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African naming traditions & popular names

28th March 2007 |By | Be the first to comment

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’

Day Boy names Girl names
Sunday Kwasi Akosua
Monday Kwadwo Adwoa
Tuesday Kwabena Abenaa
Wednesday Kwaku Akua
Thursday Yaw Yaa
Friday Kofi Afua
Saturday Kwame Amma

Popular African names

Name Gender Origin Meaning
Aba Girl Ghanaian born on Thursday
Abam Girl Ghanaian second child after twins
Abeo Girl Nigerian happy she was born
Abina Girl Ghanaian born on a Thursday
Adeben Boy Ghanaian twelfth-born son
Adeola Girl Nigerian a crown
Agu Boy Nigerian a leopard
Ajani Boy Nigerian the victor
Ajayi Boy Yoruban born face-down
Akanke Girl Nigerian to know her is to love her
Ama Girl Ghanaian born on Saturday
Amadi Girl Nigerian general rejoicing
Anana Girl African soft, gentle
Apara Girl Nigerian one who comes and goes
Aren Boy Nigerian eagle
Arziki Girl African Hausa prosperity
Ashon Boy Ghanaian seventh-born son
Awusi Girl Ghanaian born on a Sunday
Ayize Boy Zulu let it happen
Azi Boy Nigerian a youth
Baako Girl African first born
Baingana Boy Swahili people are equal
Bakari Boy Swahili promising
Barika Girl Swahili successful
Bayo Girl Nigerian to find joy
Bem Boy Nigerian peace
Binty Girl Swahili daughter
Dalila Girl Swahili gentle
Daren Boy Nigerian born at night
Dingane Boy Zulu one who is searching
Harith Boy North African cultivator
Hasina Girl Swahili good
Jabari Boy Swahili the brave one
Jelani Boy African mighty
Jendayi Girl African give thanks
Jina Girl Swahili name
Juma Boy African born on a Friday
Jumoke Girl Nigerian the beloved one
Kamaria Girl Swahili like the moon
Kesi Girl Swahili born when father was in trouble
Kesia Girl African favourite
Khairi Boy Swahili kingly
Kiden Girl African female born after 3+ boys
Kito Boy Swahili a jewel
Lakeisha Girl Swahili favourite one
Lateefah Girl North African gentle, pleasant
Lehana Girl African one who refuses
Mablevi Boy African do not deceive
Mahdi Girl African the expected one
Maizah Girl African discerning
Mandisa Girl African sweet
Mansa Boy African a king
Marjani Girl Swahili coral
Mosi Boy Swahili the firstborn
Nabelung Girl African beautiful one
Nabulung Boy African do not receive
Nailah Girl African succeeding
Narkeasha Girl African pretty
Nasha Girl African born during rainy season
Nia Girl Swahili purpose
Nkosi Girl Zulu ruler
Nomanlanga Girl Zulu sunny
Oba Girl Nigerian an ancient river goddess
Obiajulu Boy African the heart is consoled
Odion Boy Nigerian first of twins
Panyin Boy Ghanaian older of twins
Penda Girl Swahili love
Ramla Girl Swahili one who predicts the future
Sade Girl Nigerian honor confers a crown
Safiya Girl African pure
Saidah Girl African happy, fortunate
Saidi Boy African helper
Shani Girl Swahili wonderful
Shomari Boy Swahili forceful
Simba Girl Swahili lion
Siphiwe Girl Zulu we were given
Sipho Boy Zulu gift
Sitembile Girl African trust
Sudi Boy Swahili luck
Tabansi Boy African one who endures
Tano Boy Ghanaian name of river
Thandiwe Boy Zulu beloved
Themba Girl Zulu trusted
Uba Boy African wealthy
Winda Girl Swahili hunt
Yobachi Boy African pray to God
Zaid Boy African increase, growth
Zina Girl African name
Zuri Girl Swahili beautiful
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