Indiana dilemma

My partner and I are in the process of picking names for our April baby, and one of the girl names we absolutely love is Indiana. We love the nickname Indi/Indy, which is what we would call our child most of the time, but also love the long form Indiana. We think it has an adventurous yet femine flair to it. Anyways, I'm not looking for validation about the quality of Indiana as a name, but I worry about cultural connotations. 

Indiana is mostly known as the state of Indiana, which was so named as the 'land of the indians'. We don't have any association to that state (we're not american), nor to native americans, but we are aware that large groups of native americans really hate being called 'Indians'. For us, as non-americans, we just love how Indiana sounds as a name, and don't associate it to the state. However, we do live in the US, so are somewhat worried about how the name will be perceived.

is it offensive for us to call our baby girl Indiana because of the loaded associations with the state of Indiana, and that the term 'indians' were often used against native americans?Any advice appreciated.


October 17, 2018 10:25 AM

I confess I'd find it odd to meet a non-American named Indiana.  But I've known people variously named Kenya, India, Persia, Asia, Brooklyn and other place names that didn't have a connection to the place.

I confess, I think of the state first and not the connection to Native Americans.  I probably would think of Indiana Jones prior to the state if I met a real life Indiana.

October 17, 2018 11:52 AM

I think you'll be perfectly fine. Sure, I would be a bit confused to see a non-american named Indiana, but it fits nicely with current trends. And as for connotations, the state of Indiana, despite it's name, doesn't have any assosications other than it being a flyover state and a bit small, so you don't have to worry about how your daughter will be seen. 

October 17, 2018 12:53 PM

I grew up with Indiana as a neighboring state, so that's my strongest association. I don't know that the cultural appropriation will be as much of an issue, since it's kind of at a third-hand remove (the term "Indian" was applied to people in the Americas based on a misunderstanding, and then appropriated by the folks who named the state, and then picked up as a person-name, so the connection to North America's native peoples is pretty attenuated). I honestly don't much notice the word "Indian" in Indiana, Indianapolis, Indianola (which is actually in Iowa), etc. My suspicion is that it would be less problematic than using a place name that is an actual appropriations of a Native term. However, if you're going to be hanging out with a lot of indigenous folks, or people from India, you might want to check with them directly to see if they would find it distracting or offensive.

Having said that, I think in the US your main issue would be that the name really doesn't have the same associations you ascribe. In the midwest, Indiana is solidly in the Rust Belt; I associate it mainly with hollowed-out cities and working poverty. And that's from someone who grew up in Michigan. It's not that small in population, either; it's #17 overall in the US (despite being only #39 in area) so its regional reputation is perhaps more urban and widespread than folks on the coasts realize. Maybe think of it as a Midwestern New Jersey, if that helps at all. Of course, as a human name, it's hard to overcome the Indiana Jones connection, which makes it an adventurous, highly masculine name (despite the -iana ending).

Have you considered just using Indi/Indy as the given name? I think that eliminates any possibility of weird cultural associations, and allows folks to imagine that the long form is whatever they prefer (Independence, Indiana, Indira, whatever).

By EVie
October 17, 2018 2:41 PM

I agree with this. I'm from the East Coast, but I still have those associations with Indiana as a state. I also do feel a bit more strongly about the fact that the name both contains and derives from an ethnonym, regardless of how far removed from the original source. If anything, all the layers of misappropriation kind of make me cringe a little more—the word Indian should never have been appropriated from India and applied to Native Americans in the first place, a state should not have been named using that misappropriated name, etc. I don't always think deeply about the name every time I hear it, because it *is* just a place in everyday usage, but when I do think deeply, my internal response is, "Wow, a whole lot of bad ideas piled on top of one another."

How about Indigo? The word actually does derive from "Indian" as well, but it's so very far removed that I don't think anyone would make the connection. 

October 17, 2018 4:14 PM

Indigo is a great idea! I've seen it as a character name, and always liked it.

It's also a good point about the layers of inappropriateness. I guess my thought on why it seems less culturally appropriative is that with a parent choosing a name like Bodhi or Sierra or India there's a sense that part of the attraction of the name is the same sense of exoticism and other stereotyping that goes with the associated culture--"I named him Apache because I love nature and want him to be a warrior". I wouldn't necessarily assume a similar motivation for Indiana, just because I think the state's other associations overwhelm the older origins of the word. So if I met a little Indiana I would guess the parents had some kind of "conceived on a cross-country drive" or "huge Hoosiers fans" name story sooner than that they fetishize Native Americans, if that makes sense. (A name like Nevada bothers me more, since I think some of the mystique of the state/name still draws from problematic "how the West was won"-type narratives.) But you're right, if name origins are important to you then this name's story is not great.

By EVie
October 17, 2018 8:11 PM

Yes, I think you're right that fetishization is less the issue here than my sense of general repeated #whitepeoplefail. And I also might feel less negative about the choice if there were an overriding meaning behind it like the ones you cited—which is how I feel about place name choices in general, for that matter. There's a big difference between "I used this place name because it's personally meaningful to me" and "I thought it sounded pretty but have no connection to it or even a full grasp of its cultural associations."

October 17, 2018 7:36 PM

I wouldnt see it as a problem,  I'm not American too,  first thoughts are Indiana Jones or the state.  I know a few Indiana's here and I'm in Australia.  Indi is quite pretty as a nn and Indiana goes along with all the other lovely ana names

October 18, 2018 12:04 AM

I'm going to chime is as an American expat... traveling/moving globally with a place name can be a bit awkward.  Place names are trendy in English-speaking countries, but can be very confusing in others where they are not. I'm thinking of my American friend France, who is constantly explaining that she is American not French and then getting sucked into 5-minute conversations about "then why isn't your name America?", "why did you parents name you another country" etc etc.  And once upon a time I lived in Australia and fostered a dog who had an American state name.  EVERYONE thought I named my dog after my home state and it was a standard conversation that, ummm, no, she actually came with this name and it's a total coincidence that I'm American.  My point here is that giving a child a place name often leads quite automatically to conversations about their connection to that place.  This shouldn't be a deal-breaker if you absolutely love the name, but something to be aware of. 

I also love Indigo!  So much fun kid nickname potential: Indy Go Go, Go Indy Go etc etc.






October 18, 2018 6:55 AM

Thanks everyone! I reallly appreciate your input, almost all of which are making me want to move away from Indiana to the simple form Indie instead. Indigo is absolutely beautiful in English, but does not sound good in our our mother tongues, so it's unfortunately a no-go for us.

October 18, 2018 4:32 PM

If you do want a longer name with the nickname Indie, it could be short for something like Lucinda or Melinda. I've also heard of it being used as a nn for Ingrid, which I quite like too.

October 18, 2018 11:23 AM

I both love Indiana because it reminds me strongly of Indiana Jones, but also think the origin of the state name would make me pause in using it in a child. (I married into a family with some tribal affiliations on one side, however minor, which probably contributes to my reluctance.)

Indigo would also have been my suggestion, or perhaps Independence (a refreshing virtue name given the prevailing trends Laura blogged about). If you wanted you could stick Anna or Diana into the middle name slot, too, to give you Indiana as a less problematic nickname, but it sounds like you’re really after Indie as the call name, which works as a stand-alone too (I know a young Indy and I don’t actually know if it’s short for anything.)

October 18, 2018 10:14 PM

I like Indiana.  It makes me think of the song "Angels Working Overtime" by Deana Carter.  

Which brings me to this:  I think virtually every name out there is going to have some sort of association with most people.  For example, I keep seeing Indigo, which I love the idea of, but the first thing I think of there is the Indigo Girls.  

I definitely think Indie is fantastic enough to stand alone though, and I also really like the idea of Indie as a nickname for Melinda or Lucinda, or even India.  I think ultimately those names may be a little easier to grow into, but when it comes down to it, you have to go with what you love!

October 19, 2018 6:55 AM

You made a reference to you mother tongue -- is there a name in that language that could get you to the nickname Indie?  That could be a nice bridge between cultures and traditions.

That said, my daughter has had friends named Ben, Allie, and Edie which are NOT derived from any longer or more formal given name.  In all cases, parents just went versions of "well we love Edie but not Edith or Eden or Edna so we decided to just name her Edie."  Indie as a standalone name would not be unusual or incomplete.  In fact, it is lovely.


October 19, 2018 2:10 PM

If Indigo doesn't work in your native language, I would consider Rosalind too, and depending on what your ancestry is, perhaps Indira. I've also loved Jorinda since childhood (Grimm's fairy tale Jorinda and Joringel, I've always heard it said with a y sound at the beginning).

But ultimately I think Indie or Indy wears well enough as a stand-alone name, too, and in fact it's being used more than Indigo or Indiana is. The Indie spelling is both more common and tilts more heavily towards female use than the Indy spelling, at least currently, if that makes a difference to you. Here's a rundown of the currently unisex Indi- names and the different spellings:

yob2017.txt:Indie,F,230 and M,13 

yob2017.txt:Indigo,F,167 and M,52

yob2017.txt:Indiana,F,104 and M,70

yob2017.txt:Indy,F,64 and M,49






While I was looking, I'm shocked to find 24 girls named Indica, which tugged at my brain so I googled and it's one of the types of cannabis. The other, Sativa, is also being used as a girl's name, with a very similar popularity profile. I'm surprised!




October 19, 2018 2:24 PM

This post made me really curious about whether Indiana's usage and especially unisex usage owes much to the Indiana Jones franchise, so here's the stats:


***********1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark
**********1984: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
yob1989.txt:Indiana,F,6 *********Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
yob1990.txt:Indiana,F,9 and M,6
yob1991.txt:Indiana,F,15 and M,10
yob1992.txt:Indiana,F,11 and M,11 ******Television show about Young Indiana Jones started
yob1993.txt:Indiana,F,18 and M,11 *****TV show continues
yob1994.txt:Indiana,F,13 and M,17 *****TV show continues
yob1995.txt:Indiana,F,11 and M,17 *****TV show continues
yob1996.txt:Indiana,F,14 and M,24 *****TV show ends
yob1997.txt:Indiana,F,21 and M,22
yob1998.txt:Indiana,F,23 and M,17
yob1999.txt:Indiana,F,24 and M,28
yob2000.txt:Indiana,F,25 and M,26
yob2001.txt:Indiana,F,22 and M,31
yob2002.txt:Indiana,F,22 and M,33
yob2003.txt:Indiana,F,22 and M,20
yob2004.txt:Indiana,F,22 and M,24
yob2005.txt:Indiana,F,26 and M,28
yob2006.txt:Indiana,F,33 and M,25
yob2007.txt:Indiana,F,17 and M,38
yob2008.txt:Indiana,F,40 and M,43 *******Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
yob2009.txt:Indiana,F,26 and M,26
yob2010.txt:Indiana,F,34 and M,17
yob2011.txt:Indiana,F,54 and M,44
yob2012.txt:Indiana,F,33 and M,25
yob2013.txt:Indiana,F,33 and M,41
yob2014.txt:Indiana,F,70 and M,60
yob2015.txt:Indiana,F,73 and M,74
yob2016.txt:Indiana,F,83 and M,72
yob2017.txt:Indiana,F,104 and M,70 

Verdict is that Indiana was in occasional use as a female name, probably inspired by the state, until the Indiana Jones franchise became well entrenched. I think what's going on is that it took kids who grew up with the Indiana Jones franchise to feel good about naming sons Indiana, because expectant parents watching the first movies would have just dismissed it as being too obviously feminine sounding. 

This makes me feel better about the use of Indiana as a name because it suggests that the name's current usage pattern is really ushered in by the Harrison Ford franchise. I went to the school that many of the historical inspirations for Indiana Jones were professors at, along with being born in the early 80s at the same time as this franchise, and the entire mythos seems like it would be a pleasant namesake.

October 19, 2018 3:05 PM

I'll chime in against Indiana precisely because of the Indiana Jones franchise. If we're in agreement that cultural sensitivity is an important factor in name selection, then you couldn't pick a worse honor name. He's a sleazy adult man with an (at best) implied relationship with a teenage girl. The films have some overtly racist tropes. It would definitley be a turn-off for me even without the Native American/Indian cultural appropriation issues. I love others' suggestions of Lucinda or Rosalind to yield nickname Indy. 

October 19, 2018 3:13 PM

I wouldn't worry about Indiana. An Indiana I know is a dancer with a major company and no one I've met bats an eyelash at it. She's American, but born in Paris.