African Baby Names: 14 Great African Names for Your Baby

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.

Amadi
Traditionally a girl’s name, this little-known name is equally appropriate for a boy, as it means “free man.”

Amara
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.

Anika
Meaning “sweetness of face,” this sweet girl’s name has ties to both Africa and Scandinavia–with the African pronunciation emphasizing the second syllable.

Fana
This unusual Ethiopian name means “light or jungle.”

Izara
This attractive, rhythmic choice means “section of tree”–which can be interpreted as the newest member of a family tree.

Kenya
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.

Kwame
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.

Kymani
Meaning “adventurous traveler,” this East African name was adventurous enough for Bob Marley‘s son.

Makenna
This cross-cultural name (also an Irish surname spelled McKenna) means “happy one” in Eastern Africa.

Sanaa
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.

Taye
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.

Tisa
Its literal Swahili meaning is “ninth born,” but it’s also a simple and feminine name that relates to similar-sounding Western names such as Lisa and Trisha.

Zaire
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

Zuri
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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5 Responses to “African Baby Names: 14 Great African Names for Your Baby”

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mill1020 Says:

February 21st, 2017 at 12:25 am

I like Amara.

Ooof, for me Kwame is always going to be associated with Kwame Kilpatrick, former (criminal!) mayor of Detroit.

AryaClove Says:

February 21st, 2017 at 10:56 am

While I love to read about African names on nameberry, it does bother me a bit that some descriptions are so vague. Like for Makenna, I have never heard it as an African name and “eastern Africa” has more than one language. Africa is a continent with more than 1000 languages so what language does Makenna derive from? You just read a lot of wrong meanings especially for African names so I like to check them and that’s not possible without knowing which language they’re supposed to come from.

southern.maple Says:

February 22nd, 2017 at 2:19 pm

I agree with AryaClove. I love that we have a post on names of non-European origin, but this information is too vague.

tiannarose Says:

February 23rd, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Thank you for this list. As an African American berry, I am always interested in African names but yes, accurate meanings and origins are hard to find. I agree with the posts above as well…the more detail the better please.

strawberrytree Says:

February 24th, 2017 at 12:29 pm

I have to agree with Arya. There are hundreds (thousands?) of languages in Africa. It’s not just this site- referring to ‘Africa’ as if it is one homogeneous culture when it is anything but is sadly common. Some of the names listed gave more specific origins which is great, but several were very vague. For a site that specializes in baby names it would be nice to see more background research than just ‘eastern Africa.’

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