Once there would have been 800 Aboriginal dialects spoken across Australia, now you'd be lucky to find 100 spoken languages. Worse still, only 13 of these languages are still being taught to children and the numbers continue to dwindle. As words fall out of use, and new generations of Aboriginal children adopt English as their primary language, the risk of extinction increases.
The best way to help save a language is to increase the use of its words and this can be done by using words from that language to name people and objects. In Australia maintaining the aboriginal language has also been assisted by allowing Australian towns and landmarks to retain their Aboriginal names i.e. Wagga Wagga or Uluru.
We have long since allowed our choice of names to be influenced by pop-culture and other global trends. In our haste to modernise we’ve forgotten to allow the historical influence of our own country influence our choices. Some people are perplexed at the thought of having such an old and historical name, but the reality is that Aboriginal names are unique and meaningful.
Of course, giving your child an Aboriginal name is not something that is restricted to parents of indigenous backgrounds or who speak Aboriginal languages. According to Nameberry, the first documented European to give their child an Aboriginal girl name was a chaplain from the first fleet; Reverend Johnson named his daughter Milbah. Since then, many other European Australians have followed suit, including the late Steve Irwin and his wife, Terri Irwin, who named their daughter ‘Bindi’. Website, Waltzing more than Matilda, interprets ‘Bindi’ as meaning 'little girl', 'butterfly', or ‘spiky thing’/ ‘little spear’.
Aboriginal names are characteristically rhythmic, with deep tones that roll off the tongue, although as the languages fall into disuse the correct pronunciation is sometimes lost, notes MomJunction. In an attempt to get people aware of the names MonJunction and Welcome to Country have shortlisted and published some of the most popular Aboriginal boy names. In considering the names collated by these websites, we’ve created a list of some of the most meaningful baby boy and baby girl names.
Top Aboriginal Boys Names:
Origin: Diyari Language, South Australia
Meaning: Sand Hill
A word inspired by the deserts of South Australia ‘Daku’ is short and unique. If you'd like to make it a little shorter 'Dak' is also suitable.
Origin: Bndajalong language, New South Wales
Meaning: Near the Sea
Famous Namesakes: The small town of ‘Iluka’ situation at the mouth of the Clarence River in New South Wales.
Thinking of naming your baby ‘Luke’, ‘Lucas’ or ‘Luka’? Well, why not go for ‘Iluka’ and give your baby boy a name with an extra exotic twist. Conversely, if you’d prefer to call him by a nickname, then why not shorten it to ‘Illy’.
Pronunciation: j AH r - l ee
Origin: Jiwarli Language, Western Australia
Meaning: Barn Owl, Wisdom
This name is pretty much Charlie with a ‘J’ and you can always call him “Jar” for short. While you don't want your newborn to have any of the nocturnal capabilities of an owl, in some Aboriginal cultures and languages the owl is the symbol of wisdom.
Origin: Wiradjuri language, New South Wales
Meaning: Laughing Star
Famous Namesakes: Mary Gilmore, the Australian Poet was given the name ‘Jiemba’ by the local Aboriginals.
As can be seen by the fact that the name was given to Mary Gilmore, ‘Jiemba’ is a unisex name that is more commonly given to males. In a masculine context the name can have diminutives that include ‘Jim’ or ‘Jimmy’.
Origin: Kaurna Language, Adelaide.
Koa is a name that is not only Aboriginal Australian but generally indigenous in nature. The meaning provided here comes from an Aboriginal Australian language but the name also has indigenous Hawaiian roots. The Hawaiian interpretation of the name is ‘warrior' as well as being the word used in the region for the acacia tree.
Origin: Nyungar language, South-west Western Australia
Meaning: Spear Thrower
The word ‘Miro’ has Slavic and Japanese roots and from these origins the name draws alternative meanings including "peaceful" and "world". So, if you’re after a particularly multicultural name you've found it.
Origin: Unknown Aboriginal Language
Meaning: Black necked stork
Origin: Kaurna Language, South Australia
This is another name which is very multicultural, with both Indian and Pakistani origins. However, in India and Pakistan the word is not a name but a way to season food with spices that have been activated in hot oil. If you’re a foodie as well as a linguist this could be the perfect name for your child.
Pronunciation: T-ow (‘ow’ as in c-ow)
Origin: Kaurna Language, Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains
Meaning: Dusk or Twilight
Tau is short and simple, and it won't be a problem learning to spell or recognise this name. If it’s not short enough for your liking you can always call him ‘T’.
Origin: Unknown Aboriginal Language from the Sydney region of New South Wales
This name is pronounced in the same was as its European counterpart ‘Warren’. In fact, the word ‘Warrin’ in its English form ‘Winter’, is also gaining popularity just like other seasonal names including 'Summer' and 'Autumn'. So, if the name winter sounds appealing to you, why not put an Aboriginal twist on it and opt for ‘Warrin’ instead.
Origin: Wiradjuri language, Central New South Wales
Instead of ‘Brian’ why not go for ‘Birrani’? After all there's nothing simpler than naming your child after what he is.
Origin: Ngarigo Language, South Eastern New South Wales.
Meaning: High plain
Origin: Wiradjuri Language, Central-West New South Wales
Meaning: Wattle Tree
Origin: Kimberley Region, Northern Western Australia
Famous Namesakes: Jandamarra, Bunubu Warrior
While this is one of the longer names on this list the story behind the famous namesake warrior and his fight for his people is an amazing piece of history to pass to your child.
Top Aboriginal Girl Names:
Origin: Unknown Aboriginal language originating out of South Australia
Meaning: Fire or flame
An exotic name that will fit perfectly into the trend of girls’ names starting with the letter ‘A’.
Origin: Unknown Aboriginal language of the Northern Territory
Meaning: Little wild goose
Really similar to the name ‘Jada’, ‘Jedda’ is unique and strong. In 1991 a film, also entitled 'Jedda,' adopted this name as the name of an indigenous character.
Origin: Nyungar language, Western Australia
Meaning: little girl and butterfly
Famous Namesakes: Bindi Irwin, Bindi Cole
Meaning: While the origin of this name has been lost, the Aboriginal people who are familiar with the name say its meaning is 'see'
Famous Namesakes: Kalinda Ashton
Origin: Yugambeh Language, Gold Coast Queensland Murri language, Southern Queensland
Meaning: Leaf, To Live
This name is popular in it’s modern and european spellings, as ‘Keira’ or ‘Kiera’ which come from Irish roots and describes someone with dark features. In it’s Aboriginal form, ‘Kirra’, is the name of a coastal suburb on the Gold Coast which was rarely visited by European Australians until 1840.
Origin: Gumbaynggir Language, New South Wales and Unknown Language of Tasmanian origin.
Meaning: Girl, Woman, and An Object of Beauty
The name is supposed to indicate a female being and is therefore the epitome of femininity.
Origin: Biripi Language, New South Wale and Noongar Language of Western Australia
Meaning: Elderberry Tree, swan
Famous Namesakes: Marlee Matlin
Origin: Gadigal language, New South Wales
Meaning: Beautiful and happy
Famous Namesakes: Merindah Donnelly
The ‘h’ is silent so if you prefer to drop it completely the change would go unnoticed and you’d keep the rhythm of the word.
Pronunciation: ree-AN-uh, ree-AHN-uh, and REE-uh-na
Origin: Palawa Language, Tasmania
Meaning: Small Caterpillar
To Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous people the butterfly is the reincarnation of their dead ancestors and so the caterpillar signifies new life or new beginnings.
Pronunciation: TAHL-ee-uh or TAHL-yuh
Origin: Nawu Language, South Australia
Meaning: Near Waters
Famous Namesakes: Talia Richman
This name is one of the more commonly heard Aboriginal Australian names as it’s popular throughout Australia. Around the world the name also tends to be popular, however this is as a result of the meaning derived from the name ‘Talia’ as attributed to its Hebrew, Greek and Italian origins.
Origin: Dharug Language of New South Wales
Meaning: Permanent or Always There
Like many Aboriginal words ‘Killara’ is the name of a suburb on Sydney's upper north-shore.
Origin: Kaurna language, South Australia
Meaning: Blossom, Flower, Native Water Lily
Famous Namesakes: Medika Thorpe.
Origin: Noongar language, West Australia
Meaning: Boomerang or Curved Returning Stick
Famous Namesakes: Kylie Minogue
While this name has been made popular around Australia and world-wide by Kylie Minogue and later Kylie Jenner its origins come from the Western Australian Noongar people. ‘Kylie’ can also be spelled ‘Kyly’, ‘Kileey’, ‘Kilee’ and ‘Kylee’.
Origin: Kaurna language, Adelaide South Australia
Meaning: Sound of the surf
Famous Namesakes: Tahnee Atkinson, Tarni Loreggian and Tarni Carter
This name is very popular among the indigenous communities and is heavily used in its various forms.
Pronunciation: Ae- Leer- ah
Origin: Arrernte Language from Alice Springs region of the Northern Territory and Unknown language from Melbourne
Meaning: Niece, Girl and Translucent Gem Quartz
This name is a transliteration of the Aboriginal word ‘Allirea’ from which the meanings are derived. ‘Alira’ is already considerably popular in Australia, where it is also spelled ‘Allira’ or ‘Allyra’.
The examples above demonstrate the significant meaning and value that Aboriginal names have to the indigenous people. This makes them particularly suitable as children's names for children of any culture background or ethnicity.