Nina’s been on my mind lately. Maybe because, like Otto, it’s a pleasing word to say. Nina skips off the tongue — and, because it’s two syllables long and ends in the letter “A,” — fits right in with a lot of popular girl names. But Nina won’t get lost in the soft-sound sea of Ellas, Avas, Emmas and Lolas. Nina stands out. Catapulted with oomph by that long “E” sound, Nina cuts a clear, sophisticated path across the pastel hills of Trendy-land.
In the US, Nina peaked in popularity way back in the 1880s, though it’s been a fairly constant figure on the charts ever since. That’s good to know if you’re looking for a name that doesn’t seem dated. It’s got tons of fabulous history: the ancient city of Nineveh was named for a Nina — a goddess of fertility found in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology, who is identical to Ishtar, and represented by a fish inside a house. Come on, that’s crazy.
Nina is cross-cultural. It means “fire,” in Quechua, and is still frequently used throughout Europe, where it is actually on the upswing in Belgium and France. A look at Wikipedia’s list of famous Ninas is a veritable treasure trove of interesting women. Russian snipers! American botanists! Dutch sex workers! What more could you ask for — Nina is clearly a name that works well for all types of personalities.
If Nina seems like too much of a nickname to you (and it does mean “little girl,” in Spanish) try a longer form, like lyrical Annina, or Italian names containing the “-nina” element, like Antonina or Giannina. I’m partial to French forms Ninette, Ninon and Ninou, which either sound like aliens, or faeries in a Shakespeare play. For lovers of the very obscure, try Nino, the name of a 4th-century saint (scarily depicted above). And for boys, there’s Ninos, a name from ancient Greece.