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African Baby Names and Why They’re Chosen

The subject of baby names has seen a large cultural shift in the last twenty years. 

Many parents in the U.S.  have been choosing more unique and rare names in the last couple decades. Furthermore, we’ve seen a large surge of beautiful, African based names being used throughout baby naming culture. Naming your child something with African roots comes with a substantial knowledge of why you picked that name. African names have an extremely rich heritage. African names also come with many important, robust meanings. Even more importantly, there are royal African names. Today we’ll be conversing about the origin of African names, African baby boy names, African baby girl names, and names that are of African, aristocratic decent. 

Origin of African Baby Names

African Baby names are very unique in the fact that they carry much more meaning than a common name in America or other Euopean based countries. African names are usually based on a circumstantial event that occurs during or shortly after the pregnancy of the mother. This yields some exquisite cultural commentary from name to name. Even the name that a child receives can work against or for them. Some African names have stark definitions like “miserable” or “joyful”. For example, the name Adetokunbo, means that the mother had given birth to the aforementioned child abroad. Just to comprehend that most African names are based on an event or happening, and not just a meaning, is really captivating. We’ll be taking a seperate look at African baby boy names and African baby girl names next.

African Baby Boy Names and their Origins

We’ll start out with African Boy names, their meaning, circumstantial origins, and comparisons with American names. 

Ayodele which means “joy” or “joy has come home”. This name is Nigerian and comes from the land of Yoruba. The origins of this name come from the parents of the baby experiencing happiness during birth. We’ll find that every  name listed here usually has an experiential, circumstantial origin. There is an experience or event that takes place before, during or after the birth of the child in order for the parents to choose a name. We find that this is a normal, cultural way that African parents name and have been naming the children for years. 

Ajuji, which means “born on a pile of trash or rubbish” is of Haosa decent.  This name is given to children who have been born to a mother with birthing difficulties during all of her previous pregnancies/ unborn kids. Again, here we see a very abrupt difference in meaning. It seems harsh to an american ear but the value of life is perceived and described differently in Africa. In Africa, this name is perceived to ward off evil spirits because it is considered a “bad name”. The evil spirits are said to think that the baby is not loved, and so naming the baby something “bad” will more easily protect this baby from being messed with.

Similar to the previous example, Kiptanui and Cheptanui are derived from the circumstantial origin that the mother had a very difficult time during the birth of the child. These names come from the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya. The difference within African for this particular name, say compared with the last name, is that is does not ward off evil spirits. We don’t really think to name our children something that could potentially ward off evil. Maybe it sounds extreme to us but in African it’s completely common place.

African Baby Girl Names and their Origins 

Pumza and Kgomotso mean “comfort” and are South African based names. Babies that have these names have usually been born after a death or tragedy that has happened in the Sesotho and Xhosa tribes. Here, we see that these names carry a negative connotation with them. In America we don’t ever really think to name our children something that would be negative or mean something negative. Reflecting on this comparison makes us realize how important it is to understand cultural differences regardless of origin or topic.

Yetunde or Yewande means someone of a maternal stature has come back or “the mother has come back”. This name is derived from the Yoruba people. This name’s origins are of maternal background. It is said that babies are named this because a grandmother or female relative in the family has died before the child is born. If we think of this in a cultural sense, we can see this name honor the fact that an elder or relative has died before them.

Misrak, which means the cardinal direction “east”, is a name given to Ethieopian babies. The origin of this name is very specific. The circumstances are that the father of the baby was in Japan when the child was born. We never think to name our child based on the location of a parent, because when parents are fortunate enough to both be there during a birth, they’re always on the same continent. In this situation, Japan is very much East of the continent in African, which explains the direct translation of the name. 

Royal African Names and their Meanings

Royal African names have a preservation within their own cultures. We’ll list some Royal African names and their meanings for your own understanding. 

Adeyemi means “Fit to be King” and is of geographical Nigerian origin. 

Edai means “Princess” and is of geographical Ethiopean origin.  

Njinga means “Queen” and is of geographical Azanian origin.

Khari means “Kingly” and is of geographical West African origin. 

Omorede means “Prince” and is of Benin origin. 

Zauditu means “She is the Crown” and is of Ethiopean origin.

Boy’s and Girl’s names are vast in numbers and differences within African and American culture. We can see the meaning, origin, circumstance and experience behind each African name while comparing them against American names and culture. Topics presented like this help us think critically and make us understand more ways of life outside of our own culture.

Whether you’re inquiring about what name to name your child, or looking for the origin and meaning of an African baby name, we’ve got you covered.