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My first lists of names from Aboriginal languages are the most popular articles on the blog, so it seemed time for another selection. These names are all ones which have been used as personal names in Australia. I have done my best to elucidate meaning and history as much as possible.
Alinta means “flame” in one of the traditional languages of South Australia; it was published in a dictionary by the Royal Society of South Australia in 1891. The name was popularised in 1981 when it was featured in the award-winning mini-series Women of the Sun. Each episode portrayed fictionalised accounts of lives of Aboriginal women in Australian society through history, and the first was Alinta: The Flame. It shows first contact between an Aboriginal tribe and Europeans, when early settlers encounter a tribe while searching for grazing land. The tribe’s culture is threatened by the newcomers, and the tribe is wiped out. The only survivors are a woman named Alinta and her child; Alinta vows that her daughter will “carry the torch” for her culture. There are several businesses in Australia named Alinta, most notably a Western Australian energy company, one of the largest in Australia, and named with the Aboriginal meaning in mind. There is also an Australian-bred variety of strawberry called Alinta. It’s not a very unusual name here, and there are several young actresses with the name. Alinta is also used as a name in Romania, where it means “caress”.
Arika is a name from the Waka Waka people of south-east Queensland, meaning “blue water lily”. There are several species of blue water lily native to Queensland, and they are used as bush food, for all parts of the plant are edible. In Aboriginal mythology, water lilies are a gift from the Rainbow Serpent, and sometimes in Indigenous astronomy, small stars were seen as water lily bulbs. In the novel Book of Dreams by Traci Harding, the meaning of the name is translated, and it says that in the past, Aboriginal women named Arika were given the name Lily by white people – which suggests that Arika might be a good name to honour a great-grandma Lily. Australians named Arika include Indigenous artist Arika Waulu Onus, and Arika Errington, who works in Aboriginal health, and contacted the blog to tell us about her name. I saw several children and teens named Arika online, mostly from Queensland, so it seems as if this name could be today’s Nerida. Arika sounds a bit like Erica, and is an angram of the Japanese name Akira, while having a similar meaning to Lotus. Possible nicknames that occur to me are Ari and Riki.
Jedda (1955) was the first Australian film in colour, the last film of famous director Charles Chauvel, and the first film to star two Aboriginal actors in leading roles. In the movie, Jedda is an Aboriginal girl raised from infancy by a white woman after her mother died giving birth to her. Although she is curious about her own culture, her adoptive mother forbids her from learning anything about it, with tragic consequences. The film was nominated for the main prize at Cannes, and was a commercial success in Australia. In the movie, the name Jedda means “little wild goose” – a forerunner of the chase she will engender. I am not sure if the meaning was invented for the film, or drew on local knowledge; Jedda certainly exists as an Aboriginal name in historical records before 1955. An Aboriginal lady told me that she understood the name Jedda (which was her daughter’s name) as “little child”, but she didn’t say what language that was from. This is reasonably well used as a girl’s name, being similar to Jenna and Jetta – but I have seen it on a boy, because it shortens to Jed, and is also a plant name, because jedda (Jedda multicaulis) is a native shrub.
Kalina means “love” in the extinct Wemba-Wemba language of north-west Victoria and south-west New South Wales. It has often been used as a place name, street name, a name for businesses and organisations, and sometimes as a girl’s name in Australia, but I’m not sure whether it was used as a personal name by the Wemba-Wemba people. It is also a literary name, because Kalina is one of the brumbies in the Australian classic children’s series, The Silver Brumby, by Elyne Mitchell – although in this case, Kalina is a white stallion, and his name is understood to mean (in horse language) “marvellous beauty of frost on snow”. Kalina is also a Slavic name which means “cranberry bush”; in Romania it means “rowan tree”, and in Poland it means “virburnum bush”. This is a pretty cross-cultural name which has several attractive meanings, and seems very easy to wear, being similar to Karina, Katrina and Kalista.
Leumeah is an outer southern suburb of Sydney, in the Macarthur region. It was settled by John Warby, a convict explorer who was transported here in 1792. In 1802, Warby was given the job of protecting cattle roaming free south-west of Sydney. Here he befriended the Tharawal people who lived in the area, and learned some of their language. In 1816 he was granted land on which to build a house, barn and stables; the barn and stables are still standing – one of them is a restaurant and the other a motel. (Just to confuse things, the stables is called The Barn Restaurant). Warby named his farm Leumeah, which means “here I rest” in the Tharawal language, and this became the name of the suburb. It is pronounced LOO-mee-uh. I have seen one or two girls given this name, and it seems like an especially happy name for an Australian, as it came about from a rare case of friendship between Aborigines and European settlers. The sound of it is quite on trend, and Lulu could be a nickname.
Marlee is a small town in mid-northern New South Wales, whose name means “elder tree” in the local Biripi language. Native Elderberry or Yellow Elderberry is Sambucus australasica; its berries are bush food and they are sweeter than the variety from the northern hemisphere. Marlee is a popular name for houses and streets, suggesting leafy abundance, and it is not uncommon as a girl’s name here. Marlee also means “swan” in the Nyungar language of Western Australia, so it has a nice meaning in two languages. It is a rare week when I don’t see a baby named Marli, Marlie, Mahli or Mali in the birth notices, and Marlee fits in perfectly – in fact there was a Marlee in this week’s birth announcements. You could see these names as attempts to “feminise” Marley, but they could just as easily be short forms of Marlene, Mahlia or Malia. Marlee seems like a great way to join this trend with a specifically Australian meaning.
Queen Narelle was the wife of King Merriman (or Umbarra), an important elder of the Yuin people in the latter part of the 19th century. The Yuin people are the traditional owners of the South Coast region of New South Wales, in the Bermagui area. Aboriginal people traditionally did not have kings or chiefs, and the title of “king” was given to certain elders by white people as a (misguided) mark of respect. There is a famous photo of Queen Narelle’s well-attended funeral taken around 1895, which shows black and white people mourning for her together, so it does seem as if Narelle and Merriman were able to form a bridge between cultures, or that relations in the 19th century could be harmonious. You may see Narelle translated as “woman from the sea” in baby name books, but in fact the meaning isn’t known; it is pronounced nuh-REL. Narelle first charted in Australia in the 1920s at #362, and reached the Top 100 in the 1940s. It peaked in the 1950s at #50, and was out of the Top 100 in the 1970s. It hasn’t ranked since the 1980s or charted since the 1990s. The name took a dive in the late 1970s, when it featured on highly popular comedy series The Naked Vicar Show. Narelle was a slightly dim-witted, mildly tarty woman – hence the plummeting popularity of the name, which immediately lost all cachet. However, Narelle is actually a pretty name, and the TV show has long been off the air. It even fits in with the trend for -ell names for girls, and could have fashionable Nell or Nellie as the nickname. Names from the 1950s are predicted to make a comeback: could Narelle be one of them?
Nyah is a small town in Victoria on the banks of the Murray River, pronounced NY-ah. It began as a utopian socialist community in the late 19th century, but as utopian socialism went out of fashion, it lost the necessary government support, and it isn’t now any more utopian or socialist than the next country town. Its name means “this bend (of the river)” in the local Boorung language – the bend of the Murray River at Nyah was an important boundary marker for the Boorung people. The region around Nyah has several Indigenous sacred sites, and in the surrounding state forests, anthropologists have discovered many interesting artefacts of Aboriginal culture. I know of someone with this name, and it seems attractive and simple, similar in sound to popular names like Maya, while also a place name important to Indigenous heritage.
Talia is a small town on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia whose name means “near water” in one of the local languages – appropriately enough for a town by the sea. It may be from Wirangu, or one of its closely related languages. Talia has charted in Australia since the 1970s, which seems to follow its inclusion in Aboriginal Words and Place Names by Alexander Wyclif Reed (1965). It first ranked in the 1980s at #483, and hit its peak in 2009, when it joined the New South Wales Top 100 at #91. Since then it has rapidly declined, and is now #222. The variant spelling of Tahlia has been much more successful, which has been in the Top 100 since the 1990s, peaked in 2009 at #36, and is now #78. Tahlia may be more than an attempt to make clear the Australian pronunciation of Talia – it may also be to differentiate it from international names, because Talia is known as a girl’s name in several other cultures. Talia is a variant of the modern Hebrew name Talya, meaning “dew of God”, and the Italian form of the Greek name Thalia, meaning “blooming”. It can also be used as a short form of Natalia. Talia was the name of the princess in an Italian folk tale on which Sleeping Beauty was based. This is a pretty cross-cultural name with a specifically Australian meaning, and although it is less popular than Tahlia, that may make it more attractive to some parents.
Yindi was the name of a ship, one of four that the Australian government presented to the navy of the Philippines as a gift in 1958. Each of them were given Aboriginal names taken from The Australian Language by Sidney J. Baker (1945). The first ship was the Yindi, whose name is translated as “sun”; in most Aboriginal cultures, the sun is female. Yindi also means “to descend” in the Yindjibarndi language of Western Australia, and the name may remind you of the Australian band Yothu Yindi, which means “child and mother” in the Yolngu language of the Northern Territory. I saw a baby girl named Yindi in a birth notice last year, and it struck me as a really stylish choice, which stands out from the crowd and has a sunny meaning.
(Photo shows Nymphaea gigantea – a species of blue water lily native to south-east Queensland)