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Guides to International Names

Intercultural awareness

  • Admit that you don’t know.
    Acknowledging your ignorance is the first step towards learning about other cultures.
  • Develop an awareness of your own views, assumptions and beliefs, and how they are shaped by your culture.
    Ask yourself questions like: what do I see as ‘national’ characteristics in this country? Which ‘national’ characteristic do I like and dislike in myself?
  • Take an interest.
    Read about other countries and cultures, and start to consider the differences between your own culture and what you have read.
  • Don’t make judgements.
    Instead, start by collecting information. Ask neutral questions and clarify meaning before assuming that you know what’s going on. See these pages on Questioning and Clarifying for more.
  • Once you have collected information, start to check your assumptions.
    Ask colleagues or friends who know more about the culture than you, and systematically review your assumptions to make sure that they are correct.
  • Develop empathy.
    Think about how it feels to be in the other person’s position. See these page on Empathy for more.
  • Look for what you can gain, not what you could lose.
    If you can take the best from both your own and someone else’s views and experiences, you could get a far greater whole that will benefit both of you. But this requires you to take the approach that you don’t necessarily know best, and even that you don’t necessarily know at all.
Explore other cultures here

Naming practices in countries in Africa

Nigerian names

Many African babies are given two names: one when they're born and one at a later-celebrated date.

In Nigeria, babies born to the Yoruba community are given an oruku name, which describes the circumstances of their birth. Abegunde, for example, is a boy's name meaning "born during a holiday". The girl's name Bejide means "child born in the rainy time".

Later on, Yoruba children are given an oriki, or praise name, which suggests hopes for their future. Dunsimi means "don't die before me", while Titilayo is "eternal happiness".

Kenyan names

For babies born to Swahili speakers in Kenyan tribes, their first (or "birth") name is called their jina la utotoni. This is chosen by an elderly relative and usually refers to the child's appearance. Biubwa, for example, means "soft and smooth, baby-like". Haidar is considered a good name for a boy who looks "strong and stout".

Later on, up to 40 days after the baby's birth, the baby's parents or paternal grandparents choose his jina la ukubwani, or adult name.

Ghanaian names

Akan speakers in Ghana hold a naming ceremony seven days after the birth of a baby. The father of the newborn chooses the name of a beloved relative for the child, in the hope that the baby will grow up to be like her namesake. Akan names also have special meanings, such as Kojo – "born on a Monday" – and Minkah, which means "justice".

Chinese Names

Chinese families usually give their new baby a name made up of two syllables from the Chinese alphabet, each with individual meanings. Because there are thousands of characters in the Chinese alphabet, it's rare to find two people with the same first name. Some characters are used more often than others, though. For example, Mei (meaning "beautiful") is popular for girls.

The names given to a Chinese baby may reflect the natural world around her or aspects of her personality, or they may have mystical meanings. Sometimes, the meaning is highly personal and known only to the baby's parents.

Parents sometimes give their boys plain or meaningless names to trick evil spirits into overlooking them. Girls, though, are usually given more elaborate or graceful names, denoting beauty and virtuous qualities.

It would be considered very bad luck for a baby to be properly named before he's born. An unborn baby may be given a false name (or "milk" name), to confuse evil spirits. According to ancient Chinese wisdom, if an unborn baby is referred to as an animal, or as ugly, the evil spirits won't consider him worthy of kidnap.

Japanese names

Many girls' names in Japan end in "ko", which means "child". Girls' names often denote virtuous behaviour, so Kiyiko, for example, means "clean child", Nayako, "obedient child", and Yoshiko, "good child".

Boys' names are usually less flowery, and often reflect their position within the family. Ichiro means "first son", Jiro, "second son", and Saburo, "third son". Just as in China and Korea, Japanese people put their family name in front of their given name.

In Japanese, names that are pronounced the same are not necessarily written identically. Words are made up of a series of characters called kanji, and the kanji denoting particular names can vary, according to the characters the parents choose.

Greek names

Traditionally, Greek families name their new baby on the seventh day or tenth day after her birth.

Naming conventions in Greece are quite rigid, and parents don't usually choose names that they simply like the sound of. The eldest boy in a family, for example, is usually named after his paternal grandfather. Similarly, the eldest girl is named after her paternal grandmother. Later-born children may be given the names of other relatives.

The Greek Orthodox Church has a strong influence over names. Babies are often named after saints, which means children get to celebrate their own saint's "name-day" as well as their actual birthday.

Each island or part of Greece has its own patron saint, and babies are often named after the saint local to their area. For example, many boys in Corfu are called Spiros, after the patron saint of the island Saint Spiridon, whose name day falls on December 12th.

More information about Greek Culture

  • Under Greek naming conventions, people have a first name, followed by a patronymic name and family name, e.g. Nikos Georgiou KYPIANOS.
  • The patronymic name is derived from the father’s personal name, usually with the suffix ‘-ou’ meaning ‘of’. For example, ‘Georgiou’ means ‘(son) of Georgios’.
  • People may have a second personal name as well as patronymic name that acts as their middle name.
  • Greece enacted a law in 1983 that all women must keep their birth surname at marriage.
  • Family names are often abbreviated. For example, one might have the surname PAPPAS, instead of PAPACHRISTODOULOPOULOS.
  • Many Greeks are named after their grandparents, who are usually named after an Orthodox Christian saint.
  • Many Greeks have names that correspond to a saint. In this case, the “name day” may be celebrated as though it were their birthday. This is the feast day of the saint that they are named after. For common names, there may be multiple days during the year to celebrate a saint, but Greeks usually pick one day to celebrate.
  • Some of the most common religious names are Giannis (St. John), Giorgos (St. George), Kostas (St. Konstantine), Eleni (St. Helen), Maria (Virgin Mary) and Dimitris (St. Dimitrios).

Italian names

Just as in Spanish-speaking countries, many Italian babies are named after Catholic saints, or are given names with religious meanings. Assunta, for example, refers to the assumption into Heaven of the Virgin Mary, while Zita is the name of a 13th-century Tuscan saint.

Certain names are limited to regional areas. Romolo is a popular name in Rome but is rarely used elsewhere, while Brizio is found only in Umbria.

Until recently, parents in Italy have tended to stick to traditionally Italian names, seldom borrowing from other languages and traditions. But times have changed, and it's not uncommon now for parents to name their children after celebrities.

More information here

Polish Names

Polish names are generally structured as [personal name] [FAMILY NAME], e.g. Piotr MALINOWSKI.

Personal Names

  • Many Polish names may have Slavic roots, e.g. Radzimir (male) or Wanda (female).
  • Christian names are also very popular, although they are usually spelt and pronounced as the Polish equivalent. For example, Nicholas becomes Mikołaj.
  • Germanic and Lithianian names are also common, e.g. Olga (German) or Witold (Lithuanian).
  • Some of the most popular names in Poland include Lena, Zuzanna Julia, Maja and Zofia (female), as well as Jakub, Kacper, Antoni, Filip and Jan (male).1
  • Polish names can also have an added suffix (such as -ek or -uś) to create an array of informal nicknames. For example, Jan may be called Janek, Jasiek, Jaś or Jasiu, while Katarzyna may be referred to as Kasia or Kaśka.2

Family Names

  • Wives and children typically take on the husband/father’s family name or can use both family names (often hyphenated). However, a woman’s family name often has a feminine suffix/ending (see below).
  • Most Polish family names end in a suffix, such as –WICZ, e.g. IWASZKIEWICZ.
  • Many suffixes vary between the masculine or feminine. For example, -SKI, -CKI and -DZKI (male), become -SKA, -CKA, -DZKA (feminine). Therefore, the wife of Piotr MALINOWSKI might have the last name MALINOWSKA.
  • If referring to two or more persons with at least one man in the group, a masculine plural suffix is used. E.g. -SKI becomes -SCY.
  • If referring to two or more women with no men included, a feminine plural is used. E.g. -SKA becomes -SKIE.
  • Polish family names may reflect a place of residence or birth (e.g. BRZEZIŃSKI) or be based on a nickname surrounding a occupation, character description or trait (Kowalski, Głowacz or Bystroń). Many may also be derived from a given name (e.g. PIOTROWICZ is derived from the name Piotr [Peter]).3
  • Some of the most popular Polish family names include NOWAK, KOWALSKI, WIŚNIEWSKI, WÓJCIK and KOWALCZYK.4


  • Polish does not contain the letter ‘V’, it instead uses ‘W’ (with the sound of English ‘v’). This can often be a way to distinguish between Polish and other Slav family names, although this is not always the case due to incorrect transliterations from Polish: e.g. NOWAK is Polish, but NOVÁK would be Czech or Slovak.5
  • Polish has two versions of the letter ‘L/l’, namely ‘L/l’ and ‘Ł/ł’. The latter is often replaced by the standard English ‘L/l’, but can also be confused with the letter ‘T/t’: e.g. MICHAŁOWSKI could be miswritten as MICHATOWSKI.6

More information here

Polish pronunciation guide  

Spanish Names

  • Spaniards have a personal name(s) followed by two surnames – the father’s paternal family name and then the mother’s paternal family name. For example: Hector Marίa GONZALEZ LÓPEZ.
  • People may have two personal names (e.g. Hector Marίa). The second personal name does not always reflect the gender of the person. In this case, the first of the two may be used on its own, but the second should not be.
  • Traditionally, the first of the surnames is the father’s family name and the second is the mother’s. However, one may now put their mother’s family name first if they wish.
  • The father’s family name is more commonly used to address people. For example, Hector Marίa GONZALEZ LÓPEZ would be appropriately abbreviated as Hector GONZALEZ.
  • Among friends and family, Spaniards will often use nicknames to refer to one another. Commonly, Spaniards will create nicknames based on an easily noticeable personal characteristic or as a shorter form of one’s first name. For example, one’s nickname might be ‘el gordito’ (‘the fat one’) or ‘Pato’ (a shorter form of ‘Patricio’).
  • Most name ending in ‘o’ are male, while many name ending in ‘a’ are female. For example, ‘Patricio’ is the male form, while ‘Patricia’ is the female form. Some Spanish women may take offence if their given name is spelt incorrectly with an -o at the end.
  • It is not customary for Spanish women to adopt their husband’s surnames at marriage.
  • People often know four of their family names as each Spanish parent has two surnames. It was once a historical point of honour to be able to trace back multiple generations of names to prove one’s ethnic purity.

Name Days (Santos)

Many Spaniards are named after a saint or religious figure, e.g. Jose (St. Joseph), Maria (Virgin Mary), Antonio (St. Anthony). In these cases, people have a ‘santo’ (name day), which is the day of the saint that they were named after. People can celebrate their name days as if they are birthdays. However, as there are so many santos in the calendar (between one and seven names every day of the year), they are only generally celebrated if they correspond with a popular or local patron saint. For example, someone named ‘Juan’ could celebrate his birthday and the popular St. John’s Day on July 24th.

More information here.

Last Names or Surnames in Spanish

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