Name Help: Arabic Crossover

Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain addressing one reader’s name questions.

We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!

Lizzie writes:

I was a single mom when I had my son, Theodore Peter George, called Teddy. Our last name is an English prince’s name starting with W, with an s on the end.

Six years later, I am married and we are expecting a daughter in March.

If naming was left entirely to me her name would probably be Edith, Winifred, Winnie-Mae, Agnes, Esme, Zinnia, Marigold, or May/Mae.

But my husband is from a Lebanese background so we need a name that is going to work in both English and Arabic – either a cross-cultural name with Arabic origins or a name that has a sort of sing-song or lilting quality so it’s easy to write in Arabic.

All of the names that I love are too difficult in Arabic except May, but my husband is not enthusiastic.

We also want a name that won’t seem completely different to Teddy since it’s important to us our little blended family is unified, especially because our daughter will have a hyphenated surname. (Her dad’s surname is pronounced rif – eye – ay.) Because her surname will be long, we will probably not give her a middle name.

We were also hoping for a name that has a nice literary or historical association but that just seems impossible at this point!

Names we considered:

  • Layla, Aisha, Mariam – I don’t care for them.
  • Zahra, Safiya – Okay, but we don’t love either.
  • Maisa – Love that it has May in it, but I don’t love the meaning (shapely woman) and my family is struggling with it.
  • Zenobia, Ishtar, Adela, Lilliana – Husband’s suggestions. None quite work.
  • Lilia – His favorite. I’m neutral.
  • Amelie – Another possibility that would work in Arabic.

I’d love to LOVE the name we choose. But I’m starting to feel a bit over the naming process.

Dear Lizzie –

Congratulations on your daughter on the way!

Before we talk names, there are a few things I want to mention:

  • Are you sure you want to give up middle names? Yes, her surname will be longer. But, as I’m sure you know from your son, 99.9% of the time middle names either go unused, or are reduced to a single initial on a form. If names matter to you, it seems like a reasonable compromise to keep some of those glorious names from your original list in play as middles.
  • I say this because your favorite names most certainly do not work in Arabic. They’re vintage and strong, sophisticated choices – but sound-wise, not super-portable.
  • While there are some tailored Arabic names for girls, they travel farther away from Teddy, style-wise. Amal comes to mind, as in Clooney. The name means hope, and I can see it appealing to someone who likes Amelie and Edith. But I doubt it feels like a matched name for your son.
  • I wonder if you’re too focused on only approach to compromise? There’s always more than one. It strikes me that a longer English name – consistent with your preferences – that shortens to an Arabic or Arabic-friendly name – might also be an option.

Now, a disclaimer: I don’t know any Arabic. And because it’s a global language, I’m sure there are regional differences that I can’t even begin to guess. Some of these may seem dated or just plain odd to your husband’s family. That said, I think these seem like a good starting point.

So here’s what might work:

Lina or Lena – I think Lena, especially, makes a great stand-alone name the feels like Edith and Winifred, but satisfies the lilting quality. Maybe you’d like it best as one of those formal name-nickname compromises. Plenty of longer names could shorten to Lena/Lina – maybe Helena?

Nora – Again, Nora feels like a sister for Edith or Winnie, but could be short for a longer name, like Eleanor. A bonus? It’s Noor – or Nur or Nura – in Arabic, and the meaning is lovely – light. If Eleanor seems too mainstream for you – and I think it might! – you could also consider Honor, Honora, or even Honoria or Honorine as longer forms of the name.

Louise or Louisa – I can imagine sisters called Louise and Agnes – it strikes me as exactly right for your style. But I’m adding it here because I’ve read that Lulu is used as a girls’ name in Arabic. (See disclaimer above!) Bonus: Louise and Louisa remain pretty rare in the US, and while that might not be why you like those names, it does strike me as noteworthy.

Lucia – Yes, I’m still on the Lu- names. And Lucia claims no ties to Arabic whatsoever. That said, it does travel throughout Europe and Latin America well. Based on the idea of lilting names, and the Lulu note I mentioned above, I wonder if it’s worth a look. After all, Louise and Lucia sound like sisters for Theodore in a way that some other names might not.

Aveline – I’m never sure how much overlap there is between Persian and Arabic names, but I’ve seen Ava listed as a name in Persian, which makes me think it might work.

Mary, Marianne, etc. – You mentioned that Mariam doesn’t feel like a fit, but I wonder if you’d consider a more familiar form of Mary. While this might not work for every family, our children’s grandparents speak Polish; they typically refer to our children by the Polish equivalents of their English names. I can imagine that Mary could be Mariam some of the time. The question, of course, is whether you are open to the idea. (To be honest: I almost fell over when I realized what my in-laws intended to call their grandson – I actively dislike the sound of our son’s name in Polish! But it grew on me, and I appreciate the both/and appeal of having a name that works across languages.)

Vera – Would Vera be considered lilting? I don’t hear it that way, and yet, I suspect it might work. The name feels more like the antiques you love.

Lila – I hesitate to add Lila for a few reasons. First, Layla seems like the ultimate English-Arabic crossover; if you don’t care for Layla, you might not like Lila. It’s also close to Lilia, which isn’t your favorite. But Lila would work in Arabic, and it does have a long history of use in the US – far longer than Layla, actually. It’s worth a minute’s consideration.

Overall, I’m most tempted by – Vera – especially with a middle name or two. Vera Mariam, maybe? Though if the Lou- and Lu- names, combined with an Arabic-friendly nickname, are an option, I would love the idea of Teddy and Lulu, Theodore and Louise. Or, of course, Louisa, if the -a ending makes it easier to wear.

Readers, I feel like this is one of the bigger #namehelp challenges! I’d love to hear from you – especially if you’ve named across cultures and languages.

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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What do you think?


  1. My friend went through a similar decision process–these are the names she decided on:

    Liyana/Liana: an indirect Quranic name for girls that means softness, tenderness, and delicacy.

    Safeenah/Safinah/Safina: an Arabic name for girls that means “ship”.
    You might like it better than Safiya?

  2. My Dad is Arab- so all my sisters and I have names that work for his family. Nadia, Audra (me) Noelle, Grace and Ameara.
    My favorite option for you though is Lillian. I have 2 cousins named Lillian in the middle east and it sounds beautiful with the Arabic dialect. Also it’s classic like Teddy. <3