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Oliver. Sophia. Mason. Ava. It would seem that the world has truly entered an era of globalism, at least when it comes to baby names. Certain names are seen again and again all over the place. America shares top contenders with Canada, England, Australia, Scotland, and even countries in South America and Asia. Everywhere you go, you are bound to meet Olivias and Jacks.
But traditional names have not seen their final days, and some cultures find themselves clinging to long-standing favorites. Some countries have avoided the popular name game altogether, although even in South Africa and Russia you’ll find some of the same names as we see frequently in America. But if you’re looking for some ideas for baby names that are off the beaten path, look no further. Below, we compile some unusual foreign favorites that might get you thinking about your own next baby!
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In South Africa, a number of popular baby names focus on how loved, wanted, and valued babies are, as well as characteristics and traits valued in those babies. Amahle is just such a name, a lovely gem of a name that most sources say means “beautiful” or “beautiful one.” Amahle has ranked in the top five for South African baby names for the past few years. Pronounced “ah-MAH-she,” the name is of Zulu origin, and it is most commonly bestowed upon daughters, although it is considered by some to be just as viable for sons. Amahle as a name is nearly unheard of in America, however, which is a shame.
If you grew up in the 90s, you might wonder why the name Daria isn’t more popular. So many kids identified with the starring character of MTV’s popular animated series that it’s really, perhaps, a bit shocking. But nevertheless, Daria is not a common name in America. In Russia, on the other hand, it’s much more popular; in Moscow, Daria was ranked the second most popular name in 2017. The name, which means “queenly,” has long been popular across Russia, consistently ranking in the top 10 for more than a decade. While there are some girls named Daria scattered across the United States, don’t expect to see too many of them.
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In the United States, this name is decidedly uncommon; most people can honestly say they don’t know a single person bearing it. In Europe, on the other hand, and in Scandinavia in particular, Emil is rather common. In Norway, it frequently ranks in the top 10. Emil is said to mean either “industrious” or “rival,” depending on how you trace it, and different meanings may appeal to different people and different cultures. Emil may eventually become more common in America, but for now, its popularity is easily outranked by similar names “E” names like Emmett or Ezra.
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In Italy, baby name trends tend to be more dominated by tradition, as can be seen by the names at the top of the charts. For 2018, the top name is Francesco, which is a variation of Francis, both names meaning “French” or “Frenchman.” Italy has a long history with the name Francesco, from Renaissance artists to the current, well-loved pope. In the United States, however, the name hasn’t even cracked the top 1000 for the past decade (despite the high regard many Americans also hold for Pope Francis). Perhaps Francesco’s day is yet to come, but it doesn’t seem likely any time soon.
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One might expect a solid Scandinavian name like Freya to be popular in Norway or Denmark, or even in the United Kingdom, but surprisingly, this name makes the list because of its rising popularity in Australia! Freya has made solid headway into the island continent’s top 100 names in 2018. The name is shared by the Norse goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, and has been seen throughout popular books and movies for years. With a meaning like “noblewoman,” it’s not surprisingly that Freya is popular among new parents. Perhaps Freyda will eventually see its day in the sun in America, but it hasn’t happened yet.
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Many of the most popular names in Scotland are similar to those throughout the rest of Europe and, indeed, the rest of the world, but the clever boy’s name Harris stands out as something different. Harris means “son of Harry,” and it’s believed to be of English origin. In 2017, Harris was well within Scotland’s top 10, and it’s expected to be just as popular, if not more so, in 2018. In America, Harris has only made the top 1000 names once in the past decade, and the name is seldom seen among celebrities or pop culture. Still, Harris continues to be an enduringly popular pick overseas.
In Spain, the top name for baby boys born in 2018 was Hugo, a Germanic variation of Hugh with the meaning “bright in mind and spirit.” In America, however, this name has not been particularly popular over the past few decades. The Social Security Administration indicates that Hugo has been ranked in the 300s and 400s since at least the year 2000. And honestly, there’s no expectation that the name will surge in popularity here anytime soon. Despite its strong sound and inspirational meaning, Hugo just isn’t the kind of name Americans are going for in this day and age.
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This lovely name was one of the top names in Japan in 2017 for baby girls, although it is also sometimes used for baby boys. Kokoro is usually defined as meaning “heart” or “blossoms of the heart,” either definition being quite beautiful and meaningful. Much like the unusual naming trends so prevalent in America, Japan has seen more and more babies being given names that are flowery and unique. And while Japanese names are not particularly common in America, gorgeous names like Kokoro may well appeal to some American parents, especially those who wish to honor Japanese ancestry. As of now, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find any girls with the name here.
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In 2018, Louise, the feminine version of the time-tested name Louis, was ranked number two in France. In America, while the name has been slowly trending upward in recent years, it’s still a far cry from popular--the Social Security Administration ranked it 805th in 2017, and popular site Baby Center estimates its rank in 2018 will drop. For whatever reason, Louise is a very common, very traditional name in France; it’s been in the top five for more than a decade! The name itself is of French origin and means “renowned warrior,” an admirable trait for any daughter. But don’t expect to meet a lot of children named Louise in America in the coming years.
Mariam is a name of Greek origin that is usually defined as meaning either “beloved” or “bitter,” which are admittedly pretty opposing meanings! Surprisingly, the name is quite popular in Egypt and Tunisia, and likely in other countries throughout Africa. Perhaps that’s because Mariam is an Arabic version of the common and well-loved Mary, or perhaps it’s just become a family tradition. In America, the name has picked up a little more popularity in recent years, but it hasn’t been a particularly common name any time in recent memory. If anything, Mariam has actually trended downwards in 2018, so don’t expect to be seeing too many little girls named Mariam showing up in your newsfeed anytime soon.
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For many of us throughout the world, the first person we think of upon hearing the name Matilda is the Roald Dahl book character of the same name. As Dahl was British, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the name continues to be quite popular in England; in 2018, it’s definitely one of the big choices. In America, the name has been low on the popularity list for the past decade, and over the last few years it’s been trending downwards. There are a handful of celebrities who have bestowed this name upon their own child, including Heath Ledger and Gordon Ramsey, but even star power has not given Matilda any significant boost in America. The English, however, just can’t get enough of this lovely girly name.
This name has been a popular one in Germany for a long, long time; it’s been one of the top choices since at least the 1970s! In America, Maximilian is significantly less popular; the Social Security Administration has ranked it in the 400s and 500s for the past few decades. Maximilian is a Latin name that means “great” or even “greatest.” The name has appeared in countless books over the years, both in America and overseas, plus it’s been the name of several Roman emperors and even a saint. This classy name is guaranteed to be desirable for years to come, but will Americans ever come to love it as much as those overseas?
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It might surprise you to learn that the name Muhammad is a popular name in England, but the truth is the name has been trending up for several years now. It’s less surprising that Muhammad (and all of its many alternative spellings) is extremely popular throughout the Middle East. Muhammad is the name of the prophet of the Islamic religion, and the name is generally translated as meaning “praised one” or “praiseworthy.” The name Muhammad is probably more common in the United States than many others on this list, but it hasn’t cracked the top 300 anytime in recent memory.
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In India, Saanvi has long been a popular name. The name is derived from that of the goddess Lakshmi, who is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity; it’s easy to see why parents would want to invoke those qualities for their newest little daughter! In the United States, however, Saanvi is far from common. The last time the name made the Social Security Administration’s top 1000 names was in 2017 when it just barely squeaked in; popular website BabyCenter shows it trending downwards, so it might not be on the list at all for 2018. That’s opposite of trends in India, however, where the name frequently finds itself as one of the top 10.
In Israel, the girl’s name Tamar has been a top contender for nearly two decades. In the United States, Tamar is not unheard of, but it hasn’t made the Social Security Administration’s top 1000 list any time in recent memory. Popular website BabyCenter, meanwhile, ranks it upwards of 3000th place and trending downward. Tamar is a name of Hebrew origin usually defined as meaning “palm tree” or “date palm tree,” or sometimes “gracious.” Spiritually speaking, the name appears a few times in the Bible, which could be part of why it’s popular in Israel. The popularity definitely hasn’t caught on in America, though!
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This name, popular in England and gaining more ground every year, is probably one of the highest-rated names in this gallery, but it’s still quite uncommon in the United States. Pronounced “chee-AH-go,” it’s rapidly rising in the lists in England. Thiago means “supplanter” and is thought to be a variation of Santiago; a name long loved throughout Europe. Thiago is expected to only become more popular in England in the coming years as more parents seek out unique-sounding names that are strong and masculine for their boys. On the flip side, Thiago is also gaining majorly as a girl’s name, as more and more parents trend away from traditional notions of masculinity and femininity.
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In China, Wei is an extremely popular first name. While the country doesn’t officially publish data on baby names regularly, the name Wei was at the top for the last year offered, and anecdotally continues to remain high on the charts. Wei means a number of different things, depending on which source cited, from “big” and “great” to “valuable” and “brilliant.” In China, Wei is considered a boy’s name, but in other places it’s often used for girls as well. Chinese names in general are not “popular” in America, so it’s not surprising that Wei doesn’t make the cut for most.
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In America, “Oh Susannah” is a popular folk song, still sung in summer camps across the country. In Poland, the Slavic version of the name Susannah or Susan, Zuzanna, has been a top contender for the past few years. Susan is still a common name in America, although its popularity has fallen drastically over the past few decades. Susannah, on the other hand, has never been very popular, and Zuzanna has never made it onto any popular American name list anytime in recent memory. Zuzanna means “lily,” a lovely botanical name, and it surely gets some cool points for the fact that it begins with the letter z and count inspire a quirky nickname like Zuzu.