What gave the baby name Kijana a boost in 1995?

Football player Ki-Jana Carter
Ki-Jana Carter

The curious name Kijana saw a sudden spike in usage, for both genders, in the U.S. baby name data in 1995:

Boys named KijanaGirls named Kijana
†Peak usage


Because of football player Kenneth Leonard “Ki-Jana” (pronounced kee-JAH-nah) Carter.

Here’s how he came to have the memorable nickname Ki-Jana:

One summer night in 1973, 20-year-old Kathy Carter sat in a movie theater in Columbus, Ohio, watching Shaft in Africa, a sequel to the 1971 action film Shaft. The movie featured a little boy, and his name was Ki-Jana. “I said, ‘I like that name,'” Kathy recalls. The next morning she phoned the Black Student Union at Ohio State and found that kijana means ”young man” in Swahili. Several weeks later, on Sept. 12, 1973, Kenneth Leonard Carter was born, and on his birth certificate, in parentheses, was typed “Ki-Jana.”

(The word kijana does indeed mean “young person” in Swahili.)

Ki-Jana Carter, a running back, played three successful seasons (1992-1994) at Pennsylvania State University and was a finalist for the 1994 Heisman Trophy. So he decided to forego his senior year and enter the 1995 NFL Draft.

He was the No. 1 overall pick — selected by the Cincinnati Bengals. But, unfortunately, Ki-Jana was plagued by injuries throughout his seven-season professional career. In fact, he missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL during an exhibition game in August.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Ki-jana/Kijana?

P.S. Do you think Shaft in Africa could have caused the uptick in the usage of Kijana in 1973?

  • 1974: 7 baby boys named Kijana
  • 1973: 12 baby boys named Kijana
  • 1972: 7 baby boys named Kijana

Kathy said “[l]ittle kids were running on a road in Africa” in the scene in which she first heard the name Kijana. So far, though, I haven’t been able to find a clip of this scene online…


Image: Ki-Jana Carter trading card

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.