In the pardesi+desi and gora/gori+desi online community, baby names are always a fun topic. The baby name topic is also an issue for second generation desi Americans and Muslim Americans as well. I am very interested etymology and language, so it is a topic of interest for me.
Here is an excerpt from a convo with a friend-We were talking about class and baby names—like how upper middle class desis of various ethno-religious backgrounds have their preferred equivalents of names like Emma, Hannah, and Madison. For Americans, think of Gertrude, Mildred, Twyla Jean, Nakisha, or Starr, and how in the USA names carry some message of age, class, rural versus urban, or might be associated with a race or ethnic US subculture.
In convos with desi+pardesi couple friends, such issues come up- A white American Christian background friend married into a Jain Indian family says:
“…The class thing comes out in other ways too…for instance, I have a running “future baby name” list, and my husband nixed many of them because they sounded “like servants’ names” or “too old-fashioned.” I guess we’ll end up with the trendy babies’ names of India then…I wonder what the “Madison” and “Aidan” of India would be, heh.”
“Actually there absolutely are Madison and Aidan in both Hindu and Muslim desi flavor of the year names. I love names like Jahanara or Dilara but these sound like “servant names” or “old lady names” to people of my husband’s particular background. “
EASY-FOR-GORA NAMES: I have had this discussion online and ‘in real life’ with friends, too, but about Muslim names. We have our own considerations as individuals, and one in particular for me when I was pregnant and name-hunting was that I wanted something that wasn’t too hard for people unfamiliar with Muslim names to pronounce, but which had a good Arabic/Islamic meaning. (Being from Texas, the name had to sound okay in Spanish, too no Suda, no Maimona, etc. )
Are you in an interfaith relationship with a Muslim? Is your significant other trying to convince you to choose a “Muslim name” for your baby? Technically, there is no such thing as a Muslim name. However, names carry the message of what community one belongs to, so people tend to like names that reflect their community. If you come from a mainstream or majority group in your society, you may have never thought much about it. But name choice is a very important identity marker and part of affirming and celebrating one’s identity for religious and ethnic minorities. I said that there is no such thing as a Muslim name. What do I mean? By ‘no such thing as a Muslim name,’ I mean that many Christian Arabs have Arabic origin names, and people in many other countries from Iran to Indonesia have modern concocted names or names from other sources, like Adelina or Nurgeisha in Central Asia. Or pre-Islamic indigenous names like Bahram or Maneezheh in Iran, or Watri in Indonesia. These people are all Muslims. Dave Chappelle is a perfectly Muslim name. A name doesn’t have to be Arabic, Turkish, or Persian origin to be a “Muslim name,” although that is usually what is meant by “Muslim name.” And once again, Muslims don’t ‘own’ Persio-Arabic names. In India (and Pakistan, which also has a small Parsi community), Parsis have names which are Persian origin. Sometimes we know that a person is Parsi by seeing their full name, such as something plus-walla as a surname. (Some Muslims also have -walla surnames, too.) But often Parsi name choices overlap with Persian name choices of Muslims. I have observed that some Sikhs also have Arabic or Persian origin names like Iqbal or Daler. So one will find Christian, Parsis, Sikhs, and others with names of Arabic or Persian origin. Muslims don’t “own” these names.
Once, a friend and I were discussing Muslim baby name choices. She is white-Christian American and her husband is a Pakistani Muslim. She noted that to her ears, many of the Muslim male names she saw “sounded Black.” We are socialized to read names as identity markers, as I discussed above with the examples of Gertrude and Twyla Jean. I have looked at boys’ Arabic names and it has occurred to me that a name “sounds Black” as well. This thought process led me to a quick check of white privilege and what a name “sounding black” means in my culture in terms of racism and intolerance coming from the mainstream white culture. Names are so rich in meaning, markedness, and connotation and a name “sounding black” or “seeming Muslim” has a lot of cultural implications, including many negative ones due to racism in our US culture. African American sounding names, as well as ‘foreign sounding’ names are stigmatized in mainstream white culture. That brings up the reality that what your name is does have an effect on your future. There are multiple studies that show that having a name associated with African Americans or which sounds Asian get less call backs for jobs in the US and Canada. See here and here for some support for that claim. I think it is sad that people should fear affirming their child’s ethnic, religious, or racial identity by giving them a distinct, non-white sounding name. We as parents make choices that will deeply affect our children’s lives, names being a major one. Some US communities of color have been compelled to have legal ‘American names’ in addition to ethnic names used at home. Many children of color with foreign sounding names elect to use shortened nick-names or select an ‘American name.’ For us white Americans, when considering these issues as a partner in a desi+pardesi relationship, it also becomes a question of white privilege and whether we will give in to structures of white privilege and avoid marked names. Are we hoping to perpetuate some form of white privilege for our multiracial children of color? It’s very complicated. If I give my child a ‘Muslim name’ that is more aesthetically pleasing for the mainstream white culture, hence less likely to elicit grade-school teasing, am I still playing into the wrong side of things just the same as avoiding a Muslim name altogether and going for a mainstream “white name’? I realize that many of the Muslim names that I personally like sound better to me than others because I have been socialized in white American culture to find certain sounds more aesthetically pleasing, while others sound awkward to me even though they have beautiful Arabic meanings. Names are so very complex. I do feel that I have opted for names that are aesthetically pleasing in my native culture while simultaneously Muslim for a variety of complicated reasons.
Since we are talking about desi+pardesi couples and names, let’s look at Hindu names. It might be the same that desi-pardesi Hindu Indian affiliated couples would want a sound Sanskrit origin name that is ‘easy’ on the ears for non-desis so that kids don’t get teased or have names that the non-desis can say.
Take note that just like it is problematic to say ‘American name’: George Joseph, Balbir Chauhan, Shehpar Humayun, and Jose D’ Souza are all equally Indian names. These are baby name quests for a Hindu name or Sanskrit origin name, not a Hindi name, and not an ‘Indian name’ as Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others are also legitimately Indians with Indian names, just not always necessarily Sanskrit origin or Hindu names, depending on the community. So you are looking for a Hindu Sanskrit origin name, not an Indian name. Your significant other is rejecting names for sounding like a maid’s name, or “old fashioned,” or too something or another. And beyond that, you get to know that some Hindu names sound very stereotypically Bengali or Gujarati or Tamil Brahmin or whatever. It is a lot to consider.
I can imagine some people might be confused as to why I would mix Sanskrit origin names and Muslim names in the same post, but all I can say is that in in my experience some of the same topics come up for all of us. Not to mention, that I have noticed that some Indian baby name books and websites have Hindu and Muslim baby names mixed together. A non-desi friend who is married to an Indian Hindu told me that all of the names she liked from one such baby name website were rejected by her husband because they were Muslim names. I suppose the website author just presumed that Hindu and Muslim Indians would know the difference automatically, but it wasn’t considered that some pardesi who is less familiar with such things might be perusing the site. I really don’t know that much about names from other religious communities but I wonder what issues come up for Sikh-American and also desi+pardesi Sikh affiliated American couples, though.
Desi American Muslim couples, as well as couples in interracial marriages where one parent is non-desi and non-Muslim, tend to all have some common names that they use: like Zain, Rayaan, Ayaan, and Adam for boys and Sara, Laila, Yasmine, and Aliya for girls. I would bet a lot of money that there are similar issue for Hindu Americans and mixed Hindu desi+non-desi couples and there are probably some names that a lot of people in the US use. (Neel, Jay, Anjali, etc)
This website that mentions some popular US Hindu names.
This website that has it’s own filter for “easy-for-gora” names:
I can tell you some ‘trendy’ Hindu names after discussing with a friend: stuff with -aan in it is popular for boys and girls (interestingly also same in Pakistan these days) so for boys: Amaan, Yuvaan, Vivaan, Ayaan and also Aryan, Aman (short -a-, not aan), Saamir, Aditya. For girls: Anya (BIG trendy name) Aryana, (interestingly both Anya and Aryanah are trendy in Pakistan but with the Arabic and Persian meanings taken) Vivyah, Vanya, Riya, Siya, Diya, Rashi. You could have a look at some baby name websites to check the meaning of these names.
Friends, may I suggest that you purchase a comprehensive book of Hindu babynames, though, because one thing I have found about researching baby names online (I have had two kids in the past 3 years) is that there are a lot of mistakes in baby name website name meanings because they are made by non-specialists (no linguistic background), sometimes randomly user-added, and sometimes the same mistake is copied from website to website. If you are interested in a name you see online and want to confirm its Sanskrit meaning, you can aske here at the Word Reference forums Indo-Iranian language section or consult a Sanskrit dictionary or Hindu baby name book.
I have read multiple online discussions of non-desi partners who want a mainstream American name while their significant others want a Hindu or Muslim name. I understand why the significant others desire names from their own communities as religious minorities in the US, and how it represents their culture and background and re-affirms identity. No one should be *forced* to name their kid something when they don’t want to. I hope any couples going through this can reach a compromise.
A list of Pakistani Muslim-American girls names beyond Leila and Yasmine:
A few words on Pakistani names-Pakistani Muslims tend to take names from Turkish, Persian, and Arabic (mainly the two latter). An exception to this would be Pashtoons who also use Pashto origin names. There is no such thing as a ‘Pakistani name,’ anymore than there is an American name or Indian name since Pakistan is also multi-ethnic and a home to people of diverse faiths. However, I have compiled this list and over the years I have shared it with a few friends who were either desi Muslim American or married to one and looking for a desirably sound Muslim girl’s name that was ‘okay for the goras’ to pronounce:
All are Arabic unless indicated as other. You can leave the ‘h’ off of the ending of any of these names, it is just to be closer to the Arabic spelling that many people leave it on. Some of these names would have an -at ending in Urdu, while they have an -ah ending in Arabic (ta marboota). It is up to you which pronunciation to take, but it seems the -ah Arabic endings are more popular in Muslim-American communities.
There is no standardized way to transliterate Arabic or Persian into English orthography, so some variation on spelling is possible. In some cases, variation on pronunciation is also possible based on whether one takes the Arabic versus the desi pronunciation.
Meanings are confirmed from The Complete Book of Muslim and Parsi Names by Maneka Gandhi and Ozair Husain. (Don’t trust unsourced babyname website meanings!!!) Please let me know if you find an error in the meanings.
Aliyah: high, exalted, feminine of Ali, (my daughter is Alayah, the diminutive of this)
Amani : uh-maan-ee pl. of hope
Amara: uh-maa-ruh a sign
Amina: trust worthy, one with iman
Ammara: uh-maa-ruh: tolerant
Anayah: uh-naa-yuh (in Urdu this becomes Inaayat, but you can use the Arabic pronunciation): help from God, grace, bounty from God. This is actually popular in Pakistan right now as a girl’s name.
Anisah: uh-nee-suh companion/friend
Aania /Anya(aahn-nee-yuh): She that has achieved her ambition/aspiration(the highest goal).
Ariana/Aryana: aa-ree-aa-nuh, (Farsi name) pure, it is related to the word Aryan, as in the nation of Iran and the root of the word Ireland, it is a proto-European word. This name is also popular in Pakistan right now. It is the name of the Afghan airlines. It sounds close to the word for naked in some dialects of Arabic, as some Arabs will tell you, but the real Arabic word is ‘uryaanah, not Ariana anyway. The word Uryaan exists meaning ‘naked’ in litererary Urdu, too.
Dalia: dahlia the flower
Daniya: close or near (Arabic), giver (Old Persian)
Daria: daa-ree-yuh: learned, knowledgeable
Dara: daa-raa, halo (This is an Arabic meaning, but if you take the Persian meaning it becomes a boy’s name)
Farah: furr-uh, not Fae-ruh as in English: joy
Faria/Fariah: faa-ree-yuh: tall
Haniyah: haa-nee-yuh: a young maid
Hina: Hinn-nuh: henna, mehndi
Jennah: Paradise, Heaven. This is said as jinnat/jennut in Urdu, but you can just use the Arabic pronunciation which sounds like the English name Jenna.
Layla: night (this is considered a bad meaning by Pakistanis, though)
Linah: soft, gentle, also spelled Lena
Liyah: pure white, morning
Liyaan: lee-yawn: gentleness
LujaneLujain: loo-jane, silver
Marjaan/Marjaana: coral (I love this name, it is mentioned in the Quran, but it sounds like die-life or die in Urdu.
Maria/Maaria/Mariya/Mariah/Mariyah: maa-ri-uh (note the stress is on the first syllable, not as in Spanish): a type of bird, fair complexioned, the Christian wife of the Prophet pbuh. Popular in Pakistan right now, also sounds close to the Italian and Spanish names to Americans
Maya: means like wealth or capital in Farsi (and in Urdu, like sar-o-maya) it is also a note on the Persio-Arabic musical scale. (It has the Sanskrit meaning illusion, as well)
Mina: mee-nuh: Farsi. a type of enamel used to decorate gold. This is a well known style of desi gold design, you can google meena/mina meena kaam or meena kari for pictures.
Muna/Mona: muh-nuh: a wish or desire
Naila/Nayla: nigh-luh: a winner, achiever
Niyah: knee-yuh: vow, intention (this is niyyat in Urdu) It might be bothersome to some to not use double /y/ when spelling this name in English, but I could even see it as Nia.
Nolah/Naulah: Largesse, a gift, a kiss
Naurah: no-ruh: a blossom
Nura/Nora: Light, illumination
Rasinah: of good character
Razaan: ruh-zawn: a modest woman, calm, composed
Razeen/Razine: ruh-zeen: same meaning as above
Sabrine: suh-breen patient
Sabria/Sabriyya/Sabriya: suh-bree-yuh: patient
Sakeena: suh-kee-nuh: calm, peaceful
Samina: suh-mee-nuh valuable, expensive,another common mixed couple name
Samira: suh-mee-ruh one who converses by moonlight, another mixed couple name
Sara: saa-ruh, This one actually has multiple meanings-a shawl and a princess in Arabic, a star in Persian, another mixed couple common one; it means princess in Hebrew, too.
Soraya: the stars (the Pleides)
Tamara: tumm-aa-ruh, female date seller,
Talia: taa-lee-yuh: stress on first syllable, start, outset, beginning, like the Mexican singer
Tara: taa-ruh Persian and Urdu: star
Yasmin: yuss-meen: jasmine, always a crowd pleaser with the mixed couples
Zaina: zane-uh: beautiful
Zeenah/Zina: zee-nuh: adornment, this is zeenat in Urdu
For boys I have no list, but I like Aliyaan (twice sublime), Ayaan (leaders), Junaid (I know, so 80s, but it is a great name)…it is the diminutive of the Arabic for soldier), Firaas (horseman), Jaid (sounds like Jade and from the Arabic word for good) and then there are the mixed couple classics: Adam, Rayaan, Zain which are great!!! I also love Tai (obedient).