Need some name ideas of African origin
May 30, 2010 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I need some African name suggestions.

Anyone have any ideas or suggestions for some character names? Or is there a very good website that offers good names/words from African traditions and languages that you can point me towards?
Perhaps for twin brothers. Perhaps they can run very fast, and are noble and spirited yet always getting into trouble.
Country or People of origin isn't that important, just want the names to be accurate and fairly pronounceable by the average American tongue.

thank you
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Africa is a very large region, with many distinct cultures. For instance, if your twins are from Morocco they could have French names; if they're from Libya they could have Muslim names; if they're from South Africa they could even have Dutch names. I'd suggest narrowing down your search a bit.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:59 PM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Some names of African men I know:

Bolagi (went by Bola)
posted by tetralix at 2:00 PM on May 30, 2010

You may be interested in the system of names in Akan culture.
posted by knile at 2:05 PM on May 30, 2010

I knew I guy in college who had a name that I absolute loved: Kwaku (pron.KWAY-ku).
posted by plinth at 2:08 PM on May 30, 2010

Thought of another: Abasi.
posted by tetralix at 2:15 PM on May 30, 2010

Well, names I've liked from friends:

Kwaku, Kwesi, Kofi (Ghana)
Sekou and Sidiki (Guinea)
Kasim, Kadar (Arabic)

posted by anitanita at 2:22 PM on May 30, 2010

The website Behind the Name has a list of African names which explains the meaning of the name, and which part of Africa/which language group the names come from.
posted by Year of meteors at 2:28 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

A good way to find names is to look up members of sports teams and parliaments of various countries. For instance, here are the members of parliament in Kenya and the Tanzanian national football team. Here's the list of national legislatures on Wikipedia and lists of African men's and women's football teams on Wikipedia.
posted by Kattullus at 3:12 PM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Africa is the most linguistically-diverse continent in the world.

Since you're obviously striving for accuracy, you would do well to pick a country and a ethnic group before looking for names.
posted by DavidandConquer at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm uncomfortable with "country and people of origin" not being relevant, while you're still sure that you want these characters (who are noble, spirited, and can run fast*) to be from Africa. Why not from somewhere else?

In other words, what is it that you see as a general quality of "African-ness" that makes that continent your choice?

And how is choosing an entire continent of diverse ethnicities, languages, and ways of life based on this general quality not continuing the same essentializing of "Africa" as a single entity that has long been a problem in the West?

If people and country of origin are truly irrelevant, then why Africa? If on the other hand there is something about these characters or your story that you consider pointing to "Africa", then I think you should consider what that something is, and why you think it matches to an entire continent.

* Really? Noble, spirited boys who can run fast? Just please don't describe them as having pure, simple hearts as well.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:12 PM on May 30, 2010 [8 favorites]

Also -

Someone has recommended Behind the Name. While it's fine to use sites like that for inspiration, many of the non-English names are inaccurate or misleading. Even when the names are real (and they sometimes aren't), they're often outdated, odd, in diminutive form, or associated with a particular social class that isn't explained.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:17 PM on May 30, 2010

You could look at an African newspaper online, e.g. The Sowetan from Johannesburg; this example would give you a good selection of South African (Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana etc etc) names, and some great local colour. I guess to make working in the white world easier, Black South Africans often have a rather interesting English name (Friday, Patience, Solomon....) as well as their birth name.
posted by Flashman at 6:23 PM on May 30, 2010

Thank you for the suggestions everyone! I am enjoying getting the names of people who you have known - didn't really think of that as a source but, I now have other ideas.

There are reasons for my choosing Africa that I also choose not to divulge here. I never said I was writing a story. I also said they were brothers not that they were boys... sorry to be so vague.
I am often disturbed by Westerners clumping all of Africa into one entity myself, and assure you that is not what is happening here. For the moment I am open to the entire continent because historical data points me there.
I needed some direction and ideas to further some research that I have yet to narrow down.

I might also be looking into Sanskrit words....
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 8:47 PM on May 30, 2010

The word for "trouble" in Shona (Zimbabwe) is "Mampala"
posted by Spyder's Game at 9:26 PM on May 30, 2010

Kwaku, Kwesi, Kofi (Ghana)

These are names given based on the day of the week your friends were born on. There is at least one name (some variations) for each day, and different ones for boys and girls. Variations can be found in one name either through slight choices or between different groups. You can google the rest of them pretty easily.

In addition such names are often used as nicknames, and a different official first name is also given. Still, it can be a pill to sort through all the different Kwames you know. Additionally, it is a hoot to them that in other parts of the world we often haven't got a clue what day we were born on.
posted by whatzit at 3:50 AM on May 31, 2010

I used to work with an Olumide from Nigeria. He told me that his first name (and many first names) is the part of Nigeria he's from (Christian, south - can't recall whether it was the western south or the eastern south, but I do recall there's an ethnic and political distinction), many children are given names that have to do with an event that takes place around their birth or a in relation to a wish from their parents. There's a specific significance to names and my former co-worker knew the significance of his.

Sorry if this is chat-filter, but I'm curious: if you're not writing a story then what's the intention for these characters?
posted by Kurichina at 7:34 AM on May 31, 2010

« Older British Columbia Law Filter: Power of Attorney.   |   The Most Awesome Quiz Event Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.