Traditional African Names and Meanings
Most Popular African First Names on FamilyEducation: Mahdi, Quan, Layla, Kabira
African First Names and Meanings
None of these are tied to a particular country or ethnic group within Africa. If you are looking for more specific names, you can take a look at some of the other name lists we have such as South African, Kenyan, Egyptian, and Swahili.
History of African Names
The most prominent cultures in Africa are Akan, Kikuyu, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Igbo, Nigerian, Swahili, Yoruba, Shona, and Ethiopian. Many of the most common surnames and first names come from these languages.
African people use many different factors when it comes to choosing a baby name. This can range from the day they are born to their ancestors or where they live. Depending on the part of Africa you are interested in learning more about, you can find more information on specific naming traditions for babies.
As far as surnames, they represent an African tribe’s culture and ancestors. Ancestry is very important throughout the continent
African Naming Practices
Below are several different cultures within Africa. Each of them has different naming traditions. Let’s go over the most popular ones.
- Akan names - The Akan people reside in Ghana. They often name children based on the order they were born as well as what day of the week they were born.
- Yoruba names - People who speak the Yoruba language in Nigeria, Togo, and Benin use the same naming traditions. Children are named in a naming ceremony on the 7th day after their birth.
- Shona names - Shona is a Bantu language spoken in Zimbabwe. The Shona people are very close to nature and will often choose names that praise nature and its elements.
- Kikuyu names - Kikuyu is a Bantu language primarily spoken in central Kenya. Baby-names are chosen based on the season or where you live. Some people name their children after family members.
- Ethiopian names - Ethiopian names are found in the eastern African country of Ethiopia. Many chosen names are of Hebrew or Arabic origin. After the given name, children in Ethiopia take on their father and paternal grandfather’s given names.
- Swahili names - Typically, Swahili names consist of 2 parts. The first given name is Christian while the second given name is usually Muslim.
- Igbo names - Igbo naming conventions were chosen by a few different factors. They used either an ancestor who has passed away, an event that surrounded their birth, or the place of birth, as some examples.
- Nigerian names - No matter what part of Nigeria you are researching, you will find the common theme around baby naming is that parents almost always use the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth or their expectations of the child when picking a name.
- Zulu names - The Zulu people tend to pick a name for their children before they are born. Rather than a naming ceremony, they hold one to thank their ancestors and introduce the baby to them.
- Tswana names - You can find Tswana names in South Africa as well as Botswana. Tswana baby names are always gender-specific and are chosen based on the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth.
- Xhosa names - Xhosa is the second most common language used in Africa, behind Zulu. It is spoken mostly in South Africa and the Cape province. Many people chose a name for their baby based on their beliefs and expectations for what they what their child to become.
Traditional African Boy Names and Meanings
- Abidemi - This name is of Yoruba origin and it means “born in the father’s absence.”
- Amari - This boy’s name is of African and Yoruba origin. It means “strength.”
- Dakarai - This South African name means “happiness” in Shona.
- Ermias - This is an Ethiopian name that means “God will uplift.”
- Faraji - This African name is of Swahili origin. It means “consolation.”
- Kofi - This is an Akan, African, and Ghanaian name that means “born on a Friday.”
- Kwame - This name means “born on a Saturday” in Akan. It is a popular masculine name in Ghana.
- Omari - This name means “God is exalted” in Swahili.
- Osiris - This name is shared with the Egyptian God of the Underworld. It means “powerful” or “mighty.”
- Zaire - This African name means “the river that swallows all rivers.”
More Popular African Boy Names and Meanings
- Ade - This is a Nigerian name that means “king” or “crown” in the Yoruba language.
- Adisa - This African boy’s name means “the clear one.”
- Chibuike - This name means “God is my strength. It is of Nigerian and Igbo origin.
- Hakim - This African name is of Arabic origin and it means “He is wise.”
- Jabari - This name means “brave one” in Swahili and Arabic.
- Kamau - This boy’s name means “quiet warrior.” It is from the Kikuyu language that is native to Kenya.
- Kgosi - This name of Tswana origin means “chief” or “king.”
- Mandla - This name means “strength” and “power” in Zulu.
- Simba - In Swahili, this boy’s name means “lion.”
Traditional African Girl Names and Meanings
Chidinma - This name of African and Igbo origin means “God is good.”
Gugulethu - This name means “our treasure” in Xhosa, Zulu, and Ndebele.
Makena - This name comes from the East African language Kikuyu. It means “happy one.”
Nala - Once made popular by the “Lion King,” “Nala” is African for “queen” or “successful.”
Ola - In Nigerian and Arabic, this girl’s name means “surmount” or “arise.”
Sade - This is a popular short form of the name “Falasade.” It is Yoruba for “honor earns a crown.”
Taraji - This name means “hope” or “faith” in Swahili.
Zendaya - This name of Shona origin means “to give thanks.”
Zola - This name of African Zulu origin means “quiet” or “tranquil.”
Zuri - This African name means “beautiful” in Swahili.
More Popular African Girl Names and Meanings
- Ada - This name is of African Igbo origin and it means “first daughter.”
- Boipelo - This name is found in the Tswana language and it means “to be proud” or “joyful.”
- Chipo - This African name means “gift.”
- Eniola - This name found in the Yoruba language means “wealthy person.”
- Farai - This name is typically seen in Zimbabwe and is African Bantu for “rejoice.”
- Ifiok - This name of Nigerian origin means “wisdom.”
- Lindiwe - This name means “a person who has waited a long time” in Zulu.
- Mbalenhle - This African Zulu name means “flower.”
- Nkosazana - This African name means “princess” in the Xhosa language.
Gender-Neutral African Names and Meanings
- Ashanti - This name is also used for the people who reside in a region in central Ghana. It is derived from the Kiswahili word “Asante” which means “thank you.”
- Dembe - This African name of Uganda origin means “peace.”
- Femi - This is a common Nigerian unisex name that means "love me” in Yoruba.
- Imani - This name is Swahili for “faith.”
- Nuru - This African name of Swahili origin means “born at night.”
- Unanthi - This unisex name means “God is with us” in Xhosa.