Small World of Baby Names
It’s both fun and enlightening to peek at the popularity lists of other places, to see which baby names have spread virally around the world, and to find unfamiliar gems in other countries’ top spots. Right now, for example, our #1 name Isabella is also leading in Denmark and Australia; Sophie, as in our #2 name Sophia, reigns in Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand; Emma, #3 in the U.S., heads the list in France, Belgium and Norway, while our #4 Olivia is #1 in England. For boys, most popular internationally are Jack, Jacob/Jakob, Lucas/Lukas and William.
Here are some less familiar names that could easily apply for their US visas.
Alba is at #9 in Spain, where the top girls’ name is the more familiar Lucia. Alba is a Latin name meaning ‘dawn,’ follows the current popular trend of girls’ names beginning and ending with the letter ‘a’, and is also a last name, associated right now with Jessica Alba, whose father is Mexican-American.
Alessia ranks at #8 in Italy, where the highest girls’ name is Giulia. Alessia can be seen as a pretty, softened version of Alexia or Alexa — and is just one of the legions of names across the world that evolved from Alexander. The Spanish Alejandra is another appealing Latin version.
Alfie is #4 for boys born in England and Wales, standing three spots behind top-ranking Oliver. Alfie, thanks to a long-running British soap opera character and the movie Alfie — the Jude Law remake of a Michael Caine film — is typical of the nickname names that are far more popular across the Pond than they are here. Gary Oldman was way ahead of the curve when he named his son Alfie in 1988.
Cristobal stands at #10 in Chile, where the biblical Benjamin tops the boys’ list. Cristobal, the first name of famed designer Balenciaga, was also the birth name of Christopher Columbus — aka Cristobal Colon.
Florian is the tenth most popular name in Austria, where the cross-cultural Lukas is tops for boys. With floral names Flora and Florence beginning to make a comeback for girls, we can envision some possibility for Florian for boys. There have been several European star athletes bearing the name.
Isla is the #5 name for girls born in Scotland, where Sophie is #1. Most Americans had never heard of this name (pronounced EYE-la) before the rise of actress Isla Fisher — Mrs. Sacha Baron Cohen. Isla has become a surprise instant hit in the U.S, already at #297, and accounting for over a thousand little Islas born just in the last year.
Linnéa is #4 for girl babies in Sweden, where the also interesting Maja leads the list. Linnéa derives from the surname of the renowned Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. Linnéa is a lovely, lilting name that manages to sound a lot fresher than her dated cousins Lynn and Lynette.
Luka is the #1 boys’ name in Croatia, one of the countless versions of the name that date back to the Latin Lucius or Lucas — from the Italian Luca and Luciano to the French Luc, to the Irish Lucan, to the German Lukas. There was a character named Luka Kovac on the old ER TV show, and another Luka on The Vampire Diaries.
Manon is #5 in France, where the top girls’ name is the multi-cultural Emma. (Let’s not forget that Emma Bovary was French.) Manon is a delightful French diminutive of Marie that appears in the name of a French novel and two operas — Manon Lescaut. It would make a totally charming import.
Magnus is fourth for boys born in Norway, where Emile heads the list. Now beginning to be heard in the US, the powerful Magnus dates back to Charlemagne being called Carolus Magnus, or Charles the Great. Magnus was picked for their sons by Will Ferrell (whose wife is Swedish) and Kirsty Swanson, and appears in Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, as a vampire in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and in Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
Noam has been the top boys’ name in Israel for several years, where, coincidentally, the #1 name for girls is Noa. Noam is a modern Hebrew name meaning ‘delight’, and its most famous bearer is the American linguist and activist Noam Chomsky. It makes a similar but secular and more distinctive alternative to the biblical Noah.
Sienna, is #10 for Australian baby girls, where Isabella is #1, just as it is in the US. Sienna, an evocative Italian place name (where it’s spelled Siena) and a color name, has seen a spectacular rise in America; it’s now at # 210, partly due, no doubt, to the influence of the attractive actress Sienna Miller. TV newsperson Campbell Brown chose it for her daughter.
Zuzanna, is the #3 girls’ name in Poland, where the traditional Julia is at the top. Zuzanna is the zippy Slavic version of Susannah. One asset: it leads directly to Zuzu, the adorable nickname you hear every Christmas worn by Jimmy Stewart’s little girl in It’s a Wonderful Life.