• Daniel's son Ngarran Jack's name means dawn or the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A move towards the revitalization of many Indigenous languages has led parents to increasingly draw on our languages for names for their kids.
Karina Marlow

14 Dec 2016 - 6:17 PM  UPDATED 16 Dec 2016 - 9:43 AM

Although there are over 250 Indigenous languages, as many of those languages have become endangered families have turned to the use of traditional names as a method to help their language live on.

Naming traditions in Indigenous Australia may vary widely from nation to nation. While some names and their meanings have been lost through colonisation and the continued use of English names, many nations still practice these traditions through naming ceremonies and other practices.

Jade Towney, a Wiradjuri and Gumbaynggirr woman, has three kids who all have cultural elements to their names.

“I have three children, Anaru (a Maori name) who has Maori as well as Aboriginal connections; Birrani which is Wiradjuri; and my daughter is named Sophia Lowanna which [Lowanna] is Gambayngiirr.”

“It's important for our kids to know about their culture and to be proud of it,” she said. “Having names that are connected to that was important to me and is something that they can proud of as they grow up.”

Luke Briscoe explains that his extended family have a yearly naming ceremony where each child is given a traditional Kuku-Yalanji name.

His two daughters use their traditional names as their middle names. His eldest Phoenix, has the name Wumba meaning 'native bee' and his youngest Topaz is named Wabal-Wabal after the word for 'butterfly'.

Gomeroi man Daniel Jack, and his fiancee Alisha Soper, a Gomeroi, Bigambul and Miriam woman, named their sons Maliyan and Ngarran.  Both names are Gomeroi names with ‘Maliyan’ meaning wedge-tailed eagle and ‘Ngarran’ means dawn or the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise.

Daniel explains that they chose the names as "they are strong Gomeroi names that are interlinked through a Dreaming story we have a family connection to."

The story follows Maliyan the eagle as his spirit form becomes the morning star (the planet Venus). Each morning he races the sun from dawn to sunset and failing to win tries gain the next day.

"Our interpretation of this story is that it is about persistence and not giving up. As our boys grow we will also highlight the closeness of the sun to the Maliyan star at all times and remind them that their bond as brothers should parallel this."

Daniel believes that the reason that traditional names are not as common place within the Aboriginal community is because "we were historically prevented from speaking our languages. Whilst there are no mission managers and the likes dictating how we define ourselves we will proudly do what earlier generations were prevented from doing and use Aboriginal names."

"By doing this I feel we are paying homage to our ancestors and the sacrifice they made for us."

"People will see our boys, hear their names and know that they are the way they are because of their strong sense of self and their connection to their culture. Instead of shame people will see pride."

NITV has drawn together a collection of traditional Indigenous names and their meanings.


Kylie: This famous name has long been associated with Australia courtesy of Ms Minogue, but did you know that Kylie is the West Australian Noongar word for a ‘boomerang’?

Lenah: This pretty girls name hails from the Palawa language of Tasmania and means ‘kangaroo’. The name is also used for the suburb Lenah Valley in the foothills of Mount Wellington in Hobart.

Alinta: This name means fire and is thought to originate from a South Australian language. Alinta was the name of one of the main characters in the 1981 SBS television mini-series Women of the Sun which portrayed the lives of four Indigenous women in Australian society from 1820 to 1980.

Bindi: Known to many Australians as the prickly weed lurking in wait for bare feet on grass, the word Bindi-Bindi is the Noongar name for ‘butterfly’.

Kalina: Meaning ‘love’ in the endangered Wemba-Wemba language of north-west Victoria and southern New South Wales, this word has sometimes been used as a girl’s name.

Lowanna: This word means ‘girl’ in the Gumbaynggir language of New South Wales and is also the name of a village near Coffs Harbour where the language originates. The word is also thought to mean ‘woman’ or refer to ‘women’s business’ in other Indigenous languages too.

Marlee: A small town in the mid-north of New South Wales, the name means ‘elder tree’ in the local Biripi language. The sweet berries of the tree are known as a native bush food. Marlee also means ‘swan’ in the Noongar language of WA.

Talia: A coastal town on the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia, this word means ‘near water’ and is likely to come from the local Nawu language. The girl’s name also hails from many other different international languages including Hebrew, Greek and Italian.

Jedda: Jedda is a name drawn from the Aboriginal main character of the 1955 film by Charles Chauvel and played by Rosalie Kunoth-Monks. In the film the name means ‘little wild goose’ but it is more likely to have drawn on the Noongar word djida meaning wren.

Leumeah: From the Tharawal language of the Macarthur region of Sydney, Leumeah was the name of a land grant given to convict explorer John Warby in 1816. Appropriately the word is believed to mean ‘here I rest’ and is now the name of an outer Sydney suburb in the same area.


Birrani: A Wiradjuri name meaning ‘boy’ from central New South Wales.

Daku: The name means ‘sand hill’ and originates from the Diyari language of South Australia. The Diyari people live in the desert region to the east of Lake Eyre where there are sand hills in abundance.

Iluka:  The name of the New South Wales Coastal town means ‘by the sea’ in the Bunjalang. it has also been suggested that the name derives from the Djangati term yiluga, the meaning of which is uncertain.

Jarli: Jarli means ‘barn owl’ in the Jiwarli language of Western Australia. While the last speaker of Jiwarli passed away in 1986 a dictionary was able to be made and many people continue speak words or phrases in the language.

Koa: Koa means ‘crow’ in the Kaurna language of Adelaide. The name also has Hawaiian origins meaning ‘warrior’ and has also been used as the name of a native acacia tree.

Jarrah: Is from the Noongar word djarraly from Western Australia, and refers to the mighty eucalyptus trees native to south-western WA and the deep red timber it produces.

Maliyan: This name means wedge-tailed eagle and is from the Gamilaroi language of northern NSW.

Jiemba: Means ‘laughing star’ in the Wiradjuri language of central NSW and refers to the morning star, the planet Venus. In some other Aboriginal languages the word djimba also means ‘star’.

Miro: A Noongar name, this word refers to a wooden spear thrower that is used to launch a gigjee. This fearsome spear was up to three metres long and tipped in quartz for maximum impact.

Tau: Meaning ‘dusk’ or ‘twilight’, Tau comes from the Kaurna language of Adelaide.