What's in a Name? Name Traditions of Africa

Posted by Anne Macindoe on 9 December 2014 | 0 Comments

The colossal continent of Africa is home to a vast diversity of cultures, languages and traditions.  A name is more than a moniker.  It has essence and meaning closely associated with the individual.  Most African people will introduce themselves not only by their name, but by its context and meaning, with which their personal identity is closely connected.  So a typical African family takes great care in selecting names for newborn children.

A great many African traditions embrace personification in some way or form.  This makes selecting names extra important because, to some extent, the individual will come to embody their namesake.  It is therefore believed the chosen names carry great influence over a child’s life and that of their family.
Birth names
Often babies are given more than a one name.  A birth name is usually selected to reflect something about the day of birth.  Names that make popular choices might describe:
the day (it was raining);
environment (amongst the trees); or
circumstances surrounding the birth (while on holiday).
In some African cultures an elderly relative may be asked to choose a birth name.  This would usually describe the baby’s appearance at birth.  Names with meanings such as “soft and smooth” or “strong and stout” are classic examples.
Adult Names
Most African children also receive a second name.  In African culture, these choices may point to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of parents.  But children are also named for the geographic environment, religious beliefs, fears and philosophy on life and death.  The chosen name may even offer insight into important cultural or socio-political events at the time.
In any event the selection is made after great consideration and may be quite heavily influenced by immediate or extended family ... even the local community.  The right choice is seen as essential to a child’s whole life.  For example, an overly ambitious name may carry the weight of great expectation with significant consequences, when a simple name will not make such demands.
Naming Ceremonies
In ancient African cultures names held a mesmerizing mystique.  Contemporary naming celebrations are an adaptation of birth rights that initiate the child through a ritual naming ceremony.  
Nearly all African cultures once believed infants had arrived with messages from the spirit world and ready to impart special talents and gifts to the community.  It being incumbent upon the community to define the child’s mission, an initiation name may be chosen as a reflection of that purpose.
In modern African culture, naming ceremonies are a celebration that formally introduces a child to the world, its community and announces the infant’s name and name meanings.  
OriginsInfo uses the most advanced and complete analysis methods to identify (over 80% accuracy) the cultural origin of names.  By overlaying this data to suburbs, cities or broader populations, organisations gain a complete picture of who their customers are ... and could be.

A great many African traditions embrace personification in some way or form. This makes selecting names extra important because, to some extent, the individual will come to embody their namesake. It is therefore believed the chosen names carry great influence over a child’s life and that of their family.

Birth names

Often babies are given more than a one name. A birth name is usually selected to reflect something about the day of birth. Names that make popular choices might describe:

  • the day (it was raining);
  • environment (amongst the trees); or
  • circumstances surrounding the birth (while on holiday).

In some African cultures an elderly relative may be asked to choose a birth name. This would usually describe the baby’s appearance at birth. Names with meanings such as “soft and smooth” or “strong and stout” are classic examples.

Adult Names

Most African children also receive a second name. In African culture, these choices may point to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of parents. But children are also named for the geographic environment, religious beliefs, fears and philosophy on life and death. The chosen name may even offer insight into important cultural or socio-political events at the time.

In any event the selection is made after great consideration and may be quite heavily influenced by immediate or extended family ... even the local community. The right choice is seen as essential to a child’s whole life. For example, an overly ambitious name may carry the weight of great expectation with significant consequences, when a simple name will not make such demands.

Naming Ceremonies

In ancient African cultures names held a mesmerizing mystique. Contemporary naming celebrations are an adaptation of birth rights that initiate the child through a ritual naming ceremony.  

Nearly all African cultures once believed infants had arrived with messages from the spirit world and ready to impart special talents and gifts to the community. It being incumbent upon the community to define the child’s mission, an initiation name may be chosen as a reflection of that purpose.

In modern African culture, naming ceremonies are a celebration that formally introduces a child to the world, its community and announces the infant’s name and name meanings.  

OriginsInfo uses the most advanced and complete analysis methods to identify (over 80% accuracy) the cultural origin of names.  By overlaying this data to suburbs, cities or broader populations, organisations gain a complete picture of who their customers are ... and could be.

Contact OriginsInfo

Australia and New Zealand

OriginsInfo
Contact us
mob:
+61 418 359 711

Europe and USA

Experian Marketing Services