There’s a lovely naming culture practiced by the Kikuyu tribe here in Kenya: the the first-born son is named after the paternal grandfather, the first-born daughter is named after her paternal grandmother, and so on. My husband is Kikuyu, and we decided to adopt this tradition for our girls’ middle names.
Claire, our eldest child, was given Nyambura as her middle name, after my husband’s mother. Nyambura means “born during the rains.” Since Claire was born in the U.K., we think her name is beautifully befitting! The second-born daughter would traditionally be named after her maternal grandmother, but we really wanted both girls to have Kenyan middle names. When Heidi was born, we decided to give her the middle name Makena, which means “the happy one.” Her name also fits her perfectly.
There are over 40 tribes in Kenya, with very different cultures and traditions. After choosing to name our girls with traditional Kenyan middle names, I was curious about the naming traditions of other tribes. I reached out to the mothers in a local online parenting group here in Nairobi to ask about their own tribes’ naming traditions.
Several tribes follow the tradition of naming their children according to the time of day the child was born. A boy named Otieno was likely born at night. The name Chebet is for a girl who was born at midday when the sun is at its highest point. A boy with the name Kerotich may have been born in the early evening, when the cattle come back to the corral.
Many tribes practice naming their children after events or circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. In this tradition, the name Okello is for the first baby boy born after twins. Cheruto is a girl’s name for a child born away from the family’s traditional homeland. The name Aoko signifies a child born outside. The name Nyanchera is for a child who was born on the way to hospital.
Several tribes also share the custom of naming babies after the seasons. The name Akeyo signifies a child born during the harvest. The name Kipkemei is for a child born during the dry season. Nanzala is a girls’ name for a child born when there is famine.
Several tribes choose to name babies after fierce animals to protect the infant and chase away death. A child named Wangari is named for the fierce leopard. A child with the name Mbiti evokes the cunning hyena. A boy called Njogu is named for the mighty elephant.
I loved learning about all these beautiful traditions for naming your baby!
I think it’s so wonderful that a name can tell a story, and can carry with it the memory of generations of ancestors. Some even believe that a baby’s name will have a strong influence on the child’s eventual personality.
I am so happy that both of our girls have beautiful, meaningful Kenyan names!
What are the cultural practices for naming babies where you come from? Did you follow a cultural tradition when naming your own children?
Photo credits to the author.