Give African kids African names

Why do some African Parents, those who do not speak English as a first language, prefer giving their children English or other foreign names, at the expense of their own rich local names? Let me come clean I (being someone who speaks English as a second language) would probably give my child a sophisticated  English name and the origin and meaning of which I wouldn’t even know or bother to research). I’m one of those African men who would probably  choose the  name Sean over Sipho. But why? There are many reasons but I’ll concentrate on two main ones.

Good African names are too few

I’ve heard this argument form some parents who have decided to ditch African names. Does this argument hold water? According to the website,, there are between 2000 and 3000 spoken African languages on the continent. Each of these languages will likely have it’s own proper names, for parents to choose from. Why some parents argue that African names are too few and restricted is because they are unwilling to give their child an African name from another African language or tribe- even if they know the meaning. Parents may feel that using a name from another language or tribe, may result in that child losing his or her identity. However the same people will readily embrace English or other foreign name whose meaning they don’t understand.

Parents interested in giving their children African names should not restrict themselves to their languages only. It may be a great idea to look for good names from the over 2000 African languages.

Some African names have a negative connotation

“Some African names are just  not nice,”  I heard a parent lament. Are they?  Well, I’ll stick to those names that I really know- from my mother tongue.  Yes, you do get some names that raise eyebrows but you also get some good names.

Where I come from, the  names given to children tell a story of what was happening in the family around the child’s birth. If a child is born after a previous miscarriage the kid’s African name will be ‘Comforter’. If the parents are hopeful they will probably give their child a name meaning ‘Hope.’ Some names will signify gratitude, happiness, prosperity and all the good things that the parents hope for their child. However it’s true that some names can burden a child because of their negativity. For example I’ve had friends and family with names which if loosely translated to English would have the following meanings:
  • “The forsaken one”- Usually given when a father refuses paternity.
  • “We shall see,”- Given to a child by parents with a bone to chew with someone.
  • “You’ll  surrender”- Given to a child by parents who have no intention of bulking in a family feud.
All this just goes to show that African names are a mixed bag.
Of course, every parent has the freedom to give their child a name of their choice. However, some African parents do look down on local names. In effect, they look down on who they are. These parents had better have a good answer when, one day, their child asks, “Why did you give me a foreign name?”

Read more by Sipho Yanano

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

What made you choose the name you chose for your baby?

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