Name Help: Ravi, Raffi, or Rafael?Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.

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!

Karlie writes:

I wonder if you might have any insight on the name Ravi. Both my husband and I love it, but I am a little hesitant because we don’t want to be disrespectful to another culture. We love that it means sun. We have one daughter named Marlo Moon, and we like how they sound together. Marlo Moon and Ravi Fox.

This would be a very hard name to let go, since it just sounds like it is meant to be our son’s name. It is important to us to have a name meaning “sun” to honor a loved one named Sol. (Using Sol is not an option.)

We don’t mind raising a few eyebrows (we are used to that with Moon), so my biggest concern would be making sure we are respectful. Indian friends have told me that they don’t see it as a problem, but I want to be sure.

Our other option is Raffi. Does Raffi seem more universal? And if we do choose Raffi, should we use Rafael as his official name?

Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

Hi Karlie –

This is a tough one! On the one hand, I love the sound of Ravi Fox, and the subtle link between your children’s names is perfection. Because a name meaning sun carries such significance for you and your family, it’s even better.

And yet, it is difficult to make the case that Ravi is anything other than Indian in origin. My first thought was musician Ravi Shankar. I think he’s pretty well known in the US.

I looked for other names that start with similar sounds. Often shorter names can feel pan-global because similar names appear across languages and cultures.

I did find:

  • Ravid, in Hebrew: It’s new to me, but Kveller lists it here.
  • Raven is used in English for boys and girls – though mostly girls.
  • There’s also a Norwegian musician known as Ravi – but that comes from re-arranging the letters of his given name, Ivar.

So Ravi is almost exclusively Indian, and yet, the sound can occur in many languages and across cultures. This doesn’t feel like, say, choosing a Native American name for a child of-non Native American descent.

Americans do tend to use names with Sanskrit origins. Often that’s thanks to other cultural associations with the names, but not always. I’ve met people named Aisha, Bodhi, and Lila, without obvious ties to India, and yet the names seem to be accepted without a raised eyebrow.

Another point to consider: scholars believe that hundreds of languages – including English and Hindi – trace their roots to something called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE. Even though it evolved thousands of years BCE, it still explains similarity between words in languages that otherwise seem unrelated. That well of shared language could  explain why a similar name occurs in, say, Dutch and Hindi. (Though often names like Anika and Viveka appear to have independent roots – and it may be mere coincidence when the identical name appears across cultures.)

Still, I think you’d be just on the right side of culturally appropriate with Ravi. There are other possible origins for Rav- names, and you could arrive at it without

And yet, I still hesitate. When you name far outside of your culture, it is always possible that it might be perceived as disrespectful. If you were re-naming yourself, you could evaluate those risks. But since you’re naming your child, it seems far more difficult.

I also think it might be problematic to have a name that mismatches others’ assumptions about me. Priya is a gorgeous name, but if I were named Priya? I feel like it would be uncomfortable to have to explain – again and again – that I’m not Indian, wasn’t born in India, and have never been to India.

This brings us to Raffi.

Raffi crosses borders effortlessly. Rafi appears in Arabic, and nearly any European language has some form of Raphael/Rafael, which makes Raffi seem reasonable.

Though I’m also tempted by the idea of naming your son Rafael, and calling him Ravi. That’s my favorite choice. It preserves your tie to the sun imagery. But it also replaces a name strongly associated with one culture with a far more pan-global choice.

I’m sure you’ve already considered these, but other names associated with the sun include Samson, Sorin, and Helio – and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few!

Let’s have a poll.


I know the community will have some good feedback on this topic. Readers are there other sun names to consider? Do you think Ravi wears well on a child without Indian heritage? And do you think Rafael, nickname Ravi, works?

About Abby Sandel

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What do you think?


  1. As an Indian with the name ravi, it used to be a very common name in 60-80s/early 90s. Not anymore. Of course I like my name, but I hate it when I am unable to register it on social network websites since it’s always taken. Nowadays, people should get a unique name so it’s easier for their kids to register on social websites. Also can anyone explain the significance of Fox – Ravi Fox? Which means Sun Fox ? I like Raphael since it was my fav turtle from the TNMT and always felt my personality matches with that character.

  2. There’s a difference between appropriating a title like Cohen or a tribe name like Cheyenne or some other culturally-specific honorific (like Khaleesi, if Game of Thrones were real), and just using a regular old name borrowed from another culture or language. Still, I let go of Ximena because it’s completely outside of my family’s cultural background. Though Ravi reads as clearly Indian to me, I think it would work fine on a non-Indian in the U.S. And, on another note, Marlo is a fairly common name among elderly Mexican men, yet I don’t think non-Latino American people know that or consider it a “borrowed” name.

  3. I don’t know, someone has to be the first person to use a particular name outside its original culture in order for others to follow. I knew a white girl when I was in college who had an Indian name and while it was an unusual name, it wasn’t hard to get used to her having it. I do think cultural appropriation is a very sensitive issue when you’re talking about a historically oppressed group (e.g., Native Americans) or when the name has special significance to the original group (e.g., Cohen).

    It seems to me that the OP is going out of her way to be considerate and respectful. I see no reason not to use Ravi Fox.

  4. The only Ravis I have known have been Indian, but I don’t think names are the sole property of the culture they originated in.

  5. There are a gazillion Sophias running around, and I highly doubt all of them are Greek. Use the name you love.

  6. Thanks to all for the comments!!! Still unsure which way we will go. Though we are thinking Rafael might be out. I really like it (my husband so/so), but it doesn’t seem like our style. We are now debating between Ravi Fox and Rafi Sol. Please keep comments coming! So grateful for the insight!

  7. As someone who grew up in the Bay Area (where there is a large Indian population), I would say it shouldn’t be a problem. Yes, the name is Indian but it also has a very universal sound. My first impression of it was that it sounded like a ‘surfer’ type of name. You love it, it has personal meaning, and it flows well with your daughter’s name. Plus you obviously have respect for the culture so I don’t see anyone getting offended. I would think it strange if your son had a nickname but your edaughter didnt. I also dont think Rafael flows with Marlo.

  8. Rafael Fox nn Ravi is great! Would you consider Rafael Sun? I really love Soren Fox too! :)….
    I think best to go with a safer option and kuddos to you for thinking to ask! Better to raise eye brows for a bold name choice (Instead of one you think would possibly offend anyone or put your child in an awkward position). Congrats on you baby on the way!

  9. It’s *so* Indian. I’m trying to find a tactful way to say this because I get it–I love a lot of names from other cultures and I think we may have a similar style–but a white kid named Ravi would elicit a big eye roll from most people I know. Granted, your community might be different!