Nia Long in 2007
Nia Long in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s another short name with lots of possible origins.

Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Nia as our Baby Name of the Day.

Mini names invite endless suggestions about their origins.  The most popular for Nia include:

  • A Welsh form of Niamh. Niamh is a queen in Irish mythology.  Her story was retold in a 1970s musical called Nia Ben Aur.
  • More likely, she’s a Swahili word meaning intent or purpose.  It’s a principle of Kwanzaa, a celebration of African-American heritage.  (Though she doesn’t appear to be used as a given name amongst native speakers of Swahili.)
  • She’s popular in Slovenia, too.  I can’t find an origin that clicks, but I suspect she’s short for something.

She could also be inspired by a handful of famous bearers, seen in television and movie productions in recent decades:

  • Antonia Eugenia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame could take her nickname from either of her given names.  She’s Greek.  Toula is her character in the movie, but in the short-lived transition to television, she’s called Nia.
  • Nia Peeples has had a long career on television, from Fame to Pretty Little Liars.  Peeples was born Virenia, a very rare, but not unknown, given name.
  • Nitara Long shortened her unusual name.  From Boyz in the ‘Hood to Are We There Yet?, she’s had quite the film career.

She first appears in US Top 1000 in 1973, but isn’t steadily ranked until 1990.  This tracks with the rise of Kwanzaa, a celebration first introduced in the late 1960s.  It also suggests that the actresses helped to bolster the name.

The name peeked in 2007 at #307, and now stands at #490.  She could also be bolstered by:

  • Mia, a sound-alike choice currently in US Top 10.
  • The -ia ending is huge, from Sophia through the rest of the Top 1000.
  • She’s a potential contracted form of Natalia and Nadia.
  • Other rhymes-with-Nia names rank: Gia, Lia, Bria, Tia.

A nearly infinite number of names could lead to the nickname:

  • Feminine forms of masculine appellations, like Antonia, Eugenia, and Davinia (though I prefer Davina).
  • Unexpected flower picks, like Begonia, Gardenia, and Petunia.
  • Exotic and poetic place names, from Caledonia to Sidonia.
  • Goddess names, like Idonia.
  • Names from myth, like Iphigenia.
  • Literary picks, like Titania.
  • Vintage gems, like Lavinia.
  • Rarities from all sorts of sources, like Jesenia, Junia, Theophania, and Varinia.

What she lacks is history, though some of the potential long forms have it in spades.  She was barely heard of before the 1960s, and not at all before the 1950s.

One of the pint-sized competitors in reality show/cutthroat competition Dance Moms is Nia.  Amongst girls called Mackenzie, Chloe, and Paigeit makes for a stand out name.

Another reference a daughter might appreciate?  The only girl in Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu is Kai’s little sister, Nya.  She starts out as a sidekick, but turns out to be brilliant – and a samurai in her own right.

Speaking of Nya, you’ll also see the -y spelling, as well as Nyah.

Overall, this could be a great name for a daughter who arrives around the year-end holidays, or for parents after something short, sweet and complete.  But I’m most fascinated by her potential as an unexpected nickname for a lost list of possibilities.  Nia names are rich with potential.

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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. I want to nominate Nim/Nima. I discovered the name Nim from the book and then the movie called Nim’s Island. Whenever I google about the name, Nia and Nima seems to come up. Hopefully, you can do Nim at some point and found more than I have.

  2. I say Nia and Nya differently. Nia to me is ‘nee uh’ and Nya is ‘nye uh’. I like Nya more. Nia is cute as a nickname though.

  3. I tried to make this stick as a self-prescribed nickname for a short while in high school, but it didn’t take. While Nia would have been loads easier for strangers to pronounce/understand, I now prefer the unique-ness of being a Panya. 😉

  4. I love the name Lavinia, but wasn’t fond of Vinnie as a nickname, which always seemed very masculine to me. I have long been looking for an alternate nickname, but I never thought of Nia! Thanks for finding giving me the idea!

  5. I came from a town with a large Greek population, and Nias were a dime a dozen. I always thought it was a Greek name, but I wasn’t aware of it as a nickname.