The Emergence of Makeba

miriam makeba, singer, baby name, 1960s
Miriam Makeba

The baby name Makeba started appearing in the U.S. baby name data in the early 1960s:

  • 1966: 8 baby girls named Makeba
  • 1965: unlisted
  • 1964: 5 baby girls named Makeba
  • 1963: 5 baby girls named Makeba
  • 1962: 5 baby girls named Makeba
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: unlisted

It saw peak usage in the early 1970s.

What launched the name?

South African singer Miriam Makeba, who was born near Johannesburg in 1932 to a Xhosa father and a Swazi mother.

Her birth name was actually Zenzile, nickname Zenzi. (The English name Miriam was adopted later for career purposes.) According to Makeba, the name Zenzile means “you have no one to blame but yourself” or “you have done it to yourself.”

But “Zenzile Makeba” wasn’t her full name. Her full name was Zenzile Makeba Qgwashu Nguvama Yiketheli Nxgowa Bantana Balomzi Xa Ufun Ubajabulisa Ubaphekcli Mbiza Yotshwala Sithi Xa Saku Qgiba Ukutja Sithathe Izitsha Sizi Kkabe Singama Lawu Singama Qgwashu Singama Nqamla Nqgithi.

Why so long?

The reason for its length is that every child takes the first name of all his male ancestors. Often following the first name is a descriptive word or two, telling; about the character of the person, making a true African name somewhat like a story. This may sound most unusual to Americans, but it is the custom of my people.

Miriam Makeba began singing professionally in the early 1950s. In the late ’50s she met famous Jamaican-American singer Harry Belafonte, who introduced her to American audiences. Her fame grew (both in the U.S. and in Europe) during the ’60s, and she became “the first African artist to globally popularize African music.”

I haven’t had any luck tracking down the etymology of Makeba, but I know the name came from Miriam’s mother, Nomkomendelo Christina Makeba. The name Nomkomendelo means “the one whose father was commandeered” (as she was born on the day her father was forced to join the British army to help fight the Second Boer War).

Do you like the name Makeba?

Sources:

Image: from the movie Come Back, Africa (1959)

P.S. Here are a few more names inspired by the Second Boer War

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