Naima: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on January 9, 2013

She’s a musical name with an international vibe.

Thanks to Ashleigh for suggesting her daughter’s name as our Baby Name of the Day: Naima.

Legendary jazz composer and musician John Coltrane married Juanita Naima Grubbs in 1955.  Their marriage didn’t last long, but the song she inspired has endured.

Coltrane composed “Naima” in 1959, and performed it many times throughout his career.  It’s been much-covered and recorded by others, too.

I couldn’t learn much about Mrs. Coltrane.  Some say she was a convert from Islam; others say she converted her husband to the faith.  What’s certain is that Coltrane was deeply interested in religion throughout his life, though his music is not expressly religious.

In any case, Naima is an Arabic name, derived from a word meaning tranquil.  Her three syllable pronunciation – nah EE mah or ny EE mah – is pretty; beguiling, even.

There are a handful of names that sound similar:

  • Na’amah, a Hebrew name found in the Old Testament, meaning pleasant.  She’s the wife of Solomon, and appears as the name of several other women, too.  Trouble is that one of those women is a demon.
  • There’s also Najma, but I’m not clear whether that’s an alternate spelling of Naima or a different name.
  • Nima is definitely a different name, though also an Arabic one.

But back to the music.  Like any legendary song, it is no surprise that “Naima” would inspire some parents.  She has a particularly appealing quality – Naima feels globe-spanning, the kind of name that would suit a child with a multi-cultural background.

Or maybe that’s just the influence of Naima Mora, the winner of an early season of America’s Next Top Model.

Mora’s parents were jazz musicians, and her grandparents were artists.  Her roots are a mish-mash of Mexican, Native American, Afrian American, and Irish.  With a powerfully creative family, one with such eclectic roots, there’s no surprise her name is an interesting one.  Mora was born in Detroit in the 1980s, and while most girls were being called Ashley or Jessica, Mora was named after the Coltrane song.

It turns out that Naima’s rise in popularity tracks with the television show.  From 2005 through 2008, Naima hovered just inside the Top 1000, peaking at #888 in 2006.  She was given to 232 girls in 2011, putting her just outside the rankings.

All together, it makes for an appealing choice.  The song is a reference that many will recognize.  The name feels rooted but slightly outside of the mainstream.  If you’re looking for a non-European name that doesn’t feel invented, Naima hits the right note.

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