Posted by: Andy | April 15, 2011

What’s in a name? – Turkish Girl Names

One of the most interesting things about Turkish culture is their use of names.  The majority of Turkish names can be found directly in the dictionary.  While there are a few names like this used commonly in America (Hope, Grace, Faith, Joy) it is nowhere near the majority.  Most commonly used names in the US have some etymology to them.  My name, Andrew, comes from the Greek word meaning strong or manly.  Stephanie’s name comes fromFrench and Greek roots meaning crown or princess.

As we continually meet new people here, we tend to assess whether their name would be usable in the US or not (No, we are NOT expecting a child). 

When I say usable, I mean the letters all make the same sounds.  For example in Turkish, the C makes a J sound and there are six letters in the Turkish alphabet that don’t exist in our alphabet.  So here are some popular Turkish names that we like, what they mean and an assessment of their usability.

When we first arrived in Turkey, the first Turkish woman we met was the secretary at our school, her name being Melek, which means angel in Turkish and strangely enough, king in Hebrew.  This is closely related to another Turkish girl’s name, Melike which means queen.  While Melek is perfectly usable, Melike may be pronounced as two separate words, ‘me like’.  No, I don’t like that. 

Pronounced ‘ya-MOOR’ the g with a squiggle over it is essentially silent.  It usually serves to elongate the previous vowel.  Yağmur means rain and while it is extremely beautiful, having that silent g would make most Americans looking at the name say ‘YAG – mer’.  Leaving out the G so that it is simply Yamur, may be an option, I suppose.

As I previously mentioned, the C in Turkish has a J sound, so this name is pronounced, ‘JER-en’.  It means gazelle and despite the beauty of the name, if it were used in the US, people would simply think it an alternate spelling of the name ‘Karen’ and that’s no good.  It is perhaps usable with the alternate spelling ‘Jeren’.

Pronounced just like the large brass instrument, Tuğba is unusable on two fronts.  Firstly, there is the possibility of people saying ‘TUG – BA’ and who would like that?  Secondly, even if it were pronounced correctly, it would be strange to name a child (in other people’s eyes) after an instrument.  I’ve never met anybody named Flute, Euphonium or Timpani, have you?  Tuğba means pleasant or enjoyable.  It also seems to have connections to a special tree in heaven. 

It always makes me happy when I meet a person whose name fits their personality and their hobbies.  For example, my little brother’s name is Isaac, which means laughter and it is quite fitting.  Ezgi is a musical term meaning melody and I’ve met more than one musician named Ezgi, one was even a professional violinist.  But beyond that, Ezgi sounds just like it looks, and that’s important for usability in the US.

Again with the C pronounced J thing.  The name ‘Can’ is a common boy’s name meaning life, pronounced exactly the same as ‘John’ or ‘Jon’.  ‘Su’ means water; therefore, Cansu means life-water.  Isn’t that lovely? 

My students informed me the other night that it has become popular in the last 30 years or so to add two specific suffixes for girl names.  One is ‘-su’ (water), the other is  ‘-nur'(light).



  1. […] men perhaps won’t care to hear this, I find Turkish girl names much more natural and beautiful than Turkish boy names.  It seems as though the girl names have […]

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