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?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara Wambugu. Follow Tara and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mama Mgeni, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo credits to the author.
I have every reason in the world to learn Swahili. It’s one of the mother tongues of my husband’s (though Kikuyu is his real mother tongue, as he will tell you). It’s one of the official languages of the country, I call home. And a few years ago, a new compelling reason came along: our first-born child. We’re raising both of our kids to be bilingual, following the OPOL (One Parent One Language) approach.
I speak to the kids in English, while my husband speaks to them in Swahili. Our youngest daughter is just starting to use her first words – a smattering from both languages. Our eldest daughter is now 4 years old, and while she favors English when speaking, she understands nearly everything that she hears in Swahili.
It was difficult at first for my husband to speak Swahili with our newborn daughter. It didn’t feel natural to him, since our shared language has always been English. He had to constantly remind himself, and would often stop mid-sentence to repeat what he had said in Swahili. He told me that he didn’t want to say things to the kids that I couldn’t understand. But having my husband speak to our children in Swahili was probably the best thing for my own budding ability.
I have found that by listening to my husband speak simple Swahili to the children, I have begun to learn the language the way native-speaking children learn it: starting with the basics, slowly building with grammar and vocabulary. I may not be able to contribute to a political discussion around the dinner table with the extended family, but learning the language with my children has certainly increased my understanding of what’s being said around me, on the whole.
Listening to my husband read Swahili bedtime stories aloud to the kids has also helped my own language skills.
I find that random lines from the stories will start to swirl around in my head, subconsciously. There is something useful in listening to the same strings of words over and over, committing them to memory, even if by accident.
While nearly everyone we meet in Nairobi speaks English, learning Swahili with my kids has definitely helped me to communicate better with the people in our community that we see every day. Simple words like where (wapi), how many (ngapi), up (juu), and down (chini) actually come in quite handy when speaking to the staff at the greengrocer or to the attendant in a crowded parking lot. Furthermore, people are delighted when they see that I’m making an effort, and even more delighted when they see the children speaking in the local language.
It is so important to us that our children grow up speaking and understanding both of our mother tongues. And if I’m able to improve my rusty Swahili skills along the way, all the better!
Are your kids growing up in a multilingual household? Have you ever learned a new language with your children?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara Wambugu, our new contributor from Kenya.
Where in the world do you live? And, are you from there?
I live in Nairobi, Kenya. I was born and raised in the US, but I’ve been living abroad for the better part of the past 15 years.
What language(s) do you speak?
English is my mother tongue, and I speak fluent French, as well as (very) basic Kiswahili.
When did you first become a mother (year/age)?
I first became a mother in 2011 when I was 34 years old. I now have two daughters.
Are you a stay-at-home mom or do you work?
Much to the surprise of many of my friends and former colleagues, I decided to stay home with my kids. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to stay home with them, and being their mom is the most rewarding (and challenging!) job I’ve ever done.
Why do you blog/write?
I started blogging a couple of years after I moved to Nairobi. As I settled in to my adopted home, I realized that I had gained a great deal of insider information about raising a family in Nairobi. A good friend often asked for my advice about life with kids in Kenya and frequently told me, “You should start a blog!” I finally listened to her, and Mama Mgeni was born. “Mgeni” is a word in Kiswahili meaning foreigner, guest, visitor or stranger. I might still be mgeni, but Kenya has very much become my home!
What makes you unique as a mother?
To be honest, I don’t feel very unique. Like all mothers, I adore my children, I can be driven completely mad by my children, I want the best for my family, and I often fear that I’m messing it all up. Motherhood brings us all together, no matter what culture we’re from or what part of the world we live in.
What do you view as the challenges of raising a child in today’s world?
Today’s families have very fast-paced lives, with a constant onslaught of electronic entertainment. It can be a huge challenge to slow down and do things together as a family, without being distracted by phones, computers or TV. Parents need to set a good example, though often we parents are just as mesmerized by gadgets as our children are.
How did you find World Moms Blog?
I found World Moms Blog through reading fellow contributor Kim Siegal’s blog, Mama Mzungu. I clicked through, and I’ve been a fan ever since!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara Wambugu, our new contributor from Kenya.
Tara Wambugu is a wife, a mother of two, and a Kenya-based lifestyle blogger covering parenting, family life, travel, and more. A former aid worker, Tara has worked in various countries in Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Central America. She is now a stay-at-home mom living in Nairobi with her husband and their two sassy little girls. Follow Tara and her family’s adventures on her blog, Mama Mgeni, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Today we welcome a guest post from Tara, who is writing from Kenya. You can follow her adventures in parenting at mamamgeni.com, where she blogs about raising her family with one foot in the expat world and the other firmly planted in her husband’s homeland. As she recently discovered, finding a black doll was no easy task–in either place.
“Mommy, there are three black people and one white person in our family.” My eldest daughter enjoys pointing out the obvious. She’s referring to me (white American), my husband (black Kenyan), and her baby sister (mixed-race, just like she is). She fully identifies as black, and has recently been expressing interest in race and skin color. We want our kids to explore their cultural and racial identities, and we try to ensure our toys and books reflect the richness of both of our cultures.
My youngest recently turned one, and we decided to get her a baby doll for her birthday. More specifically, we wanted to get her a black baby doll. Should be easy, right? We live in Kenya. No, not easy. THERE ARE ALMOST NO BLACK DOLLS HERE. Whenever you see Kenyan kids playing with dolls, they are almost always little white dolls with blonde hair. White baby dolls, white Barbies, white, white, white. You can find some nice black dolls handmade out of cloth, but they tend to be mommy dolls with babies on their backs. I was looking for a realistic baby, something she could cuddle and take care of, a baby of her own.
Since I was having no luck finding what I was looking for in Kenya, I decided to look for a black baby doll while I was in the US on a recent visit. My family lives in a greater metro area that is over 50% African American. I went to a local department store, and sought out the doll section. I expected to see a choice of dolls from different ethnicities (at least black and white dolls, given the racial make-up of the city). I was wrong – there was nothing but white dolls. Row upon row of white dolls. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed white dolls. Dozens of pink boxes with white dolls inside. Not the kind of dolls I was looking for.
Why was this so hard?
In the end, I decided to search online for a black baby doll, and found one that I loved. My daughter loves it too… She walks around the house, patting her baby’s back, swaying back and forth with a big grin on her face. I had some Kenyan colleagues at my house recently, and they asked where I had found our black doll. I told them my story, and together we lamented the fact that there were so few black dolls available in a predominantly black country.
There is a market for this kind of toy here, and someone is missing out on a serious business opportunity!
It is really important to me that my children have dolls and books that reflect who they are. My eldest is always looking for people who have skin like hers, or hair like hers.
She yearns to identify with a group of people. Having black baby dolls and books featuring black characters makes a difference. Dolls may be “just toys,” but they can mean so much more to a young girl who longs to connect and identify with others like her. What are dolls like in the country where you live? Do they reflect how the people look, or are they different in any way?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama Mgeni of Kenya.
Photo credit to Mama Mgeni.