If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you are probably familiar with the confusion that comes with trying to make yourself understood in a country where you don’t speak the language. Fortunately, phrasebooks can help you find the bathroom or order food from the menu, but there are some things that they don’t cover. With thousands of languages spoken all over the world, it’s pretty much a given that some of the words you use every day will have different meanings in other languages.
It turns out that many of the names we consider to be common are also used as words in other countries that, unfortunately, have some pretty nasty meanings. You might want to check out what these baby names mean in other languages before deciding whether or not to give one of them to your own little one.
Chloe is such a cute name, right? In fact, it’s trending all over the world right now and is ranked in the top 100 names for baby girls in several countries including the United States (where it’s number 20) and Spain (where it sits at 57).
Despite the name’s popularity, it’s not ranked in Germany and there’s quite a good reason for this. It turns out the name Chloe is very similar to the name "klo" which is German slang for "toilet." Not exactly something you would want to call your baby no matter how tempting it is while changing their diaper!
Most people these days think of Apple’s personal assistant when they hear the name Siri but it’s actually a name in its own right. With its origins in Scandinavia, the name Siri is currently pretty popular in Sweden but you might want to be careful about saying it out loud in Japan where people might think you’re saying the word "a**."
Technically, Siri doesn’t mean anything bad since the actual term for "a**" in Japanese is "Shiri." That technicality doesn’t mean much, though, since when Siri is said out loud in Japan it would be pronounced the same as the offensive word.
There are actually a couple reasons that people might giggle at the name Randy. In English, the name is usually a form of Randall or Randolph but can also refer to feelings of sexual arousal. As if that weren’t bad enough, in Hindi the word "randi" means "prostitute." People aren’t letting themselves be put off the name, however. While it’s not quite as popular as it used to be, it’s still ranked 633rd for male baby names in the U.S.
The name Fanny is more or less regarded as old-fashioned in most countries these days (although it’s still inexplicably popular in France). It’s not hard to see why this name fell out of favor when you know what the word really means. In the United States, the word is used to refer to the buttocks which is pretty bad but nowhere near as bad as what it means in British English. Across the pond, the term is a pretty offensive slang term that refers to a woman’s private parts.
Usually short for the name Peter, Pete is a very popular name throughout the world. The name dates back to Biblical times and has many variations in other countries that can all be traced back to the Greek Petros which means "stone." It’s a strong name that has held steady for centuries, but in Argentina it has taken on an unusual and totally inappropriate meaning. There, "pete" is a slang word for fellatio.
The name Vaughn has remained fairly common in the United States for generations, coming from a Welsh surname derived from the term "bychan" meaning "little." Not exactly the best name meaning, but it’s definitely not the worst.
It makes sense that the name is most popular in America, because it could only be common in a country where people don’t know Russian. In Russian, the word "von" means "stench." This news stinks for any Vaughns planning on traveling to Moscow.
The nickname Dom is frequently given to those named Dominic (or Dominique, the female variation of the popular moniker). It’s cute and catchy, but it is definitely not a universally acceptable nickname. If you find yourself in the Netherlands, you might want to be careful. In Dutch, the word "dom" is more likely to be heard as an insult rather than as an affectionate shortening of a name. In that language, the word translates to "stupid."
If you think you can play it safe by giving your little Dominic or Nicholas the nickname Nick, you’re wrong. While it’s a popular and even a jolly name thanks to its connection to Santa Claus, it might make French people snicker thanks to the fact that it sounds quite a lot like the word "nique" which roughly translates to "f***." Saying that word will definitely get your kid coal in their stocking!
A shortened form of the name Rebecca, Becky seems like a fairly harmless name, right? In the Philippines, however, the name has in recent years become a slang word for a young, gay man. The word is often used affectionately and isn’t seen as a homophobic slur, though, so while you might get a few giggles from your Filipino friends if you name your baby girl Becky, it will all be in good fun.
The name Cara (also spelled Kara) is a very popular name in the United States and the United Kingdom but it turns out thousands of people have been giving their baby girls a name that is quite the insult in Arabic. While the English version of the name comes from an Italian word meaning "beloved," the Arabic-speaking world has assigned a far less pleasant term to the word "khara." In Arabic, this lovely name actually translates to "s***."
Gil is used in a few countries as both a name and as a nickname. In the United States, it’s usually short for Gilbert. In Europe, it is the Spanish and Portuguese equivalent of the name Giles. Gil is also a Hebrew name; in that language it translates to "happiness" or "joy." In Poland, however, Gil is not used as a name or as a particularly nice word. There, the name is a term that means "snot."
In the United States, the name Willy is a fairly innocuous nickname for the more formal William, a name which has been incredibly popular for centuries. Given the widespread use of the name, you kind of have to wonder how it became a slang term for "penis." Fortunately, this slang word is mostly used in British English so it’s fairly safe to use in the U.S. You should definitely shorten the name to Will, though, if you plan on visiting England.
Bill, a standard nickname for William, means a slew of things in the English language. As a noun, it can be used as another term for a bird’s beak, refer to an amount of money that must be paid, and is also the word for a proposed statute presented to a legislature before it is signed into law. Those are just a few examples, but all of the ways we use the word in English are inoffensive, so Anglophone parents don’t usually hesitate to call their kids Bill. Those parents might think twice, however, if they spoke Dutch.
In the Netherlands, "bil" translates to "buttock." The term is more commonly used in its plural form, "billen," so Bill might not get too many giggles in the Netherlands, but is it really worth the risk? If you want to spare your baby the unpleasant Dutch meaning, you could opt for a less offensive nickname for William such as Will or Liam.
On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, there aren’t really many downsides to the name Lou, unless you count the possibility that hearing the name might get the song "Skip to My Lou" stuck in your head. This short and sweet name originated as a nickname for monikers like Louis and Louise, and was widely used for both boys and girls before falling off the baby name charts for boys in the 1960s. It fell off the girls charts a decade later and hasn’t been seen since.
It’s possible that the name simply saw a normal decline in popularity, or maybe American parents just picked up some British slang. The most commonly used language in the U.K. and the U.S. might be the same, but there are some major differences between British and American English. For example, in British English, loo is slang for toilet — not exactly something you would want to name your baby!
Originally a nickname for the name Theresa, Tessa first hit the U.S. baby name charts in the 1960s and has seen steady use for baby girls since then. The name has been on the charts in other English speaking countries, including England, Wales, New Zealand, and Canada. It has also ranked as a top baby name in the Netherlands and France. Unfortunately, many Danish parents can’t appreciate the name in quite the same way.
Denmark has long had laws regulating last names, but local priests were traditionally in charge of first names. That changed in the 1960s after a priest in a rural church, unfamiliar with the foreign name Tessa, refused to allow a baby to be given the name as it sounds like "tisse," the Danish word for "urinate." After that, the country began to regulate first names as well, and Tessa is now on the list of the country’s pre-approved baby names. While it’s allowed, Danish parents might think twice about bestowing their baby girl with a moniker so close to a common bodily function.
The name Mark has a long and powerful history. It is a variation of the Roman name Marcus, which is thought to be derived from Mars, the name of the Roman god of war. Mark has been around since the Middle Ages, although it didn’t really take off in English-speaking countries until the 19th century. Today, the name is frequently given to baby boys, and even made a small appearance as a girls names from 1958 to 1970 in the U.S. It is popular in English-speaking countries, as well as several European countries including Slovenia, Russia, and Hungary.
While the name is beloved around the world, Mark’s popularity doesn’t extend to Norway. There’s a pretty ironclad reason for this — "mark" is the Norwegian word for "worm." It’s not surprising that parents are reluctant to give the moniker to their little boys, no matter how beloved the name might be in other countries.
The name Gary originally comes from an English last name which is ultimately derived from the Germanic word "ger," which means "spear." The name has long been popular in the United States — it was so widely used that from 1944 to 1947 the masculine name even hit the baby name charts for girls. The name has also been on the charts in Canada, England, Wales, France, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. It’s hard to imagine how a name that has seen so much use in such diverse countries around the world could ever been seen as anything other than appealing, but Gary has arguably the most disgusting meaning on this list.
Unfortunately, the Japanese definition may very well change your perception of this classic name forever. Gary sounds like the Japanese word geri, which means diarrhea. While babies can be messy, there’s a huge difference between changing your little one’s diaper and naming them after the contents of that diaper.