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A couple years ago, an expectant mother asked the natives in the the ville to suggest Samoan names for her new baby girl. The discussion received a handful of genuine attempts to be helpful, but the other 5 pages of replies were full of so much stupidity I swear…

The suggestions ranged from ‘Sasa’e‘ meaning ‘East’ (as in the direction) to ‘Kekepovi‘ meaning ‘beef buns’ to ‘Tolopo‘, which means ‘postpone’, because “I think her delivery date has been delay while she is searching for a name,” said JJW… to several un-repeatable words, and one funny lady even offered ‘Megatron‘.

Yes, our village has its fair share of idiots comedians.

The Samoan culture is so rich, though, our traditional names so full of meaning that I can understand (a little bit) why many of us would be reluctant to share them.

My mom was asked once for baby names, and she came up with a list of monikers that carried so much cultural weight, so much deep sentiment – and then each was rejected because they were either too hard to pronounce or just not ‘pretty’ enough to non-Samoan ears.

That sucked. What a waste of some great names… but then I remember asking my Chinese friends for nice names, and yes. I would probably not use any of their suggestions either for the same reasons.

SO, I thought I would attempt to compile a list of names that sound pretty – names I could imagine getting popular amongst non-Samoans – but names that still have some significance in our culture.

Just a note, though. If you ARE Samoan… even just a little bit…? I hope you will consider going to the elders in your family to find baby names – because theirs will be unique, tied to the land and chiefly titles in your family history, and how much more beautiful can a name be than one that preserves the stories and memories of your ancestors…?

Okay, let’s get to this list:

  1. Teuila [tay WEE lah] – Security suggested this one, and it’s pretty popular already. It’s the Samoan word for the very beautiful red ginger flower and also the name of the biggest annual cultural festival in Upolu.
  2. Lanuola [lah noo OH lah] – This is only a portion of a couple of longer title names, but taken out of context, its literal translation is ‘living color’ (lanu = color, ola = life). I love that. It’s similar to the name Malakosi suggested: Lanu’ese’ese, which is also pretty cool.
  3. Elei [eh LAY] – The traditional art of decorating fabric in Samoa involves carving patterns into blocks of wood, inking them and pressing them onto the fabric. The resulting designs are called ‘elei’. I think the word is a pretty alternative to the more popular Hawaiian name Leilani (Lei for short).
  4. Natia [nah TEE ah] – Again, this is commonly only a small part of longer title names (and poetic sentiments) in the Samoan language, but this word by itself means ‘hidden’… as in a hidden treasure or secret. I like this name so much I’m saving a longer version of it for my own child one day… 🙂
  5. La’ei [lah ‘AY] – La’ei refers to clothing, but more in the sense of ‘fashion’ rather than just clothes. Like in this photo posted in the ville. So if you can handle pronouncing the glottal stop in the middle of this word, and you aren’t scared of predisposing your daughter to a love of fashion, then this is the name for you!
  6. Masina [mah SEE nah] – eiight daez suggested this one, and it’s also quite popular amongst Samoans – girls and boys, although it does sound more girly to the non-Samoan ear. It’s our word for ‘moon’, and it reminds me of one of my most favourite songs: Moe i le po masina (asleep on a moonlit night).
  7. Manaia [mah NAH yah] – I love this name for so many reasons, including the fact that it was given to my (boy) cousin by my grandmother – he was the last child she named before she died. Its simple meaning is ‘nice’ or ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’. In Samoan culture, though, ‘manaia’ is what we call the son of a high chief, especially when he performs the taualuga, which is a graceful solo dance to honour his family and village. As a name, it works for girls as well as boys, and when shortened can either be ‘Mana’, which means ‘spiritual power’, or ‘Naya’ .. which just sounds trendy, don’t it?
  8. Tausa’afia [tah ooh sah ‘ah FEE ah] – Okay this one is a little more challenging to pronounce, but I still think it’s a great name that should be considered for a girl. Why? First, its meaning. This word refers to a pleasant and love-able personality – someone who is kind and good and well-mannered. Second, ‘sa’afia’ doesn’t sound too different from ‘Sophia’ so it’s not completely unfamiliar… and because ‘afi’ is our word for ‘fire’, the name also reminds me of the word ‘Saphire’, which is pretty, too, right? For short, you could call this child ‘Tau’ or ‘Fia’.
  9. Talia [tah LEE ah] – Doesn’t that just sound pretty? Its meaning is just a bonus. It comes from the word ‘fa’atali’, which means ‘to wait’, but talia is used often to refer to waiting in anticipation for something big, as in, the Second Coming of the Lord. Because of this context, for me this name will always be a reminder of how deeply rooted our culture is in the Christian faith.
  10. Samaria [sah mah REE ah] – Continuing the Christian theme, this name was made even more popular by this gorgeous track by Vaniah Toloa. It’s the Samoan word for ‘Samaritan’, as in the Bible’s Good Samaritan. But if you break the word down, it could also mean Sacred (‘sa’) Maria.

Now that you’ve got me thinking, I could probably find a few dozen more pretty Samoan names, but we’ll stop here for now.

What are your favourites? Why?

Please let us know in a comment below.

🙂