African naming traditions & popular names

If you’re looking for unusual baby naming ideas, look to Africa. Naming on this vast continent comes from a variety of languages, dialects, religions and customs…

In the northern region, Arabic is the main influence as the main religion is Islam, while in central and southern regions, the names are Christian as a result of European colonisation.

However, traditional African names, some believed to have a history going back over 5000 years, are still popular in many native African languages, including Hausa, Kongo, Shona, Swahili, Yoruba and Zulu.

Naming traditions in Africa are often based on the timing of the birth and reflect the time of day, day of the week, the weather and the position in the family. Among the Nigerian Yoruba, apart from the family name, the child is given several other names. One of the names describes the circumstances surrounding the birth. For instance, the name Idowu means ‘child born after twins’. The parents often also have a pet name that indicates what they hope for their child, such as Ayoke, meaning ‘one who is blessed’.

The oldest member of the family carries out the naming ceremony. Amongst Swahili speaking Kenyans, the first or birth name called ‘jina la utotoni’ is given to babies as soon as they are born.  This is chosen by an elderly relative and usually refers to the child’s appearance, like ‘Biubwa’ which means ‘soft and smooth’.  After up to 40 days, the parents and paternal grandparents choose the ‘jina la ukubwani’, or adult name, for the child. With the Akan Ghanaians, it is the father of the baby who chooses the name of a beloved relative in the hope that the child will grow up to be like the namesake.

African ‘day names’

DayBoy namesGirl names
SundayKwasiAkosua
MondayKwadwoAdwoa
TuesdayKwabenaAbenaa
WednesdayKwakuAkua
ThursdayYawYaa
FridayKofiAfua
SaturdayKwameAmma

Popular African names

NameGenderOriginMeaning
AbaGirlGhanaianborn on Thursday
AbamGirlGhanaiansecond child after twins
AbeoGirlNigerianhappy she was born
AbinaGirlGhanaianborn on a Thursday
AdebenBoyGhanaiantwelfth-born son
AdeolaGirlNigeriana crown
AguBoyNigeriana leopard
AjaniBoyNigerianthe victor
AjayiBoyYorubanborn face-down
AkankeGirlNigerianto know her is to love her
AmaGirlGhanaianborn on Saturday
AmadiGirlNigeriangeneral rejoicing
AnanaGirlAfricansoft, gentle
AparaGirlNigerianone who comes and goes
ArenBoyNigerianeagle
ArzikiGirlAfrican Hausaprosperity
AshonBoyGhanaianseventh-born son
AwusiGirlGhanaianborn on a Sunday
AyizeBoyZululet it happen
AziBoyNigeriana youth
BaakoGirlAfricanfirst born
BainganaBoySwahilipeople are equal
BakariBoySwahilipromising
BarikaGirlSwahilisuccessful
BayoGirlNigerianto find joy
BemBoyNigerianpeace
BintyGirlSwahilidaughter
DalilaGirlSwahiligentle
DarenBoyNigerianborn at night
DinganeBoyZuluone who is searching
HarithBoyNorth Africancultivator
HasinaGirlSwahiligood
JabariBoySwahilithe brave one
JelaniBoyAfricanmighty
JendayiGirlAfricangive thanks
JinaGirlSwahiliname
JumaBoyAfricanborn on a Friday
JumokeGirlNigerianthe beloved one
KamariaGirlSwahililike the moon
KesiGirlSwahiliborn when father was in trouble
KesiaGirlAfricanfavourite
KhairiBoySwahilikingly
KidenGirlAfricanfemale born after 3+ boys
KitoBoySwahilia jewel
LakeishaGirlSwahilifavourite one
LateefahGirlNorth Africangentle, pleasant
LehanaGirlAfricanone who refuses
MableviBoyAfricando not deceive
MahdiGirlAfricanthe expected one
MaizahGirlAfricandiscerning
MandisaGirlAfricansweet
MansaBoyAfricana king
MarjaniGirlSwahilicoral
MosiBoySwahilithe firstborn
NabelungGirlAfricanbeautiful one
NabulungBoyAfricando not receive
NailahGirlAfricansucceeding
NarkeashaGirlAfricanpretty
NashaGirlAfricanborn during rainy season
NiaGirlSwahilipurpose
NkosiGirlZuluruler
NomanlangaGirlZulusunny
ObaGirlNigerianan ancient river goddess
ObiajuluBoyAfricanthe heart is consoled
OdionBoyNigerianfirst of twins
PanyinBoyGhanaianolder of twins
PendaGirlSwahililove
RamlaGirlSwahilione who predicts the future
SadeGirlNigerianhonor confers a crown
SafiyaGirlAfricanpure
SaidahGirlAfricanhappy, fortunate
SaidiBoyAfricanhelper
ShaniGirlSwahiliwonderful
ShomariBoySwahiliforceful
SimbaGirlSwahililion
SiphiweGirlZuluwe were given
SiphoBoyZulugift
SitembileGirlAfricantrust
SudiBoySwahililuck
TabansiBoyAfricanone who endures
TanoBoyGhanaianname of river
ThandiweBoyZulubeloved
ThembaGirlZulutrusted
UbaBoyAfricanwealthy
WindaGirlSwahilihunt
YobachiBoyAfricanpray to God
ZaidBoyAfricanincrease, growth
ZinaGirlAfricanname
ZuriGirlSwahilibeautiful

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