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Updated June 24, 2022

Traditional African names are related to a person’s ethnic group or area of Africa their ancestors were from; however, in modern times, that is changing somewhat. While parents typically ascribed names relating to the weather, time of day the child was born, seasons, and place of birth, younger generations have been changing their names to more western-style ones. Some individuals do this to feel more modern, while others attempt to avoid racial profiling.

Most Common Kenyan Surnames and Meanings

  1. Abdi  - Hebrew. My Servant.
  2. Ali - This popular name is 7th in Kenya but 2nd in Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen and 3rd in Egypt and Iraq. It is a name meaning high, elevated, or champion in Arabic. 
  3. Akinyi - Luo. Born at dawn. Sometimes spelled Okinyi or Okinyo. 
  4. Anyango - More than 100,000 Kenyans have this last name, meaning one born midday. 
  5. Juma - Swahili and used often as a boy's name; it means born on a Friday.
  6. Kamau - Kikuyu. Quiet warrior. Usually a male name, but we love its meaning for a baby girl, and it is also a common family name. 
  7. Kibet - Kilanji. Born at midday. 
  8. Kimani - Nearly 160,000 Kenyans have this last name which means one who is sweet and beautiful. 
  9. Maina - This name is an Italian name that means light. 
  10. Mwangi  - Kikuyu. Rapid expansion. 
  11. Obama - Luo. To lean or bend, twisting. Former U.S. President Barack Obama's father was Kenyan, although Barack was born in Hawaii to his American mother. 
  12. Ochieng - Luo. Born when the sun shines. Popular in Kenya and Uganda.
  13. Onyango - Luo. One who was born near midday or born in the morning. 
  14. Otieno - A variation of the Luo name Atieno which means born at night. This is the most popular name in Kenya.
  15. Mohamed - Arabic. Praised. This name in various forms is one of the most common surnames throughout the Middle East and African countries. It is the second most common last name in Kenya.
  16. Hassan - Arabic. Pious or wise. A popular baby boy name as well.
  17. Wafula - From Luhya, a group belonging to the Bantu ethnic group, the name means rainy season.
  18. Wanjala - An African origin name meaning famine. 

Surnames that are Unique to Kenya

Some surnames are unique to Kenya or may only be found in small populations in other African or Middle Eastern countries. For example, it is common to find the prefix Kip on Kenyan names. This prefix usually relates to a person born during a specific time of day, or it means “son of.”

Atieno - Luo. Born at night.
Kariuki - Kikuyu. One who is resurrected or reborn.
Kimutai - Kalenjin. Born in the mid-morning. 
Kipkorir - One who is born at dawn. Specifically a male name. 
Kipkirui - Born in the dawn hours or born shortly after dark. 
Kipkemei - Kalenjin. Born during a drought. 
Kiplagat - Son of Lagat.
Kiprono - This African name means born near dawn or dusk. 
Kipsang - Son of Sang.
Kiptoo - One who was born during a visitation or Son of Too. 
Kipruto - One who likes to travel. Appropriately Olympian runner Asbel Kipruto Kiprop bore this name. 
Mumbi - Derived from Mumbi Muthiga, known as the mother Gikuyu people. It means one who creates, builds, or molds. 
Muthoni - Kikuyu. Often found on lists of baby names for girls, it means the quiet or shy one—a surname not typically found outside Kenya. 
Njeri - It is debated whether this is a Swahili or a Kikuyu tribal name, but either way, it means warrior.
Njoroge - Believed to come from the name Chimaoge its meaning is genet cat. It is also stated to mean God knows the time for everything and genius, wealth, and protector.
Odhiambo - Luo. Born in the evening. It is also spelled Adhiambo. 
Omondi - Luo. Born in the early morning. Also spelled Amondi. 
Owuor - Luo. Born at night. Lessfavorably it also means the greedy one. 
Wanijiku - The exact meaning is unknown. But it is often used as a given name for girls. It is said to be the name of one of the nine daughters of the couple who founded the Agikuyu ethnic group.
Wambui - This African name has a debated meaning. Some sources say it means a singer of songs. However, it is also the word for zebra in Kikuyu and stripes. Used commonly as a girl’s name. 

Surnames Popular in Other Parts of Africa and the Middle East

  1. Abdullahi  - Swahili. Servant of Allah. It is also a popular Nigerian last name. 
  2. Adan - Spanish. Of the earth. A variation of the name Adam.
  3. Ahmed - Arabic. Highly praised or one who constantly thanks God.
  4. Auma - Luo. Helper, adaptable, strength. 
  5. Barasa - Kikuyu. A meeting place. 
  6. Hussein - Arabic. Good, handsome, or beautiful. A diminutive of Hassan. 
  7. Ibrahim - Hebrew. A variation of Abraham. Father of the people. This is the number one surname in Nigeria. 
  8. John - Hebrew. Graced by God. 
  9. Mutai- Urdu. Elderly. 
  10. Omar- Arabic. Flourishing or long-lived. Also spelled Umar. 
  11. Ouma - In Afrikaans Ouma means grandma. Other meanings are listed as loving change, reliability, and enthusiasm. 
  12. Waweru - Kikutu/Kalenjin. One born of the plains. 

L. Elizabeth Forry

About L. Elizabeth Forry

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with 15 years of classroom… Read more

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