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Barbara is your aunt, the mom who called her daughters Ava and Madison. But this exotic nickname spin might just revive her from a middle aged slump.

Thanks to Jana for suggesting Basia as Baby Name of the Day.

In Polish, Basia is a pet name for Barbara. The pronunciation is a bit too close to bash for some – BAH sha. But with the equally Slavic Sasha growing up in the White House and Anya leaping up the popularity charts, it isn’t unreasonable to look around and consider what other names we can import from Warsaw and Moscow, Kiev and Prague. After all, Tanya spent a decade in the US Top 100 during the 1970s.

The saintly Barbara – she was a third century martyr, though there’s speculation that her story is too fantastic to be believed – spent the years 1927 through 1958 in the US Top Ten, peaking at #2. Many of us have a beloved Barb on our family trees. The first President Bush married a Barbara; the second President Bush passed the name on to his daughter. But few parents are doing the same today. As of 2009, Barbara had fallen to #656.

Despite her long history, it is more challenging to update Barbara than some other names. American parents called their girls Barbie and Babs and Bobbie, but it is a relatively small stable of nicknames compared to Margaret, Elizabeth, or Katherine. International variations also tend to look an awful lot like Barbara – the Czech Barbora, the Russian Varvara.

The -sia ending is unfamiliar in the US, and tempts some to say bah SEE uh. Other Polish diminutives share the form, like Gosia from Margaret and Kasia from Katherine.

There’s a second possible source for Basia. The Hebrew Bithiah, Bethia, or Batyah – famously worn by the Egyptian princess who rescued and raised baby Moses – might also be a source for Basia, as the name was simplified from three syllables to two.

Plenty of notables have answered to Barbara. Look her up in a baby name guide and you’ll see that she means foreign – though you probably won’t hear that she shares her root with the word barbarian.

The Basia who might come to mind is the one pictured above, singer Basia Trzetrzelewska, though she uses only her first name professionally. In the 1980s and 90s, her recordings fared well internationally. In her video from “Time and Tide,” she starts out by correcting a guy who calls her Basey. “It’s Basia,” she says. If that doesn’t ring any bells, click on “Cruising for Bruising” – probaby her biggest single.

Basia is still performing, but if you live in Arizona, you’re more likely to think of the grocery store chain, Bashas, founded by nineteenth century Lebanese immigrant Najeeb Basha and his sons.

There are other options to reinvent Barbara – the medieval Barbary, though all of her associations are tainted, from the slave trade on the Barbary Coast of Africa to San Francisco’s nineteenth century red-light district. Elaboration Barbarella might hold promise, if not for Jane Fonda’s sexy sci fi heroine from 1968’s cult classic film by the same name.

But if you’re looking for a Slavic heritage choice, Basia could prove surprisingly wearable.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. I have always thought my name, Barbara, was boring, and judging from other Barbara’s attempts to liven up their names, others feel the same: I’ve come across a ‘Barbette’, as well as an artist whose name was Barbara but she signed her work ‘Ara’. And of course, the famous ‘Barbra’…