Imagine if we were all named Bob or Sue.
From Bangkok to Montreal, say every man and every woman had the exact same name.
Bob and Sue.
Feeling a little uncomfortable about the idea of global name homogeneity? Yeah, me too.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with “Bob” and “Sue.” They’re great names that are surely attached to some great people. Still, the idea of everyone being labeled with these two designations sounds like something out of a young adult dystopian novel.
That’s because we value diversity. We seek out what we’ve never seen or heard before. We want to experience something different. We yearn to be enriched by the foreign and new.
Luckily we’re not all named Bob or Sue—that would be boring. We’re fortunate in that we can actually taste the rainbow. You won’t find a pot of gold at the end of it, but you’ll get to satisfy your craving for foreign culture (which is worth way more!).
All it takes is one simple question: “Hey, what’s your name?”
Here you’ll find 32 awesome foreign names, plus why they should matter to you, a dedicated language learner.
Why You’ll Be Extra Interested in Cool Foreign Names as a Language Learner
We don’t think about it too often, but names are a major part of our being.
When it comes to naming babies, expectant parents spend countless hours poring over baby-naming websites, making up lists and receiving advice—whether invited or not—from pretty much anyone who feels bold enough to offer up their opinion on such a personal matter (at least in some cultures, more on that in a second).
The reason that this process becomes so involved is because there’s a general awareness of how important names are. They are deeply tied to our identities. Everyone wants to make sure that they get it right, since, really, you only get one shot. Therefore, choosing a name that the parents, the child and even society can live with can turn quite stressful.
This is especially true in the Western cultures where parents have the freedom to name their child almost anything that they want. From the biblical to the bizarre, when your options range from “James” to “Jermajesty,” things can get a bit overwhelming.
In other cultures, names are chosen more ceremoniously. Parents pick from the family tree, they look to events that occurred during or after pregnancy, they perform rituals, magic and incantation, and a whole host of other processes to decide the perfect name for their person-to-be.
It’s clear that no matter the avenue chosen for naming a baby, every culture takes this process very seriously.
So what does this have to do with learning a language?
Lots. In addition to personal significance, names bear huge cultural significance as well. They don’t just represent you, they represent where you come from, where your parents came from, entire ethnic groups and nationalities. It’s tribal.
There are names that we instantly associate with a culture or region just by seeing or hearing them. Take a look at the name “John” in alternate forms: Juan, Jean, Giovanni. No doubt you automatically made the associations with Latin America/Spain, France and Italy.
This is intentional. There’s a reason why we don’t know a ton of French Giovannis. We’re hard-wired to preserve our cultural identities, and, generally, the first place people start is with the name.
Keep that in mind when you’re learning a new language. You aren’t just learning nouns, adjectives and verbs. You’re learning a new culture. You’re getting a taste of how people in that culture think, what they believe and how they express themselves. Names are an important part of that.
There is, however, another aspect that we shouldn’t overlook. Foreign names are just freakin’ cool.
Yes, sometimes they can be shocking to our ears, and maybe they can be a little hard to pronounce. I’ll give you that. However, putting pronunciation aside, there are many that just have an awesome sound, or an interesting meaning or are attached to some pretty significant people.
It’s okay if you’ve felt a little bit of foreign name envy on more than one occasion. We’ve all been there. You may feel your “simple English name” is dull and uninteresting, but just remember two things: (1) It’s your name. Celebrate that everyone else in the world doesn’t have it (even if you have to share it with a couple thousand others), and (2) You may come across a list, just like this, written by someone thousands and thousands of miles away, and your name might just be on it.
Let’s dive in.
32 Cool Foreign Names You Wish Your Parents Gave You
1. Ai (f)
Short and sweet. The meaning of this name changes depending on the accent. When spelled ài, the name means “love, affection.” However, ǎi means “friendly.” All around, it’s a pleasant name no matter how you say it.
2. Tao (m)
The Chinese don’t need too many syllables or characters for a name to make a huge splash. Brief, yet bold, Tao translates to “large waves.”
3. Apolline (f)
Who says only boys can be named after the son of Zeus? Certainly not the French. They’ve taken the god of music’s name and given it a feminine and melodic twist. Move over Apollo. Girls rule.
4. Rapier (m)
This name is about as badass as it gets. Rapier is the term used for slim, pointy swords. Ladies with “bad-boy” fever will be swooning for sure.
5. Leisl (f)
Liesl has been cool since the Von Trapps sang their way into America’s hearts all those years ago. It almost sounds like the name Lisa, but that extra “sl” sound at the end gives it a fun twist that we don’t get to hear often in names that have more Anglo-Saxon based origins.
6. Peppi (m)
When you say this out loud doesn’t it just make you want to skip? Or, dare I say, make you want to add some pep to your step?
7. Cathenna (f)
This strong, bold, beautiful name is a variant of the name Athena. If you’re unsure of who Athena is, she just so happens to be the strong, bold and beautiful goddess of wisdom and war in Greek mythology.
8. Hrisovalantis (m)
I know exactly what you’re thinking. “Gosh, this name sounds a lot like the name Chris.” Well, you’re on the right track. That’s because, in English, that’s exactly what this name translates to. Upon first glance it looks impossible to pronounce, but it’s phonetic, so it’s a lot easier than it looks.
9. Malia (f)
It should be of no surprise that Barack Obama gifted his daughter with a name from his home state. It’s a sweet variant of the name Mary.
10. Ahe (m)
The only onomatopoeic name on the list. Ahe nearly sounds like what it means, which is “soft breeze.”
11. Katoka (f)
Just as its meaning is “pure,” the name Katoka is also a pure delight to say. It easily rolls off the tongue, but also has a warrior princess feel to it.
12. Arpad (m)
Speaking of warriors, if someone were to tell me that an Arpad is leading a charge against my enemies, I’d feel like I were in safe hands. It’s just as well, Arpad is also the name of a 9th-century Hungarian war hero.
13. Bhavika (f)
Indian names always have the coolest sound, and this one is no different. Who wouldn’t want to introduce her to every passerby just for the sheer pleasure of getting to say her name over and over again?
14. Dev (m)
Alternate Pronunciation: “swag.” Just kidding. Dev oozes cool. While we may typically think of Indian names as being longer, this one is short and hip. And if it looks familiar to you, that’s because it belongs to a popular actor of the same name. Ever heard of “Slumdog Millionaire”?
15. Radha (f)
In the English language we’re all for the silent consonant. This is next level though. These letters don’t correspond to the sounds that we’re familiar with. All the fun in Irish names lies in getting the pronunciation down—which tends to be quite simple in the end.
16. Seamus (m)
Did your hearts skip a beat, Harry Potter fans? You’re welcome. There will always be great affection for the beloved, Gryffindor, Seamus. So go ahead, flutter away hearts, flutter away.
17. Elanie (f)
For a name that means oak tree, it’s one of the lighter sounding names on this list. Elanie is rooted (sorry, had to) in strength and fortitude. It’s an airy feminine name with the strength of a forest to back it up.
18. Moshe (m)
You might not recognize this name in its Hebrew form, but you’re probably familiar with the guy attached to it. He did this whole thing with the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, and saved a whole race of people. Some would say that he’s kind of a big deal.
19. Marielia (f)
Like the Italian language itself, this name is very melodic. It’s a combination of both a female and a male name: Maria and Elia (Mary and Elijah). What’s not to love?
20. Drago (m)
If the French Rapier is as close to tough as a name can get, Drago goes even further still. It means “dragon.” Enough said. With a name like this, any little boy can conquer the world.
21. Chiyo (f)
In Japanese it means “a thousand generations,” which is both haunting and beautiful. It also might ring a bell for many, as it’s the name of the protagonist in the popular book and movie “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
22. Fumio (m)
Doesn’t it have a bit of an Italian ring to it? Did you just imagine pasta and wine? The name is actually quite Japanese. It belonged to several notable people in Japan such as writers, musicians, politicians, artists and athletes.
Middle Eastern (Arabic)
23. Zahra (f)
This name is appealing to many native English speakers, perhaps because it’s both simple and exotic. I’ve come across several people who’ve mentioned their admiration of the name Zahra. It has two meanings. In Arabic it means “white” and in Egyptian it means “flower.”
24. Driss (m)
The name alone evokes the image of a dude on a motorcycle, wearing aviator sunglasses and smoking a cigarette. Ironically though, Driss comes from the Arabic verb darassa which means “to study.” But studying is cool too, right? Yeah, you know what, scratch the irony. Let’s go with studying is cool.
25. Uchenna (f)
This euphonic bit of Nigerian goodness is perfect for the modern monotheist. It means “god’s will.” She’s got some big shoes to fill, but at least she’s got a great name she can flaunt while filling them.
26. Ajulo (m)
Most of us probably would not want to be labeled by our birth order, unless that label was Ajulo. The name means “second born,” and the Ajulos of the world surely revel in it because of the awesome name that comes with it.
27. Ailsa (f)
Ailsa Craig is a tiny island off the coast of Scotland. The name Ailsa means “Island of Alfisigr.” Alfsigr means “elf victory,” so really, the name is quite enchanted on all fronts.
28. Coinneach (m)
With a name that means “handsome” and sounds like the name of a popular brandy, this Scottish moniker screams masculinity.
29. Adelina (f)
Spanish names tend to always have a melodic sound that rolls off the tongue. This one is no different. It’s both sweet and grandiose, two traits anyone would want in a name.
30. Lucero (m)
Latinos love light. For example, in Spanish when you say “to give birth,” you say dar a luz which literally means “to give light.” Also, Luz is a very popular name for girls in Spanish-speaking countries. So, there was no way the boys were being left out of this light show. Lucero is sure to shine with a name meaning “bright light” or “bright star.”
31. Tuyet-Hanh (f)
Here’s another combo name. Tuyet means “snow” or “snow white” and Hanh means “apricot tree” (lucky it’s not an apple tree!). Lame joke aside, you’ll find that this exotic name is quite fun to say, and you’ll be wishing that you had a friend named Tuyet-Hanh so you could shout her name incessantly, like I do with my own Tuyet.
32. Vinh (m)
Who doesn’t love a Vinny? Anytime Americans hear the name Vin or Vinny, we’re thinking of the actor Vin Diesel or a slick-talking Brooklynite. It’s unlikely that they make the same associations in Vietnam, but that doesn’t make the name any less exquisite.
So, maybe you’ve heard some of these names before, and maybe they’re all brand new. Either way, your world has expanded and it can keep expanding. Go out and meet new people. Introduce yourself. Have a conversation. Embrace the similarities and differences between you and the people you meet. Most importantly, have fun.
Now get out there and start making some foreign friends.