A few months back, commenter Becca mentioned the book Names From Africa (1972) by Ogonna Chuks-orji. This was one of the first baby name books in the U.S. to focus on African names exclusively.
I haven’t yet read it in full, but Ebony ran an article in 1977 about African-American naming traditions (a few months after Roots first aired) and included a selection of names from the book.
I’ve included the names below, but first here’s a snippet of the article:
Then came the ’60s and ’70s and the rejection of assimilation efforts. Cultural nationalism and separatism replaced integration and Afro-Americans changed their names to reflect their new consciousness. The name of people of African descent as a whole was changed from Negro or colored to Black or Afro-American to reflect an aggressive pride in the African heritage, and an affirmation of the validity of self-defined identity. Africa became a source of names. Very Anglo-Saxon or exotic European names were changed to African names–usually Swahili names with meanings pertinent to the struggle. African leaders, past and present, like Shaka, Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure, began to provide the heroic, strong, inspirational names. The eclectic choice of African names reflects the Pan-Africanist orientation of the Afro-American identity.
Here are all the girl names:
According to the SSA data, some of the these girl names saw higher usage as baby names thanks to the article:
- Aba – debuted in 1978
- Abimbola – increased usage in ’77
- Akwete – one-hit wonder in 1977
- Chinue – debuted in 1977
- Efia – peak usage in ’77
- Jamila – peak usage in ’77
- Kamilah – increased usage in ’77
- Layla – increased usage in ’77
- Naila – increased usage in ’77
- Rashida – peak usage in ’77
- Safiya – increased usage in ’77
- Sauda – peak usage in ’77
The names Habibah, Ifetayo, Masani, and Ramla saw no significant movement in the data. The names Abayomi and Ode have only appeared in the data only as a boy names (…though Abayomi did see peak usage in ’77). The other names (Akwokwo, Bayo, Chucki, Dada, Folayan, Hembadoon, Ifama, Ige, Kambo, Mawusi, Oseye, Pasua, Quibilah, Serwa and Sigolwide) have never been in the data at all, as of this writing.
And here are all the boy names:
And here are the boy names that saw higher usage as baby names thanks to the article:
- Abdalla – increased usage in ’77
- Abubakar – debuted in 1977
- Hasani – peak usage in ’77
- Hashim – increased usage in ’77
- Idi – one-hit wonder in 1977 (and the name of infamous Ugandan president Idi Amin)
- Kamau – increased usage in ’77
- Kefentse – one-hit wonder in 1977
- Khalfani – increased usage in ’77
- Kontar – one-hit wonder in 1977
- Kwasi – peak usage in ’77
- Lateef – peak usage in ’77
- Makalani – one-hit wonder in 1977 (Makalani also happens to mean “heavenly eyes” or “eyes of heaven” in Hawaiian)
- Mensah – debuted in 1977
- Nuru – debuted in 1977
The other names (Bwerani, Chionesu, Chiumbo, Dingane, Dunsimi, Fudail, Gamba, Gogo, Gowon, Gwandoya, Kamuzu, Lumo, Machupa*, Mbwana, Mongo, Mosegi, Mwamba and Nangwaya) have never been in the data at all.
*I was very curious about the definition of Machupa, “likes to drink.” Turns out it’s not alcohol-related; another book on African names specifies that the root of Machupa is probably chupa, a Kiswahili word meaning “bottle.”
- Stewart, Julia. African Names: Names from the African Continent for Children and Adults. New York: Citadel Press, 1993.
- Walker, Sheila S. “What’s in a Name?” Ebony Jun. 1977: 74+.