The continent, which is blessed with so many ethnic groups and languages, have their own unique ways of selecting names for their children.
Right from the day a child is brought into the world to the events behind the birth, names are given based on several influences. Here are the major ones:
Circumstances behind birth
Some African ethnic groups choose names according to the events that occurred during the time of birthof the child, be it negative or positive.
For example, “Ayodele” is a Yoruba name meaning “joy has come home”. It is a unisex name for a baby whose birth brought joy and happiness to their Yoruba parents in Nigeria.
The Hausa also have a name, “Ajuji”, which means “born on a rubbish heap”. This is given to a baby when there have been so many child deaths before them. Essentially, the name is a disguise to ward off evil spirits from the child. An example among the Kalenjin ethnic group in Kenya are the names “Kiptanui” and “Cheptanui” often given to babies whose mothers may have suffered extreme difficulties during childbirth.
Similarly, in Zimbabwe, there are names like Yananiso which means “bringing the family together”.
Order of birth
Many African tribes name their children based on the order in which they are born, especially if a family has a lot of children. In Ghana, there are names such as “Esoun” and “Awotwe” given to children indicate that they are the seventh and eighth born respectively.
For twins, the Yorubas call the first twin “Taiwo” meaning “taste the world” and the second “Kehinde” meaning “came after”. In Ghana, the unisex names “Kakra” and “Panyin”, which mean younger and older, are used for twins.
This also exists in Uganda with “Kakuru” or “Wasswa” meaning elder twin and “Kato” for the younger one
Day of the Week
In Ghana, before one is given any western name if need be, he or she has a day name, meaning a child would be named according to the day on which they were born. The day naming system in Ghana is as follows:
- Monday – Kojo (male), Adwoa (female)
- Tuesday – Kwabena (male), Abena (female)
- Wednesday – Kwaku (male), Ekua (female)
- Thursday – Yaw (male), Yaa (female)
- Friday – Kofi (male), Efua (female)
- Saturday – Kwame (male), Ama (female)
- Sunday – Akwesi (male), Akosua, (female)
The names can sometimes differ according to the various ethnic groups in the country.
Season or time of day
Among ethnic groups in Southern and Eastern Africa, children are named according to the time of day they were born, such as “Kibet” for day or “Kiplagat” for night in Kenya. The Luos of Western Kenya, Northern Uganda and Mara region in Northern Tanzania are very specific with naming by a time of day.
“Omondi” is the name given to boys born at dawn, “Okinyi” for morning and “Onyango” for mid-morning. “Ochieng” is for sunny midday, “Otieno” for night and “Oduor” for midnight. Girls are given the same names but starting with an ‘A’ rather than an ‘O’. “Mumbua” and “Wambua” mean rainy season among the Kamba of Kenya and is a name given to boys and girls born in that season.
Naming after a prominent personality or family member
In some parts of Africa, naming a child after a prominent and popular personality is quite popular. So many mothers in Kenya named their boys after Barack Obama when he was the ruling president of the U.S. A family spoke out on why they named their child Donald Trump citing reasons that they liked his principles thus informing their choice of name.
In other cultures, male children get the tag “junior” as part of their name due to the inheritance of their father or grandfather’s name. For some, it is not just the name tag but it is believed that the children are incarnates of an older relative, dead or alive.
Those children are described as “Ababio” in Ghana meaning “the returnee”. In southern Africa, children are given the name “Ouma” to mean Grandmother or “Oupa” for Grandfather.