the tracks was Makalla.

I wrote to a music store named Chunes of Broome, and a helpful staff member named Andrew gave me Mr Mulardy’s phone number so that I could ask him about the song title.

Mr Mulardy was kind enough to take time out of his recording schedule to talk to me, and he explained that makalla is a word from the Karajarri language of the Kimberley, in Western Australia’s north-west. It describes the long grey clouds which roll in across the sky like waves, and which bring rain.

I don’t feel at all confident in reproducing Mr Mulardy’s pronunciation (especially as heard over the phone), but it sounded rather like MAHK-uh-lah, and the l in the word almost seemed to be a soft r sound.

I asked if Makalla is ever used as a name, and Mr Mulardy said he hadn’t heard of it being used so, but thought it very well could have been. I asked if it would cause any offence or be culturally inappropriate for non-Karajarri or non-Indigenous people to use Makalla as a name. Mr Mulardy seemed to think for a moment, and then said he didn’t believe so – in fact, he thought it would make a very good name.

As far as Macalla being an Indigenous name, that’s all I was able to find, and as you see, nothing about a full moon.

There is a Hawaiian girl’s name Makala, and this can be translated as “set free” or “myrtle” (depending upon pronunciation) – although other sources suggest that it can be used as a Hawaiian feminine form of Michael, which seems to bring us back to Mikayla again.

Another baby name site simply says that Macalla is a spelling variant of Mikayla, and this seems like the most likely explanation to me.

When it comes to spelling variants of common and popular names, baby name websites sometimes seek to make them seem more like “real names” with their own etymologies, origins and histories, and this can sometimes lead to overly imaginative interpretations of re-spelled names.

So Beni, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to verify that Macalla is an authentic Indigenous name, or even a genuine name in its own right.

But there are similar words and names that you could use, such as Makala and Makalla, and of course there is always Michaela, which could very well be the true source.

It’s interesting that while Mikayla is a Top 100 name, Michaela is only in the 400s, so the original (and some would say, the “correct”) spelling of the name actually makes a less common and more distinguished alternative.

If anyone has further information or insights on the name Macalla, please feel free to send them in to the blog. And which name would you prefer to use – Macalla, Makalla, Makala, Mikayla, Makayla or Michaela?

Much gratitude to Andrew at Chunes of Broome and Mervyn Mulardy for all their help.

(Photo shows a full moon over Lake Mungo)

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