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Last month I had an article on baby names that are widely popular all over the world, and this post is its opposite – a look at some baby names which are common or accepted in Australia, but can be problematic in other countries.

While an international name means that most people understand your name easily, these are names that not everyone are going to immediately “get”. They may need explanation, a thick skin, and in some cases, a nickname or more appropriate middle name to the rescue.

I often see Australians having a laugh at foreigners with “funny” names, so this is a reminder that one day your child could be the foreigner with the funny name!

BOYS

Banjo
It’s the name of our national poet, but let’s face it, it will sound weird to people in other countries.

Connor
Sounds very much like the French word connard, which is an extremely rude insult.

Duncan
In Australia this is an underused classic. However, in many parts of the world, the American company Dunkin’ Donuts makes people associate the name with sugary deep-fried dough. It’s enough for Nancy from Nancy’s Baby Names to consider the name unusable – she’s from New England, which is where Dunkin’ Donuts originated. Dunkin’ Donuts are rapidly expanding through the United States, and sold in many countries around the world. They used to be here too, and I can’t remember the name being an issue – maybe I didn’t eat enough doughnuts.

Hamish
Although popular here for decades, this is a very rare name in the United States, and according to Nameberry, is seen as “redolent of Olde Scotland”. Even Angela Mastrodonato from Upswing Baby Names sees Hamish as much too stereotypically Scottish for American use. In German, Hamish sounds just like the word hämisch, meaning “bitter, spiteful”.

Harry
In many parts of the United States, this name is commonly pronounced the same way as the word hairy. It is enough of a problem that the city of Fort Wayne in Indiana decided not to name a government building, or any streets, after a popular mayor named Harry Baals (Baals pronounced like the word “balls”). However, there is a Harry Ball [baseball] Field in Massachusetts which doesn’t seem to have caused any issues.

Kai
Kai is a common name for boys and girls in many countries of the world – but not New Zealand. Why? Because it’s the Maori word for “food”.

Kevin
This Australian classic that we were happy to elect to high public office seems to be the most internationally despised name, with Germans in particular discriminating against Kevins. They even have a word for it: Kevinism (like racism, but more socially acceptable). In the UK, it’s short form Kev is another word for chav.

Luke
In Russian it sounds the same as the word for man hole.

Ned
In Scotland, ned is very derogatory slang for “thug, lout”, and even in parts of England isn’t viewed favourably (rather in the fashion of Kevin).

Rex
A classic name in Australia, but considered to be a dog’s name in Central and Eastern Europe: in Germany, they cannot seem to disassociate it from German Shepherd star, Inspector Rex. We also have a tradition of dogs called Rex, and Inspector Rex is on here television here too. Go figure.

GIRLS

Allegra
An allergy medication in the United States – it’s sold as Telfast here.

Bebe
In French, this is the word for baby. Comedian Adam Hills has a daughter called Beatrice, nicknamed Bebe, and during this year’s comedy festival in (French-speaking) Montreal, he noted the puzzled and disdainful reactions he received when announcing his daughter’s name (much like here if you told people you’d called your baby, Baby). In Finland, a bebe is a type of cake.

Harriet
Harriet was one of the fastest-rising names of last year. But in Iceland it became a huge problem for one family, with the threat of Harriet’s passport being cancelled. Harriet doesn’t make sense grammatically in Icelandic, so it is on the list of banned baby names. Of course, that only applies to babies born to at least one Icelandic parent – it won’t stop someone named Harriet living in Iceland. However, English people who work in Iceland and have names that aren’t on the official list say their names have made communication very difficult, due to the problems with Icelandic grammar. I suspect that in countries which have official lists of names, anyone with a name that doesn’t make the list might be seen in a negative light, as they won’t have a “real name”.

Jemima
Fashionable Jemima is a “problem name” in the United States, where Aunt Jemima is a highly popular brand of breakfast foods. The image for Aunt Jemima is an African-American woman, originally a stereotyped figure from a minstrel show. Even though the modern icon of Aunt Jemima is quite different, many white Americans still feel uncomfortable about the brand’s racially-loaded history. They may also be discomfited that Jemima was a “slave name” – probably an Anglicisation of one of the many similar-sounding African names. African-Americans seem less conflicted about using the name Jemima, and can even feel positive towards the affirming side of the trademark.

Lola
Means “grandmother” in the Philippines – it’s the opposite problem to Bebe.

London
In Britain this is considered a “weird name”. Well fair enough – imagine if you met an Englishwoman named Canberra Smith! (I think it would be cool, but still weird).

Nikita
Although nearly always a female name here, in Russia and eastern Europe it is a male name. Rocking up and declaring yourself to be a girl named Nikita is the same as a woman in Australia explaining she’s named Nicholas.

Piper
Sounds very similar to the Dutch word pijpen, which literally means “playing the flute”, but is also vulgar slang for oral sex. Apparently sounds enough like it to be readily confused by Dutch speakers.

Pippa
This just entered the Top 100 in Australia, rising since the royal wedding in 2011. However, in Sweden it is a vulgar word for sexual intercourse, and in Italy, slang for masturbation or a hand job. In Poland, the word pipa is pronounced just like Pippa, and means “vagina”; as in English, this word can be used as an insult against a person.

Poppy
In German, Poppy sounds similar to poppen, a vulgar slang term for sexual intercourse. Names with a P-p sound seem to be a bit of an issue.

What names do you know of that might be a problem in other countries?

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