India: Baby Name of the Day

English: Map of the British Indian Empire from...

English: Map of the British Indian Empire from Imperial Gazetteer of India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 7, 2008 and substantialy revised and reposted on November 19, 2012.

Place names are one of hottest categories for novel baby names in recent years, but today’s choice has more history than you might guess.

Thanks to Nicole (aka Dirty Hippy) for suggestingIndiaas our Baby Name of the Day.

You’d be hard pressed to find a girl called China or Paris living in the nineteenth century.  But British families with ties to India adopted the appellation.  The East India Company was established in 1600.  Between 1858 and 1947, India was a colony, the jewel in the British crown.  Tales of life in India were captivating in the nineteenth century.  The plot of Vanity Fair involves the East India Company.  Sara Crewe’s dad went to India in A Little Princess.

Where does the nation’s name come from?  The Indus River, ultimately from the Sanskrit sindhu – river.  It’s quite an ancient name, and the Indus River Valley was settled during the Bronze Age, home to an early civilization stretching back more than 3000 years BC.

During the Victorian era, India caught on as a fashionable name.  In the US, India ranked in the Top 1000 from 1880 through 1911. Other place names, including Missouri, Florida, and Savannah were equally popular.

India Wilkes was sister to Ashley Wilkes – and one of Scarlett O’Hara’s biggest critics – in 1930s smash hit novel and film Gone With the Wind.  Despite the runaway popularity of the novel and the film, the characters’ names did not become sensations.

On the other side of the Atlantic, India remained in steady, quiet use among the English. The best known is India Amanda Caroline Hicks, daughter of famed 1960s interior designer David Nightingale Hicks and Lady Pamela Mountbatten. She’s followed in her father’s footsteps with a career in design, and also as a stylish baby namer – she’s mom to Felix, Amory, Conrad and Domino.

There’s also:

  • Musician India.Arie lends the name some cutting edge style
  • Actor Chris Hemsworth named his daughter India.
  • Other celeb parents who chose India include Sarah McLachlan, and Harvey Weinstein and Georgina Chapman.

India ranked #760 in 1970, leapt up to #317 in 1985, stood at #297 in 2001, and fell out of the rankings after 2010.  That sounds like she’s on her way out, eclipsed by more current place names like London.  But that’s tough to call.

  • She seems to be more steadily used in the UK, and Americans do occasionally fall in love with an import.
  • Her -ia ending dominates the US Top Ten: Sophia, Olivia, and Mia.  There’s also Sofia, Victoria, Amelia, Julia, Maria, and Lydianot far behind in the Top 100.
  • Nickname Indie feels fresh and spunky.
  • We do love a place name.

Plus, India was given to 250 girls in 2011.  One more girl given the name, and India would’ve been inside the rankings.

India feels both exotic and accessible.  The fact that she’s rare might be an additional selling point for parents thinking about Sylvia, Gloria, and Cordelia.  If you’re seeking something stylish and seldom heard, India is one to consider.

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  1. Holly says

    I love this name! I have a great Aunt India. Her family called her Cin. Not sure how they got Cin from India but it fit her perfectly. I don’t think I would use the nm though since it’s pronounced like “sin”. I can imagine there would be lots of raised eyebrows and shocked, “Her name is what??” 😉

  2. Zoe says

    Do you think its cheesy for someone who is part Indian (from India) to name their child India? My mother is from India but my dad is born & raised American, making me half. My fiancee is also born & raised American so our future daughter would be a 1/4 Indian. Could we name her India without it being too cliche?

      • appellationmountain says

        Hmmm … but did my answer make sense? I think naming your daughter India would seem like a subtle way of honoring your mother. Whether your mother would see it that way is another question …

  3. Panya says

    “The original reasons for using India make me want to curl up in a closet somewhere … I find her origins a bit unsavory and while I’d never hold it against anyone else, I could never use it in first myself”
    Ditto this. I loved India as a name when I was younger, but after I learned about the things that happened there, I’ve soured some on it. I still like the sound, and the slightly “exotic” feeling, but it feels a bit like using the name of a tribe with no knowledge/respect to back it up.

  4. SkyeRhyly says

    I actually really like this name, I think its one of the most usable place names. I’m also one who says India for a girl, Indiana for a boy, like Chris Hemsworth. Its just a shame he wont be able to name his son Indiana which was his fav name, because he already has an India.

  5. Charlotte Vera says

    A part of me would love to use India given my ties to the nation. However, another part of me feels that to do so would be just too literal (for me). I have friends from India who gave the name to their children, and it think it’s lovely. I’ve met people in North America named India, and I think it’s lovely on them too. I just don’t think it’s quite for me. Who knows, I could change my mind.

    Because India feels like such a literal option, and because most Indian names seem too Indian next to our other names, I chose instead to honour my Indian ties by using Ruth, the name of one of my best friends growing up, as the first of Roseanna’s middles. However, there are some Indian girls’ names that I love: Kamala, Aishwarya, Smitha, Harshala, Megha. . .but I don’t think I’ll ever use them. I also think the hindi word for heaven/paradise, Swarg, would be lovely on a little girl. However, it’s never actually used as a name in India and I’d feel odd co-opting a word from a language not my own as a name when it’s not intended as a name in the original language.

  6. patrick says

    We named our daughter India Rose, but we are living in India at the moment, so maybe that gives us a little more leeway..

  7. Sarah says

    Oh I adore this name! It quirky and has character – Why Oh Why does my cousin have to have this name!

    I don’t mind Indiana for a boy but I can’t very well have Indiana as a brother for Edward Nolan can I?!?!?


  8. appellationmountain says

    Another, you’re SO right about Brooklyn. They all live in Wisconsin. (As does my cousin Sarah. Nothing wrong with the state, but you can’t name your kiddo Brooklyn in Brooklyn, can you?)

    I can’t decide if India’s long history of use makes her a viable choice for a child’s name or not. Katharine, you summed it up perfectly – “naming a child after a nation I have never visited and have no links to – would seem pointed and unnatural.”

    But in the middle spot, I love her without reservation.

    There’s an India in Aly’s childcare center – she’s African American. I suspect the name is bigger among families of color – my ‘hood is pretty diverse, and I hear India with some frequency. I’m going to have to ask around.

  9. Another says

    I’m with Katharine! That’s why it kills me when people name their daughters Brooklyn. I mean, have they been there? It’s not the best place in the world. The only people who even like Brooklyn are the people who are from Brooklyn – and plenty of us have found reasons to leave and not go back. That’s why I named my dog after the place (both my dogs have place names) and wouldn’t consider naming either of my dogs after a place I haven’t been , anyway. How do you know if it’s any good?

    Sorry about my little rant.

  10. Katharine says

    I like the thought of India – she begins with an ‘I’ (winner), ends in ‘a’ (winner) and is at once familiar and unusual (again winner!) but for some reason I would never choose her. I think what I can’t get my head around is that for me, the thought of naming a child after a nation I have never visited and have no links to – would seem pointed and unnatural.

  11. !!!DirtyHippy!!! says

    Love India! Thanks so much for the info, AM. I think she appeals to me so much because she’s kind of historical and funky at the same time. The combo I’m kicking around now is India Caroline . . . I think it kind of highlights the old world british feel for me.

    Oh, and I totally agree with you Lola about the yummy culture, food and men :)

  12. Lola says

    You know, I found out Josephine was a county in Oregon, after I named her! (taught me to Google first!) But India gives me pause. The original reasons for using India malke me want to curl up in a closet somewhere. But then, Jemima is close to my own heart for her meaning as well as her Biblical character, but while I’d love to use her up front, he unsavory slavery link makes me put her in the middle (Cecily Jemima Llanfaire at the moment) I’d do the same with India. (I adore the Indian culture, their food and *sigh* their men) 😉 I find her origins a bit unsavory and while I’d never hold it against anyone else, I could never use it in first myself (I did have part of a combo for Josephine… ___ India Amandine. Edible feeling and lushly amber colored.) In the end, it’s all how you view it. Me? Middle name territory only. :)


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