Bookshelf: Best Exotic Baby Names

I was prepared to love Allison Jones’ Best Exotic Baby Names. It’s tough to find an authoritative resource for names from other cultures, and it’s even more difficult to find truly interesting names that work well in American English. As I pre-ordered the book on Amazon, I had high hopes that I’d find some gems.

The rest of you, save your $11.95 – or stick with the Satran/Rosenkrantz book reviewed earlier. Best Exotic Baby Names may be thoroughly researched, but it is highly flawed.

Names are crammed onto every page. For nameniks, that might sound ideal, but the formatting is distracting, making the book tough to browse.

Still, if the content were appealing, I’d forgive a less-than-ideal layout. Instead, the information is surprisingly thin. For example, Odessa is listed as derived from the Greek, meaning odyssey, a voyage. Fair enough. But it’s also a stunning town in the Ukraine on the Black Sea. And Rita is listed only as a Sanskrit name meaning flow, cosmic order, truth – but not as a nickname derived from Margaret/Margarita and Sarah/Sarita, common names in Spanish and Italian.

Since the author insists that she has meticulously researched name origins and conferred with experts in foreign languages, it is disappointing that she fails to acknowledge the multiple origins of many names – and the impact that use has on their meanings. This is especially important information for non-native speakers. Is this appealing Jiamei (jee-ah-may) a common name in Mandarin? Or is Jiamei used in B-movies for the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold character, a sort of American Roxanne? Knowing that it means best beauty is great, but not enough to make an informed decision before bestowing it on your daughter.

It’s also funny to see names like Jada and Jadyn listed as variants of Jedidah, from the Hebrew for friend of God. Is it defensible? Sure. But I’ll bet most parents choosing those names are more likely to see them as an elaboration of Jade or Aiden.

And some of her information seems downright wrong. She lists Jessica as an Early American variant of Jessamine. But Jessica first appeared as a character in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, and is widely considered an elaboration of Jesca, a Biblical name.

Best Exotic Baby Names is primarily a list, and most of the names included are not just exotic, they’re unwieldy. While there are, indeed, a few gems, most of them can be found in other baby name guides. Here are ten random names, the first five for girls and second five for boys:

  • Chrysogenia, a Greek name meaning golden child
  • Ixmucane, a Mayan name meaning goddess of the dawn
  • Astinemoon, from a Cree word for hope
  • Lasairfiona, from the Gaelic for white fire
  • Witena, an Old English name meaning he who knows
  • Shimshon, a Sumerian name meaning sun
  • Keizo, a Japanese name meaning blessing
  • Drazhan, a Russian name meaning precious
  • Njere, a Shona name meaning cleverness
  • Zargun, a Persian name meaning golden-colored

It would take an intrepid parent, indeed, and a thick-skinned child to wear most of these eye-poppingly unusual names.

Flip through this one in the bookstore for a healthy dose of “who would really name their kid Gobez?” and then leave it on the shelf. It’s not a helpful guide.

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4 Comments

LasairfhĂ­ona does NOT mean white flame. This name which is uncommon in Ireland but not unheard of, means flame of wine. Fion is the Irish word for wine and the name has connotations of inspiration. There is a famous Irish singer with this first name.

Now *that* is a seriously fabulous tool. Thanks for the tip, Guy!

Who would’ve thunk that Florian would be in the top five for boys in Austria? And how ’bout Ruby ranking #1 in Wales?