By John E. Carey
Updated January 1, 2008
A friend who works near where I work is from India. His name “Naresh” means King. He must have very hopeful parents! Koumba is a woman from Africa. Her name means “First Girl.”
Num Pung means “Honey Bee” in Thailand. Her mother ate honey comb while pregnant.
Alam is a Bangladeshi name meaning glorious or magnificent. It is usually a boy’s name.
Names fascinate me. Those from the sphere of the Western European influence frequently choose Bible names or Old English names for their offspring.
Native American youths earned their names for centuries; or were given meaningful names from tribal lore or from nature’s beauty.
Many Asians have lyrical, almost poetic names; my wife among them. She is called Honglien or “Pink Lotus.” By coincidence, my friend from Nepal, Kamala, has the same name: Kamala translates to “Pink Lotus.”
A comman man’s name in Nepal is “Ram.” Ram means, “Guard of Hindu.” WOW! What a great name!
Other men’s names from Nepal include Mukti (”Freedom”) and Diwakar (”Sun”).
In Vietnam one of my favorite man’s name is “Nghi” (pronounced like “knee”). It means standing straight and tall, standing at attention or really moral and honest.
Africans often bestow meaningful names upon their children.
One customer of mine is an African named Shaka. He told me he is named for the greatest warrior of all time: Shaka who united the Zulu nation in Africa. He said Shaka is viewed and respected for his military adeptness like Attila the Hun or Alexander the Great.
Islamic people have some wonderful names. Monzer (as with all of our names there are various spellings) means “One Who Warns” or “The Warner.” It is good to name a little girl baby Rahil, which means “innocent.”
The first thing we have to clarify is this: in our modern world, we tend to lump people and even races into groups like “Native American.” When Columbus arrived in North America there were as many as 500 Tribes; many with languages as different as Chinese is from English. The tribes also had many cultural and religious variations. So as we open this discussion, I penalize myself from the start because I am prone to fall into the trap of lumping people together in huge and unnatural generalities like “all Asians” even though I know that is not correct. I know the Vietnamese are vastly different from the Philipino, for example, even though both are Asians. Even among the Vietnamese there are several “tribes” and cultures.
I have an acquaintence from Thailand named Wantanee. It means “The Greeter.” Put your hands together as if in Christian prayer and bow: that’s “The Greeter.”
I have been blessed to know many different people from different parts of the world. Some of my Native American friends, that come from different tribes, have names like “Wild Horse,” “Truth to Tell,” “Comes Killing,” “Soars with Eagles,” and my favorite of all: “Shot-to-Pieces.”
I have been told that many Native American earn their names through some act of bravery or some other memorable event. A young boy that kills a bear might be called “Bear Slayer” for example.
Many who trace their lineage back to Christian European nations might have Bible names. I am named for John the Apostle and we celebrate his Feast Day in the Catholic Calendar on this day. My brothers have old English names: William and Thomas. My sisters also have traditional English names: Pamela and Elizabeth. My cousin is Edward as in Edward the Confessor, I think.
Charles means “manly” or “strong.” I’ll bet you didn’t know that!
I’ve met many people that think Cynthia is an old English name. Actually, it comes from Greece. The meaning of the girl’s name Cynthia is “from Mount Kynthos.” It was one of the names of Artemis, the goddess of the moon, and it refers to her birthplace on Mt. Kynthos.
The name Michael comes from the Hebrew name which means “He Who Is Like God.” Pretty good name. In the Catholic Church, Michael is the number one angel or Archangel. His feast day is September 29, a day he shares with the other top angels: Raphael and Gabriel. Across America many parishes are named for Saint Michael or Raphael or Gabriel.
Michael is a common name in Spanish speaking countries (Miguel), Arabic and even Russian. My name John becomes Juan in Spanish and is also translated into other languages.
Colin means “Victory of the people.” The name is derived from Greek but became a common name in what is now Britain. Traditionally the “O” was soft but American’s have taken to say a hard “O” as in Colin Powell.
The Japanese have a lot of terrific names. Aika means Love Song. Keiko means Blessed Child.
I am married into a Vietnamese family and each of the Catholic Vietnamese have a Vietnamese name and a Christian name from the Bible. I know a woman named “White Swan” in Vietnamese. Many of the names are terrific!
My wife Lien is also called Mary Magdalene. Mary “M” was a friend of Jesus that may have had a jaded past. I tell people Mary Magdalene “started wrong but finished strong.” Both our parish priests are called John the Baptist. My mother in law is Mary and a Vietnamese friend is Joseph.
But there are some unusual Vietnamese names and this custom spills over into other Asian cultures. The last child of the family might be called “Last One.” I know of a family that has, translated from the native language, a “Last One” and a “Late Mistake.” A particularly tiny Baby might be named “Little Peanut” or something like that.
The Vietnamese name “Hien” means “Gentle.”
I had a Thai friend that swore her father named her “Cucumber” because she was so small and cute. The Thai name “Wantanee” means “One Who Greets” or “Greeter.”
Another Thai I knew a long time ago was named “Far,” which means sky or more correctly, “clear blue sky.”
Many African and African American names have meaning. A girl named Wangari should know that she has a name from Kenya that means “Leopard.” Mwamba is a Tanzanian name that means “Strong.”
I met a man named Mr. Erhunmwunse on April 2, 2007. His name means “My Prayers Have Come True” in his native Nigeria!
Ethiopian names are among my favorites: Kalikidan means “promise,” Adonich means “healing,” Assefa is an Ethiopian name that means “expansive” or “to widen, “Zelalem” means”Forever” and Lulseged means “King.”
A woman in Ethiopia might be named “Alem.” It means “World.”
The Bangladeshi name “Rowshanara” means “bright” and is my second favorite name from that part of the world after “Amina.” Amina means “Trusted One.”
Rowshanara is actually the Persian or Farsi word meaning bright — even though the Rowshanara I know is from Bangladesh.
Amin being the root word for “trust.” Amina is also a common name in Nepal.
Another great Bangladeshi name for a woman is Farida. Farida means “Unique.” Another man’s name is “Sariful” which means “Modest.”
Let’s get back to Rowshanara. My favorite Rowshanara works in a 7-11 near my house. She is short and thin and “bright” and very beautiful.
This past Sunday I stopped for milk at the 7-11 and found Rowshanara trapped in the refrigerated food case. Instead of refilling the case from behind, she opened the front door for a front fill. She is so small that she needed to stand on the bottom shelf. She is so thin that the glass door closed!
I knocked on the glass door and said, “So this is what a refrigerated Bangladeshi Rowshanara looks like!”
I freed her and she couldn’t stop laughing!
“Jali” is a Bangladeshi name that means “happy thing.” Not a bad name!
Many Indian words have made it to the regular English vocabulary. Most of them were added during the British imperialistic rule over India from spanning from 16th to 20th century. More than five hundred words of Indian origin were absorbed into English during that period and it has grown ever since.
Currently the Oxford English Dictionary lists over 700 words of Indian origin.
Rowshanara’s boss at the 7-11 has an Indian name that translates into “Happiness.”
Names come and go and what is popular today will undoubtedly be passe a few years from now. Sarah Womack wrote in the (London) Telegraph on December 21, 2006, that “Mohammed, and its most common alternative spelling Muhammad, are now more popular babies’ names in England and Wales than George, reflecting the diverse ethnic mix of the population. “
She continues, “Spelled Muhammad, it is the 44th most popular name and enters the top 50 for the first time along with Noah, Oscar, Lucas and Rhys. “
Rhys? I must be getting old.
My purpose here is only to interest the uninitiated in the vast world of names with meaning. Do a word search for your name or the names of your friends and you might be surprised.
Part of the richness of any culture is its language and one facet of the many sided jewel that is language is the vast array of names parents bestow upon their children.
The article above has been updated many, many times. Although we continue to learn the meaning of new names, we have finally “locked” “What’s in a Name.”
“Kanalya” means “Subdued, Cool, or Behaving with Style.”
“Rohini” is a woman’s name meaning “lightening!”
“Igin” means “Sunshine.”
“Dipti” is a woman’s name meaning “source of light.”
From Arabic (He grew up in Kuwait)
“Mahmood” means “gifted.”
Yework Wuha means “Gold Water” or “Liquid Gold.”
Sehay means “Sunshine.”
Tewodros means “Gift of God.”
Genet means “Heaven.”
Almaz means “Diamond.”
Negussie means “King.”
Jay means “Victory.”
Surya means “Sun.”
“Azim” means “The Greatest.”
“Habib” means “Beloved.”
“Wahid” means “Unique.”
“Karim” means “Kind.”
my neighbor’s name is “Oh So Young.”
“Nahida” means “Ali’s Power.”
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