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These are names chosen from my e-book, International Baby Names for Australian Parents – names which are familiar in other countries, but rarely used here. I chose ten that I particularly like, or find interesting, or think very usable. If you haven’t read the book, it gives you an idea as to what’s inside, and if you have read it, it’s a chance for me to provide more information than is possible in a book.
Identified as a French form of the Persian name Anahita, meaning “pure, immaculate”; Aredvi Sura Anahita is an Indo-Iranian goddess of fertility and wisdom. To get around French naming regulations, it was explained as a Catalan or Provençal form of Anna or Anne. The name is strongly associated with the American writer Anaïs Nin, whose first name was Angela, but always went by her second name. Anaïs was born in France and was of Spanish, Cuban, French and Danish descent. She is principally known as a diarist, where she intimately explored the complexities of her personal life, and as a writer of female erotica. Her name was the inspiration for the Cacharel perfume, Anais Anais, and in Australia we have the children’s clothing label, Aden + Anais. The name is pronounced a-na-EES. Feminine and exotic, Anais is very popular in France and Chile, and charts in the UK.
This short spunky name has different origins. It is a Chinese name for both boys and girls which means “wave”, as in a wave on water (especially the sea). It is a rare Chinese surname too, and an aristocratic title translated as the equivalent of a Count. It is also a Scandinavian boy’s name derived from the Old Norse name Búi, meaning “to live”. As a girl’s name, its most famous namesake is American actress and sex symbol Bo Derek, born Mary Collins. Ms Derek doesn’t know why she chose the name Bo: it just seemed “grown up” and “unusual” to her. A fictional girl Bo is the nursery rhyme shepherdess Bo Peep – her name comes from a slang term for being in a pillory, presumably because the person “peeped” through the head holes. Radio host Tim Blackwell named his daughter Bo last year, and since then there seems to be a few girl babies with the name in Australian birth notices. To show the gender divide in regard to this name, Bo is rising in the UK charts as a girl’s name, and rising in the US as boy’s name (probably a variant spelling of Beau). In the Netherlands, it charts for both sexes, but is only popular for girls.
The American author James Fenimore Cooper is credited with the creation of this name, in his 1826 historical novel, The Last of the Mohicans. The novel’s heroine is Cora Munro; dark, intelligent, and serious, she is a distant descendant of African-American slaves who forms a relationship with the son of a Native American chief – the titular “last of the Mohicans”. Her story ends tragically. There are actually many people named Cora in the records prior to the book’s publication, dating back to the late 16th century, but it is difficult to tell if they are abbreviations for longer names, like Cordelia. The name Cora is often theorised to be based on the Greek name Kore, meaning “maiden”; it was the common name of the goddess Persephone. If invented by Cooper, this makes sense, as there are a number of names with this derivation, such as Corinna. However, if its use goes back to the 16th century, it would pre-date the use of these “Kore” names, and may be based on the Latin cor, meaning “heart”. Cora is also used to Anglicise the Gaelic name Coira, meaning “seething pool”. Cora is a Downton Abbey name (the character is American-born), and fits in with the trend for simple, graceful names like Clara and Isla. It charts in both the US and UK, and is popular in Northern Ireland.
Spanish form of an unknown Visigothic name whose meaning is much debated. It was traditional amongst medieval Spanish royalty, and became a favourite in fiction. The vengeful scorned lover Elvira of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is just one example of the many characters of this name in operas, plays, novels and films. Another is the title character of Noel Coward’s supernatural comedy Blithe Spirit, a hauntingly beautiful former wife who arrives in the least convenient fashion. Elvira is the name of Donald Duck’s grandmother, and many will remember the campy, cleavage-enhanced Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, played by Cassandra Peterson. A famous person with the name is Elvira Madigan (born Hedvig Jensen), a 19th century Danish circus performer who had a tragic love affair. Her story has been turned into several films and songs. English-speakers can pronounce this romantic name either el-VEER-ah or el-VY-ra (I prefer the first, as the second reminds me of virus), and it fits in with popular names such as Ella and Ava. Elvira charts in The Netherlands and is popular in Sweden.
Derived from Hermes, the Greek god of transitions and boundaries, who was the messenger of the gods, and patron of travellers, herdsmen, thieves, public speakers, comedians, writers, poets, athletes, inventors, and merchants. Most scholars understand his name as meaning “stone, roadside shrine, boundary marker” – these were dedicated to Hermes as the god of boundaries and travellers. It may be related to the Greek for “the interpreter” to reflect the god’s role as divine messenger. In Greek myth, Hermione was the daughter of the lovely Helen of Troy, and had relationship troubles of her own involving Trojans. There is a Saint Hermione, an early Christian martyr who was the daughter of Saint Philip, identified as a prophetess in the church. In literature, Hermione is a beautiful queen accused of infidelity in Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale, and Harry Potter’s best female friend, the book-smart Hermione Granger. An Australian character of this name is Hermione the Modern Girl, the cartoon creation of Kaz Cooke. A famous namesake is British actress Hermione Norriss, from television shows Cold Feet and Wire in the Blood. This elegant name is pronounced her-MY-oh-nee, and charts in the UK.
Hungarian name of uncertain meaning. It is usually said to be a form of Helen, although this may be folk etymology. In Magyar folklore, Ilona is the traditional name of the Queen of the Fairies. She is very beautiful, but also mischevious, and at times, dangerous! Archduchess Ilona of Austria was a Hungarian member of the Hapsburgs, one of the great royal houses of Europe; she passed away a few years ago. This pretty name is usually pronounced ih-LOH-na, and has Loni as the obvious nickname. It charts in France.
The Roman goddess of marriage and childbirth, and the queen of the gods, besides being the patron and protector of the Roman state. She was seen as eternally youthful, filled with forceful vitality, and a fertility figure, yet also warlike. Juno was the sister and wife of the sky god Jupiter, and the divine couple are two of the oldest known Roman gods. Like her husband, Juno had the power to throw thunderbolts, and the couple’s relationship could be stormy at times. The Romans believed that each woman had a protective guardian spirit called a juno, and this was given offerings on the woman’s birthday. The goddess’ name may mean “youth”, with the suggestion of vitality and fertility, but it is also possible that it is related to that of the Etruscan mother goddess Uni, meaning “she who gives”. The Romans connected her name to the waxing and waning of the moon – perhaps with the idea that, like the moon, she constantly renewed herself. The month of June is named in Juno’s honour, and when a woman is described as junoesque, it means she is beautiful, tall and shapely in a stately, imposing way. A famous person with the name is British actress Juno Temple, who has been in The Other Boleyn Girl, and The Dark Kight Rises. The movie Juno, starring Ellen Page, has helped give this name recent exposure, and it fits in with the trend for names ending with O. You may recall that New Zealand name blogger Anna Hamilton has a little girl named Juno. Juno charts in the UK, where it is rising.
Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances, persevering without exhibiting negativity such as irritation or anger, and being able to deal with strain or frustration during long-term difficulties. It is considered one of the highest virtues in several religions, such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, and in Christianity is one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues. Modern psychology sees patience as a sign of self-control and maturity, and it is a secular virtue as well. The word patience is ultimately from the Latin for “suffering”, and it was introduced as a virtue name by the Puritans in the late 16th century. A famous Australian namesake is Patience Hodgson, a member of indie rock band The Grates. Virtue names are back in fashion, and this one seems both admirable and attractive – a name that someone can grow with. Patience charts in the US.
Variant of Safiyya, feminine form of the Arabic name Safi, meaning “pure”. The name is important in Islam because Safiyaa bint Huyayy was a Jewish woman captured from a nomadic Arabian tribe at the age of 17 who was chosen by Muhammad for his own. Previously, she had dreamed that the moon fell from the heavens into her lap, and this was interpreted as a miraculous sign she would marry Muhammad. She converted to Islam and became one of the Prophet’s wives, and after his death gained quite a bit of power and influence. Safiya is pronounced sa-FEE-ah, and is an Arabic heritage choice which fits in with current trends, as it is not dissimilar to popular Sophia. It charts in both the UK and France.
Slavic name meaning “living, being, existing”. In Slavic mythology, Živa was a goddess of life and fertility who was worshipped throughout what is now Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Germany before the coming of Christianity. She was depicted as a beautiful woman, and people prayed to her for good health and long life. She seems to have been connected with the harvest of both fruit and grains, and one story is that she was able to turn herself into a cuckoo bird. Ziva is also a feminine form of the Hebrew name Ziv, meaning “bright, radiant”. In the television drama series NCIS, Ziva David is an Israeli-American agent portrayed by Cote de Pablo. Pronounced ZEE-vah, Ziva fits in with popular names such as Ava and Zoe. It charts in The Netherlands, and the UK, where it is rising, and is popular in Slovenia.
The public’s favourite names were Cora, Juno and Hermione, and their least favourite were Safiya, Patience and Elvira.
(Photo shows Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff in Juno)