Name Help: Arabic Crossover Name for a Girl

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.

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34 Comments

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?

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

I married a Syrian-Lebanese guy and speak a bit of Arabic. We have three children together. One of the best features of Arab names is that they all have lovely meanings.

The first thing is that names in the Arab world send an AUTOMATIC marker of who your family is and which religious group you belong to. Do NOT walk into that minefield without fully vetting everything with your husband. Lebanon endured a 30yr sectarian civil war and wounds run deep.

There are a small handful of Arabic names themselves which are neither Christian nor Muslim, Sunni nor Shia. The safe way out, unique to Lebanon, is to choose a French name. This is favored more by Christians and if your husband is not Christian you certainly wouldn’t want to pick a saint’s name. That will also crossover more easily and match with Teddy better too.

arab names: Sahar, Samar, Rania, Najia, Najla, Najwa, Hanan, Nuha, Noor, Nasreen, Reem, Hind, Hiba, Ruba, Qamar

JK, thank you for your thoughtful comment – and wise advice. In this case, it may be about so much more than a name that works across languages.

Hi JK,
Yes absolutely I agree, and thanks for your thoughtful response. Every name possibility is being considered from all cultural/religious perspectives. E.g. Zahra is a lovely name but is often used by Shia families (which we are not) or more recently I was suggesting Nina but my husband said this is often used as a stage name for belly dancers/entertainers in Lebanon. I guess that’s why a name that is not specifically Arabic, but still works in Arabic, appeals in many ways to, as much as we can, side step the sectarian/political issues of that part of the world. Also our daughter will be growing up in the West, in a non-religious family, and in a family that is a blend of languages and culture which does give us a fair bit of flexibility.

Perhaps not Mariam, but Miriam. My favorite nn for this would be the adorable Mim. You could also use Mimi or Mira. I also love the name Mireille, which someone suggested below. It has similar nn options. Best of luck to you!

Hi Emily, I love both those suggestions and actually Mariam/Miriam was on my list had my son been a girl. I think we disregarded it early on, but I don’t remember why so it’s worth a revisit! I love the look of Mireille but I need a lesson on how to pronounce it!

No Arabic here either, but I’ve seen suggestions of Lara and Cara … and wonder if Clara might work? Classic feel like Theodore but short and sweet like Teddy. And perhaps Clara Mae is short enough as not to be cumbersome with a long hyphenated surname?

I like the idea of using the English names that you love and using an in-law friendly nickname, like the Eleanor/Noor suggestion.
Winifred / Walid
Zinnia / Zeina
Marigold / Mariam

Crossover names that seem closer to your style – Teddy and Dahlia, Teddy and Rita, Teddy and Mona, Teddy and Salma

I also recommend browsing Facebook groups of Lebanese women to see what names are used in real life, even if the age group is wrong. (I looked through a breastfeeding group and a teachers group) Who knew Joelle was so popular?
Hana, Mira, Maya, Myrna, Rima,
Chadia, Ghalia, Dana, Magida
Lydia, Remi, Gisele, Sabine, Petra, Nancy, Berylene…

I hope you do find something you both love, in time for March.

Hi Jacquie, great idea on browsing Facebook groups. Actually I think I have been subconsciously doing that because I was surprised to notice recently in a Lebanese natural birth page a number of women named Stephanie!

Hi, Lizzie here.
Thanks so much everyone for your wonderful input! I can’t wait to take these suggestions to my husband and see what appeals to both of us. I’m also excited to say that we’ve decided she will have a middle name!
I hadn’t thought of the idea of using a long name that has an Arabic friendly short version! And I do rather like Lena and Nora and even Lulu or Mimi for this idea.

**Names that seem to fit your style that are Arabic in origin:**

–Alma {multiple meanings depending on language, including kind, soul, and apple}

–Zara (another poster mentioned this spelling too; you had Zahra){If Zara/Zahra doesn’t hit the mark as is, you could consider the ultra-cute nickname Zadie, which matches Teddy nicely. Zadie Smith is a famous author.}

–Camilla {it seems it literally means virginal in Arabic, but symbolically pure and flawless}

**Names that look like Arabic-origin names or words (to me as an English speaker…I might be 100% wrong and I apologize if I suggest something culturally inappropriate.)**

–Cara {the word caravan is apparently an English loan word from Arabic. I don’t know how it is pronounced, but I’m inferring Cara is a name that could be said easily, even if not common in Lebanese culture. This name means many things including loved and friend.}

–Tasmin {an Aramaic name which is a contraction of Thomasina, meaning twin. In my mind it sounds like Jasmine, but works nicely with Teddy.}

–Téa {maybe too matchy with Teddy, but it literally means the same–gift of God–as it is a shortened form of Dorthea or a variation of Thea. It is pronounced tay-a which sounds similar to Layla to me, so it could work in pronoucuation. Maybe a middle name choice?}

**Others have suggested these and I think they could work:**
-Aaliyah (any spelling)
-Aida
-Farrah

Other ideas:
-Amira/Emira {princess and other meanings}
-Halima {gentle, peaceful, mild}
-Zora {dawn}
-Samiya {exalted, praised}
-Jasmine {flower}
-Salma {safe, healthy}
-Nadia {tender}
-Khadijah {awesome name, but doesn’t really match your style or Teddy’s name}
-Rashida {same note as Khadijah}

Alma is a lovely suggestion thank you. It has a nice old fashioned feeling like Teddy/Theodore and I’m liking Halima too actually and it can be shortened to Hallie which I like!
I agree Khadijah is a fantastic name but as you note it’s a long way from Teddy and would probably need the pronunciation explained often.

I’m half Arab and I feel for ya, there just aren’t that many crossover options if you don’t like Aisha, Leila, Sarah, etc.
My brother is naming his daughter Yasmine, and I think it’s a really pretty name that’s well known here in the US and easy to pronounce.
Tessneem is also really pretty; Tessie and Teddy?
I like the suggestion of Amina and you could always use nn Mina/Minnie.
I don’t think Vera is a good option because there’s no letter V in Arabic…
Mae/May is a beautiful name and I know a few Arab-Americans named May. I’d recommend getting your husband on board with that name if you already love it. Compromise is compromise. My mom says she didn’t like my name when she gave it to me 30 years ago because it sounded like an old woman’s name to her; but Sarah was the only name in both Arabic and English that my parents could agree on. And I love my name!
Good luck!

Hi Sarah,
Actually I hadn’t considered “Sarah” but it is a nice classic and crossover name! Yasmine is really lovely but my husband’s sister named her daughter Yasmina so I don’t think we could use it.
Tessneem is great! And I love Tess or Tessie as a short version.

I thought of Nora/Norah/Noura as well. I have a good friend from Syria and this is her name.

What about Amina? I personally think it is beautiful. It is Arabic, the meaning is Trustworthy. It is sort of a blend of a few common names such as Amelie (which is also beautiful), Amelia, etc.
Theodore and Amina. I honestly wouldn’t even glance/think twice about this combination as it seems to have the same sofisticated/classic vibe even if Amina is less well-known.

Also, I too wonder if you and your husband would be able to find a compromise with using the middle name slot. If you are living in the USA/mostly English-speaking culture then perhaps he will be ok with having a name that you would choose (and he still like of course) and then have the middle name as an Arabic name that he can choose (and you still like as well)??

Good luck!

No Arabic background here either. Please forgive any inappropriate suggestions.

Calla
Dahlia
Azalea

Ada
Ida
Anna/Ana/Hana
Eva (or Ava, as suggested above)
Nora/Eleanor/Honora, Mona/Ramona, Maya/Maia (as suggested above)
Mina (as suggested above, but maybe Amina as a full name if Mina doesn’t quite work in Arabic)

Mila
Lana
Lara/Alara/Elara
Eliana/Liana
Amalia
Ariana
Lila, Lena/Helena (as suggested above)

Isidora
Tamara

Edith suggests Edina to me, though the nickname Eddie is very close to Teddy. Maybe you could use Edith’s nn, Edie? The spelling supports it, and the ‘ee’ vowel is there in the second syllable. Otherwise Edda or Dina might work. Or Enid, at a stretch.

If you’re not very excited by Zahra or Safiya, do you like Zara or Sophia? Zara seems quite similar to Teddy for me – I think of the Countess of Gowrie (or maybe Zara Phillips). I just ask in case it’s the look of the name that bothers you.

I also have a hyphenated surname (one from a different culture, the other pretty uncommon. I have a two-syllable first name and a single-syllable middle name. I don’t think the middle is too much. I think May could work as a middle with the right first name, even with a long surname.

All the best of luck with the search, and congratulations!

I really like the idea of Mae/May as a middle name…. and my husband has after some conversation agreed that we will give her one. And it’s great to hear from your personal experience that it’s not too much having a hyphenated name and a middle name.

Both of these were mentioned in the comments, but here were my thoughts before reading the comments. I was thinking of Soraya and then realized it was Persian, not Arabic. I don’t know much about the languages Farsi and Arabic so I don’t know if it is helpful, but looking it up it means “gem” and is the name of a princess. I believe it is pronounced So-rye-uh. Maybe you could pull out a nickname that you like like Raya (change to an a sound) or Sora or something creative.

That reminds me of Maya which, though an i sound as well, you could give her your own nickname of May.

Soraya is lovely! And I’m pretty sure it’s used in Arabic as well (maybe more commonly with a u spelling – Suraya) I liked this name earlier on but wondered if it might not be so cross-cultural but since it’s been mentioned a couple of times I’m thinking maybe we could reconsider it!

I love the name Ada/Aida and actually had a wonderful and very fierce great aunt called Ada, plus I think it works nicely with Teddy, but unfortunately a very close friend whose children we spend a lot of time with has a daughter called Aida!

Neda. Soraya. Fatima. Farah. Aliya.

There’s a lot of French influence in Lebanon, so maybe something French.

Francoise. Sandrine. Julia.

Sara
Serena
Mina
Sana nn Sunny
Irina
Sofia
Nadia
Mona
Hanna
Anisa
Talia (Nathalia?)
Lara
Luna
Maya
Alice

And could French names work, I wonder?