There’s a category of names that feels especially at home in the twenty-first century: the non-specifically exotic. They’re not Arabic or Mandarin or Hawaiian, exactly. They’re just not exactly European, even though they often share the same sounds. Think of all those kids you’ve met called Maya and Kai.
Thanks to Pree for suggesting another one that fits in this camp. Our Baby Name of the Day is Asha.
The successful non-specifically exotic names tend to feel right at home with popular English choices, and Asha is no exception. The once-masculine Ashley was a superstar for girls in the 1980s, and Asher is on the rise now. Asha is unrelated, and she takes a slightly different vowel-sound, rhyming with Sasha and Tasha, speaking of vaguely exotic choices.
She’s also had a run at the US Top 1000, debuting in 1989 at an impressive #796, but never gaining, and leaving the list entirely after 2000.
Too bad, because regardless which origin story you follow, Asha feels auspicious. Her first possible meaning is life, from a Swahili word, putting her in the company of white-hot celeb tot appellation Vida, though she often appears in English as Aisha. In Sanskrit, she means wish or hope – a virtue name of non-Christian derivation.
There’s even more to Asha, though. Zoroastrianism was once a major religion, and its sacred text was written in Avestan. Like ancient Aramaic or Old Church Slavonic, we know most of the language through its use in sacred works. In Avestan, asha means something along the lines of truth. She’s bigger than a name like Verity, though. Asha implies a sort of universal justice and order, too, and she’s symbolized by fire.
Most famous Ashas hail from India, like Bollywood staple Asha Bhosle. She’s contributed to countless movie soundtracks. This long-working grandmother has been Grammy-nominated and named to the Guiness Book of World Records as the most recorded artist – she made her first studio recording in 1947. She’s not better known because technically Bhosle is a playback singer – other actors lip-sync to tracks she has recorded. But in 1997, a relatively obscure British band called Cornership recorded a modestly successful single in her honor, “Brimful of Asha.” Fatboy Slim remixed it, and Bhosle’s reputation got a boost in the West.
A few other Indian notables answer to the name, and she’s a good cross-cultural option. Coronation Street characters Dev and Sunita Alahan welcomed twins in 2006 – a son called Aadi and daughter Asha.
That might’ve boosted her slightly in the English-speaking world, but odds are that it is science fiction that gets the real credit:
- Dark Angel launched the career of Jessica Alba. Second season character and resistance member Asha Barlow brought this name to a wider audience in the early 2000s.
- George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is better known an HBO original series A Game of Thrones. The books include a character named Asha Greyjoy – but she was re-named Yara for the television adaptation.
Call that second one a near-miss. Asha is still awaiting wider exposure. For now, she’s a great culture-spanning choice, and an appealing member of that particularly attractive group of exotics.