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10 Moms On The Unique Names They Chose For Their Children

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photographed by Sandra Ajanaku

The names parents choose for their children never fail to fascinate us, which is why we love the brand-new kids’ book Alma and How She Got Her Name. Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, the story is about a little girl with 6 names—Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela—who grills her father on how she got her very long moniker, unravelling her family’s rich history and her parents’ hopes and dreams for her in the process. Inspired by this sweet tale, we asked 10 mothers to share their personal stories behind the beautiful names they gave their kids. Read ’em below, and feel free to share your own story in the comments.

Terra Becks, Staff Writer at Over The Ocean
“I have two kids. The oldest is Ronan Walker. Ronan was the only name we could agree on. Jagger was first on my list but my husband thought it was a lot to live up to, although I’m pretty sure he could have carried it! His middle name, Walker, is a family name after my husband’s great, great grandmother, Evangeline Walker. She was married to Charles McLean Andrews who won a Pulitzer Prize in history (twice) and is considered the ‘master of American colonial history.’ Hopefully both kids inherited his smarty pants genes! My youngest is Ruby Ryan. I have always loved the name Ruby. There’s definitely a Rolling Stones theme here—Jagger and Ruby Tuesday! When we found out we were having a girl the second time around we knew her name would be Ruby. Her middle name is after my brother Ryan who passed away in a motorcycle accident in 2015. He never got to meet her, but I’m certain the two would have been smitten.”

Giselle Gyalzen, owner of Rare Device
“My two girls are Ophelia Doma and Bodhi Lela. For our oldest, Ophelia, we wanted a name that was not too common, but also not made up. I’ve always loved the name Ophelia, I think it’s beautiful. We also wanted something that honors my mom, whose name is Phillie, and Ophelia sounds like it can be derived from it. Doma is my husband’s mom’s middle name, so we took that. Her names are an homage to both of her grandmothers. Meanwhile, for my youngest, Bodhi is the name we had picked for a boy, were we to have one. My husband is a Buddhist from Nepal where Buddha is said to have been born. Buddha reached enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi tree. Bodhi also means awakened (or enlightened). We think it’s a name that’s fit for a girl also. I love the name Lela and it has always been on my short list.”

Afra Afsharipour, Professor of Law at UC Davis
“We wanted to give our boys names that reflected their Latin American (Peruvian/Costa Rican) and Persian heritage, and would be easy to say in both Spanish and Farsi. My oldest son is Emilio Pasha. Emilio is named after my husband’s great uncle who lived a truly happy life well into his nineties, surrounded by a large loving family. He was mischievous, funny, and a total prankster all of his life. He also had striking blue eyes; and we were really surprised when our Emilio was born with bright blue eyes. His middle name is my father’s nickname. Our youngest son is Dario Nima. This was a hard name to choose, there are not many names that work in Spanish and Farsi. Dario is the Spanish (and Italian) version of Dariush, which is a classic Persian name (including a famous King of the Persian Empire). I have always loved the Persian name Nima, and given that the boys have both of our long last names, we thought a short and sweet middle name would work well.”

Sarah Ewick, Partnerships Director at In Good Company
“My daughter’s name is Nell Alice. We can’t remember which one of us suggested Nell first. My husband Arlo will tell you—jokingly—that he first thought of Nell from the throw pillows on our sofa, made by a now-renamed Portland, Oregon, brand that included it in their name. I don’t really believe this, and also don’t want Nell to think we named her after a pillow! I’ve always been drawn to short names, and loved that Nell means ‘light, bright, and shining.’ Arlo liked that it sounded gentle. Alice is a family name. It was the first name of both my great-great-maternal aunt Alice Emily Sykes, and my maternal grandmother. Alice is also the middle name of my mother, my niece, and myself. I never considered giving Nell a different middle name.”

Alex Elle, author and self-care advocate
“My youngest daughter is Ila Joey Stone. Ila = Earth; Joey = May God Increase; and Stone = Solid & Pure Strength. My husband named Ila (pronounced eye-la). His mother’s name was Ileana (eye-lee-nah), we lost her almost 2 years ago. It seemed fitting to name our baby after her grandmother. Not only that, it took us two years (and a miscarriage) to conceive Ila and be given the gift of her earthside presence. The fact that her name means earth makes us feel like she is aligned with our longing for her while we waited, plus her grandmother who means the world to us. Ila’s middle names are indicative of our wishes for her. Joey meaning ‘may God increase’ and Stone signifying ‘solid and pure strength,’ we want our girl to be lifted up by a higher power in all the she does and know that she is resilient in all ways. Our oldest is Charleigh Alaina. Charleigh (char-lee) means free, and Alaina (ah-lay-na) means dear child in Hindi. Char’s name fits her perfectly! She is such a free spirit and has the most creative artistic soul. She is definitely my dear child who holds a very special place in everyone’s heart that she knows. Names mean things. We hope our girls are proud of theirs as they get older.”

Malika Shareef-Pham, family support specialist
“My son is Sayid Saleh (pronounced Si-yeed Solly). I had a terrible pregnancy, nonstop nausea, and vomiting up until the very day he was born. However, the thought of holding my baby boy brought me joy beyond belief. I imagined his laughter and smiles as if I had known him already. Prior to his arrival he had brought us so much joy and happiness, despite my daily difficulties. We chose Sayid because it holds the meaning of happiness, and is a descendant of honor. He completely lives up to his name, an affirmation which feels to be heaven sent. My daughter is Amira Yasmin. The second time around we decided to let the gender be a surprise to us. Everybody (and their mom) said I was having another boy! For the hospital, I packed a name and an outfit for both a boy and a girl. When the baby came out, the doctor said so causally ‘it’s a girl.’ I remember repeating that phrase back, but with a question mark! I immediately felt a different type of bond, as if my royal girl gang had just got a new member. My name means queen, and Amira means princess. She has enriched my life in more ways than one, and I remind her every chance I get.”

Hansa Kaipa, math consultant for KIPP Bay Area Schools
“My twin boys are Kashi Prasad and Ishan Siva. When my husband Sami and I got married in 2006, we were already talking about names of kids. We both loved the name Kashi for some reason and especially liked the way Kashi Kaipa sounded as a full name. Kashi’s name means shining. In more spiritual terms, it means the light of the universe. Meanwhile, we toiled for many months of my pregnancy before landing on Ishan, but we loved the easy pronunciation, the uniqueness of the name (although we’ve met many Ishans in the last 6 years!), and the similarity yet difference to his twin brother’s name. We thought those two would sound great together as twin names! Ishan’s name means the invisible power that governs the universe. In other words, it is the energy of the universe. Our youngest boy is Omi Arvind. We knew with a third boy on the way and him being the baby, we wanted to pick something simple, unique, and profound. We both fell in love with the name Omi and knew the name was perfect for the final piece of our family puzzle. Omi means sound of the universe. Although these are some pretty deep meanings and pretty challenging to live up to, what’s even more special are their middle names. Both my father (Arvind) and Sami’s father (Siva Prasad, now deceased) were the first to move to this country with very little in their pockets. They both became physicians, worked hard, and paved the way for a better future for their own children. To honor their sacrifice and relentless devotion, we decided to give the boys those middle names.”

Anna Chiu, designer and founder of Kamperett
“Naming our boys was very difficult for us. I wanted to pick names that had personal meaning and that represented strength and kindness. We named our first son Kai Alexander. We chose Kai because it had so many wonderful meanings in different languages (‘sea’ in Hawaiian, ‘forgiveness’ in Japanese, ‘willow tree’ in Navajo, and ‘victory’ or ‘open’ in Chinese), and would be easy for our German and Chinese family to pronounce. I personally don’t have a middle name, but always wanted one, so we gave him the middle name Alexander (Greek origin meaning ‘defender of men’) because it felt strong and was a good balance to the name Kai. We named our second son Taj Ellis. Taj after the Taj Mahal, which I think is the most beautiful and magical place that I have ever been to. It has an overwhelmingly peaceful and powerful energy and was born of a true love story. Taj is also of Sanskrit origin and means ‘crown.’ I like the idea that it has been spoken for possibly thousands of years. Ellis means ‘benevolent’ and I’ve always liked its simplicity.”

Sruti S. Nadimpalli, MD, MPH, Clinical Assistant Professor, and Fellowship Program Director at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford
“My eldest is Roan Muir and youngest is Siya Shanti. Our family is of Indian and Scottish descent, and my children have the (very common) surname of Patel. We, therefore, wanted something a little uncommon for our first, and with a nod to his British roots. Rowan was the only name upon which we could agree; my husband objected to using the same spelling as Rowan Atkinson (a.k.a. Mr Bean!) and so Roan it was. Muir after John Muir, because we are nature lovers, because he was a Scotsman, and because we were in Yosemite when I found out I was pregnant. Our labor and delivery nurse, as it turned out, also had a boyfriend with the same name and unusual spelling (though in Jamaica it’s pronounced roh-WAN) and she was spectacular, so it felt like a cosmic sign of many good things to come. For my daughter, I’m not gonna lie, I named her in part after Sia Furler, whose voice, attitude, and honesty I adore. Girl is a fighter. The addition of a ‘y’ makes it a variation on the name of the Hindu goddess Sita, one of the central characters of the Ramayana. She represents goodness, loyalty, and virtue, but also had the capacity to tell her god-husband off when he was being extra. Shanti means ‘peace’ in Sanskrit. Let me tell you, my little lady lives up to her name.”

Sandra Ajanaku, photographer
“My daughter’s name is Olana Margaretha and my son is Theo Abiodun Lacy. Years ago, both my husband James and I had read Half of a Yellow Sun by the amazing acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanada Igozi Adichie. Since then the name Olanna (spelt with two n’s) had always been on our radar as a ‘maybe one day if/when we have a baby girl’ option. Many gorgeous names have since hit the list, especially cute short boyish names, like Charlie or Puk (Dutch name), but we always knew when the time came, it needed to have meaning beyond just what sounds good. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, but looking back I think it was clear that if a girl, we somehow always knew she’d be called Olana. In Nigeria, the name given to a child always needs to have meaning. The day a child is born can also dictate what they’re allowed to be called. And although it didn’t make a difference to me, which tribe you come from is also going to dictate what your family is okay with. I was given a book of Yoruba names by my cousin and in all honesty, was relieved to see that ‘Olulana’ was in there, as the character of the book (Olanna) was from the Igbo tribe and in the back of my mind I’d wondered what my dad would think of that. As a nickname, we preferred Lana to Anna, and we didn’t feel guilty dropping the ‘Olu,’ as it’s such a common prefix to so many names there. What struck most of a chord for us, though, was that the name’s meaning really did feel like it was meant to be. After years of trying, Olana was finally conceived through IVF, and on reading her name’s meaning—the Lord has made a way, literally, ‘has cut a new road’—it felt right. We’re not religious, but the sentiment of it felt serendipitous. Margaretha, her middle name, is the name of my grandmother (on my mother’s side) and she sadly passed just 3 months before Olana was born. So, it was an obvious choice for her middle name. I only ever knew one grandparent and it was a way for her name to live on with us through this next generation. For Theo, we found it harder to find a Nigerian boy’s name we liked and that would work. For instance, we loved Taiyo, but were amazed when James’ best friend had a baby boy a year earlier and named him Taiyo. We thought we were being original, but it turns out in his case, the name is taken from the Japanese vocabulary, and meaning sunshine or joy I believe. So, we knew we had to let that one go. We also liked JayJay, but it was more of a nickname in Nigeria. Fela is a great name (and James is a big music guy), but somehow it didn’t feel like it belonged to our story. Kehinde we loved, but it’s traditionally a formula name for the second-born of twins who is regarded as the elder of the two (and we knew we weren’t having a twin). So, we flipped it, and decided to give him a European name, one that came from both our Dutch and British backgrounds: Theo. Not the full Theodore, but the stronger and punchier Theo. In Dutch it’s pronounced Teo (like Vincent Van Gogh’s brother). As a middle name, Abiodun, which was my father’s name and a name given to a child born during a festival celebration, which worked for Theo’s birthday. And then Lacy, which is a middle name from James’s side, which goes way back in his family tree and is always given to a boy.”

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