By Todd Tarpley
African baby names come from the more than a thousand languages spoken natively in Africa–Nigeria alone has over 500! That makes Africa a treasure trove for unique and lyrical names derived from its numerous cultures. African-derived names have been popular in the US since the 1970s, introduced to many by the TV miniseries “Roots.” However, parents must search hard to find African names with accurate origins and meanings. These 14 genuine African baby names are among the most popular in the US and have become African-American names in the same way that Liam and Caitlin are both Irish and American.
Traditionally a girl’s name, this little-known name is equally appropriate for a boy, as it means “free man.”
This stylish, multicultural girl’s name means “grace” in the Igbo language of Nigeria, “immortal” in Sanskrit, and “peaceful” in Mongolian; in Abyssinian (now Ethiopian) legends, Amara is the name for paradise. Its close relation to Mary or Marie can gracefully honor a family member with a non-African name.
This unusual Ethiopian name means “light or jungle.”
This attractive, rhythmic choice means “section of tree”–which can be interpreted as the newest member of a family tree.
A name borrowed from the East African nation, it’s appropriate for either gender, though more frequently used as a girl’s name. Kenya entered the US Top 1000 in 1968 and now ranks at #892. Music producer Quincy Jones named a now-grown daughter Kenya.
The Akan people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast name their babies after the day of the week they were born. Kwame is the name for boys born on Saturday. It was borne by the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah.
Simple-yet-exotic Swahili name meaning “art” it’s pronounced Sa-NAA, like Sinatra without the tra. Sanaa was in the US Top 1000 from 2003 to 2011, influenced by actress Sanaa Lathan.
Most closely associated in the US with actor Taye Diggs, this beautiful and simple Ethiopian means “he who has been seen” and can be used for a boy or girl, including as a short form of Taylor. In Diggs’s case, he was actually born Scott–his nickname came from the jokey pronunciation of Scott as Scottay.
Zaire is an African place name (Zaire was a Central African state from 1971-97) that means “the river that swallows all rivers” and would make a distinctive Z choice for either gender. It’s currently at Number 873 for boys
Singular, strong, and exotic for either gender, Zuri is Kiswahili for “good, beautiful,” and just popular enough (Top 500 for girls) that you may meet another in your lifetime. Zuri is the name of a main character on the Disney show Jessie, and was used for his daughter by Ziggy Marley, while basketball superstar Lebron James spelled his little girl’s name Zhuri.
Need more inspiration? Click here for our full list of African baby name possibilities.
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