In September of 1971, Jet magazine published a one-page article that ended up having a strong influence on U.S. baby names. It was called “African Names for Your Children.”
The intent of this…[i]s to give some African names with their meanings to our readers who may be interested in understanding or giving their babies some African names. The following are some of the common and interesting African names.
The article featured just 20 names overall, but half of them ended up seeing increased usage as baby names in the U.S., including eight (!) debuts in the U.S. data.
- Adwoa – not in the data yet in the early ’70s
- Akpan – never in the data
- Ayanna – debuted in 1971
- Azikiwe – debuted in 1971
- Diallo – debuted in 1971
- Ete-ete – never in the data
- Ima – no movement in the data
- JaJa – debuted in 1971
- Kwabene – one-hit wonder in 1971
- Kwame – increased in usage ’71/’72
- Lumumba – debuted in 1971
- Machumu – never in the data
- Nkenge – debuted in 1971
- N’namdi – not in the data yet in the early ’70s
- Okon – never in the data
- Rudo – never in the data
- Rufaro – never in the data
- Sekou – increased in usage ’71/’72
- Shango – debuted in 1971
- Shangobunmi – never in the data
Ayanna is an interesting case because, later the same year, it became a celebrity baby name (Ayanna was one of the children of Dick Gregory). This one-two punch of influences gave the name a huge boost in 1971. Ayanna was the top girl-name debut of 1971 and currently ranks 9th on the list of highest girl-name debuts of all time.
Similarly, Diallo was the top boy-name debut of 1971, and ended up ranking 29th on the list of highest boy-name debuts of all time. My guess is that most Americans pronounce the name dee-ah-loh, but the original pronunciation is jah-low. It’s a very common surname in West Africa (where it’s spelled Jalloh).
Finally, discovering this article helped me realize that Lumumba debuting in 1971 actually had little to do with Patrice Lumumba, as I’d assumed years ago. (Though no doubt Patrice was still an influence on some level.)
Of all the names above, which one do you like best?
P.S. In the later ’70s, Ebony magazine also published a list of African names. Their list had a similarly strong impact on U.S. baby names.
- “African Names for Your Children.” Jet 16 Sept. 1971: 14.
- Nafissatou and Amadou – Slate