Basque Names….just a Subcategory of Spanish Names?

This weeks International Name Over View will focus on Basque Names.

The Basque are an ethnic group that inhabit the Pyrenees of Northwestern Spain and the bordering region of Southern France. Their language has yet to be categorized, often a topic of hot debate among Linguists. While some theorists have connected Basque from Georgian to Etruscan, the most widely accepted consensus is that Basque is closely related to the now extinct Aquitanian (spoken in France). It is in fact an indigenous European language. That is, it is not related to any of the Indo-European languages. It is considered an Isolate Language and it was most likely spoken in Europe long before the mass migration of the Indos.

Though either French or Spanish citizens, the Basque are fiercely proud of their language and culture. In the last century, there has been a strong push for autonomy. The Basque have fought hard to keep their language alive, most recently fighting oppression during the Franco regime, and are currently experiencing a revival. The Basque language is spoken by approximately 665,800 people. Not a lot, but believe it or not, the Basque and their language have actually left an impact in Spanish and even English.

Some of the more common Spanish surnames seen among Spanish-speakers are actually of Basque and not of Spanish origin. For example: Aldana, Loyola and Zuñiga.

Since the Basque were valuable in shepherding, fishing and mercantilism, a vast population of them immigrated to the Americas, leaving their imprint on modern Hispanic culture.

The country of Chile boasts Basque as their largest European ethnic group. The largest Basque-American population resides in Boise, Idaho. A fair amount of the Mexican population can claim Basque heritage to some extent.

As a result, several place names throughout the Americas are Basque, like Durango (Mexico), Nuevo Santander, (Mexico), Jalapa (Guatemala) and it is even argued that Arizona is derived from the Basque elements, aritz ona meaning “good oak.”

Our very own Xavier, which appears in the U.S. top 100 most popular male names was inspired by a Basque surname. Its usage as a given name was popularized by the notoriety of the Basque saint, Francis Xavier. Another notable Basque Saint is Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.

One of the ways that the Basque people have expressed their culture is through their first names. The Basque have a unique array of names, one feature that seems unique among them is their usage of place names. Unlike Anglo-phone parents who tend to use place names because of “cuteness”  or sonority, the Basque use place names due to religious significance. Basque culture has a strong emphasis on Catholicism, so any place or thing associated with the Virgin Mary is often used as a given name.

For a good idea of what the Basque in Spain are currently naming their children, check out the Top 10 listed below:

Top 10 Male Names in Basque Country, Spain 2008











Top 10 Female Names in the Basque Country, Spain 2008











Mikel, Pablo, Adrián, Iñaki, Sara, María, Ane, Lucía and Paula are all derived from Biblical or saints names.

Aitor (good fathers) is a name taken from Basque folklore, he is believed to have been the first man and the progenitor of the Basque people.

Iker is the vernacular form of Visitación, an unusual Spanish name used in reference to the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of the Visitation). This is the same case with the female Irati, which is a place-name associated with a shrine to the Virgin Mary, which literally means “fern field”; and Uxue taken from the name of a Catholic shrine, but is also associated with the Basque word for dove. Ainhoa is a religious place-name name and even appears in the Spanish Top 100, coming in as the 31st most popular female name in all of Spain. Aitana is a Spanish place-name of unknown meaning. Leyre is the Spanish form of Leire, the name of a place in the Basque country associated with a Catholic monastery.

Nahia is from a Basque word meaning, “wish; desire.”

Unai is an indigenous Basque name with no Spanish or English equivalent, meaning “cowherd.”

Asier is from the Basque hasiera meaning “beginning.”

I have yet to find any information on Aimar, but subsequent searches led me to several notable Basque bearers, so I am assuming that he is Basque too. If anyone has anymore info on him, please step forward 🙂

You might be one of the many Latinas or Americans who claim Basque heritage, or perhaps you are just looking for a cool and different name that is actually legitimate. Below are a list of names I have compiled for the Anglo-phone parent. Basque names that would be easy for an English-speaking child to wear. Enjoy 🙂

Easy to say Basque alternatives to common English names

Instead of Caitlin try Catalin

Instead of Emma try out Ama

Instead of Madison or Madelyn, you might like Maialen or Malen

Like Olivia, try Olaria

Loving Ella, then you might like Elaia (swallow)

Considering Hannah well you just might like Oihana (forest)

Like Nevaeh check out Nerea

Here is a selection of Basque names compatible with English:


  • Alaia (joyful; happy)
  • Amaia (end)
  • Elixane (Elise)
  • Esti (Sweet; honey)
  • Garden (transparent; clear)
  • Julene (Juliana)
  • Katerin (Catherine)
  • Lilura (enchantment)
  • Lorea (flower)
  • Maia (Maddie)
  • Miren (Mary)
  • Naiara
  • Nora
  • Oria
  • Pauli
  • Semera
  • Zerran
  • Zilia


  • Adon
  • Bingen (Vincent)
  • Denis (Dennis)
  • Eder (beautiful)
  • Erroman (Raymond)
  • Gabon (Christmas)
  • Harri (rock)
  • Hartz (Bear)
  • Igon (Ascension)
  • Jurdan (Jordan)
  • Kelemen (Clement)
  • Kemen (Strength)
  • Lain
  • Luken (Luke)
  • Manex (John)
  • Zorion (happy)

Basque Equivalents to Common English Given Names


  • Alize (Alice)
  • Ane (Anna)
  • Elixabete (Elizabeth)
  • Estebeni (Stephanie)
  • Fede (Faith)
  • Gartxene (Grace)
  • Itxaro (Hope)
  • Kalare (Claire)
  • Lili (Lily)
  • Mikele (Michaela)
  • Mixtoleta (Poppy)
  • Nikole (Nicole)
  • Hirune/Irune (Trinity)
  • Udane (Summer)
  • Udazken (Autumn)


  • Adame (Adam)
  • Alesander (Alexander)
  • Danel (Daniel)
  • Edorta (Edward)
  • Eli (Elias)
  • Gabirel (Gabriel)
  • Gilen (William)
  • Handi (Max)
  • Ixaka (Isaac)
  • Jakes (Jacob)
  • Jon (John)
  • Marz (Mark)
  • Nikola (Nicholas)
  • Txomin (Dominic)
  • Xabier (Xavier)
  • Xarles (Charles)

What are your favorite Basque names? Would you use any of the above?



Jaione, Natividad

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Basque/Spanish
Meaning: “nativity.”
Pronunciation can be heard here:

Jaione is from the Basque word for “nativity” referring to the birth of Christ and is usually bestowed on girls born on Christmas or around Christmas.

The Spanish version is Natividad, which comes directly from the Spanish word.

In Spain, Natividad’s designated name-day is December 25.

Javier, Xavier

Gender: Masculine
Origin: Basque
Meaning: “the new house.”

The name is derived from a Basque surname Extaberri meaning “the new house” and has been in use as a given name for centuries. It was popularized by St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), and was also the family name of the Lords of Javier. After the popularity of the saint, the name spread throughout the Spanish speaking world as a popular male given name, its usage was followed in due course by other Catholic countries.

The name has experienced a sudden surge of popularity in the United States, ranking in as the  71st most popular male name for 2008.

In Australia he ranks in at # 56 (2007), and # 90 in Spain for 2005. Its designated name-day is December 3rd.

Other forms of the name include:

  • Chabier (Aragonese)
  • Xabel (Asturian)
  • Xabier/Xabi (Basque)
  • Xavier (Catalan/French/Galician/Portuguese/Valencian: Catalan diminutives are Xavi and Xevi)
  • Saveriu (Corsican)
  • Xaver (German/Czech)
  • Savy (Irish)
  • Saverio/Zaverio (Italian)
  • Xaverius (Latin)
  • Xabiere (Leonese)
  • Xavêio (Piedmontese)
  • Ksawery/Xawery (Polish: latter form is archaic, diminutive form is Ksawerek)
  • Ksaber Ксавьер (Russian)
  • Xavér (Slovakian/Hungarian)
  • Javier (Spanish)

Feminine forms

  • Xavière (French)
  • Saveria/Saverina/Zaveria (Italian)
  • Ksawera/Ksaweryna (Polish: diminutive forms are Ksawerka or Ksawerynka)
  • Xavéria (Slovakian)
  • Javiera/Xaviera (Spanish)

A popular compound name, used among Catholics, is Francis Xavier (English: common in Ireland); Franz Xaver (German: used in the Catholic areas of German speaking countries); Francisco Xavier (Portuguese) Francisco Javier; (Spanish) and Francois-Xavier (French).

In Portugal, Xavier is sometimes used in conjunction with Maria or Francisca as a feminine name, but is never used on females as a stand alone name. Its conjunction with names like Maria or Francisca are usually used in a religious context, in reference to the saint.


TallabegonaGender: Feminine
Origin: Basque/Spanish
Meaning: “lower foot”

This floral sounding appellation is actually taken from the name of a place in the Basque country of Spain, it is a municipality of Biscay and lies at the foot of Mount Artxanda, the name is believed to be derived from the older form of Begoina which means “lower foot.” The name is usually used in reference to Nuestra Señora de Begoña (Our Lady of Begona), who is affectionately referred to as Amatxu which is Basque for “mother.” Legends of her appearance in Begona have been around for centuries. There is a Basilica built in her honour in the same area. She is considered the patron saint of Biscay and Begona is a relatively common feminine given name in the region. The designated name-day in Spain is October 11.

Assunta, Asuncion, Jasone

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Italian/Romansch/Spanish/Basque
Meaning: “assumption.”
It (ahs-SOON-tah); Sp (ah-soon-THYONE); Lat Am (ah-soon-SYONE); Basque (zhah-SOH-neh).

Assunta comes directly from the Italian word for assumption and is usually given in honor of the Virgin Mary. It is far more common in the southern regions of Italy than in the northern regions. It is also used in the Romansch speaking cantons of Switzerland.

August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption, where, according to Catholic tradition, Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul.

Today, the name is considered rather old fashioned in Italy. It’s Spanish cognate is Asuncion and its Basque form is Jasone.

Assunta is borne by Filipina actress, Assunta de Rossi.


Gender: Masculine
Origin: Latin
Meaning: unknown.
Eng (ig-NAY-shus).

This solid masculine name may sound too much like a hospital or church for some parents; the fact that it has some great associations, however, should not be overlooked.

The name is derived from an old Roman family name of uncertain origins and meaning. Originally spelled Egnatius, it was borne by an early Christian martyr of Antioch. The meaning of the name has often been associated with the Latin word, ignis, meaning, “fire.”

The name was later borne by another Saint, Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Of Basque extraction, his real name Iñigo, a Basque name of obscure origins, however, in contemporary Spain, Iñigo is often hispanicized to Ignacio.

Another interesting side note is that Inigo was in usage in Renaissance England, it was borne by Inigo Jones, a famous architect and stage designer.

Ignatius itself never really caught on in the English speaking world, though among some devout Roman Catholic families, the name has been used, and even then, it is rarely ever heard other than as a confirmation name or as a religious name. He currently does not rank in the U.S. top 1000.

The name has enjoyed considerable usage in Latin America and in Spain as Ignacio, which is often shortened to Nacho.

Potential English nickname options could be:  Iggy, Nash, and Nacho. Nameday is July 31.

Other forms include

  • Injaci (Albanian)
  • Iñaki (Basque)
  • Iñigo (Basque)
  • Ignasi (Catalan)
  • Ignac (Croatian/Slovene)
  • Ignacije (Croatian)
  • Ignác (Czech/Hungarian)
  • Ignaas (Dutch)
  • Inigo (English: obscure)
  • Ignatios (Estonian/Finnish)
  • Ignace (French)
  • Ignatz (German)
  • Ignazio (Italian)
  • Ignas (Kiswahili)
  • Ignacy (Polish)
  • Inácio (Portuguese)
  • Ignatziu (Sardinian)
  • Ignacij (Slovene)
  • Ignacio (Spanish)

Feminine forms include the Polish Ignacja and the Spanish Ignacia.


Gender: Feminine
Origin: Basque
Meaning: “sea/ocean.”

Itsaso comes directly from the Basque word for ocean or sea.

In Basque mythology, this was the name of an evil sea spirit or a type of Siren. The itsaso would attract people to the sea so that they would drown.

It is also the name of a town in the Basque country of Spain where there is a shrine to the Virgin Mary, possibly a reason why the name was deemed usable among the Catholic Basque.