Africa is the second largest continent in the world with 54 countries and the second largest population to boot.
According to WorldAtlas, the namesake of Africa “came into Western use through the Romans, who used the name Africa terra "land of the Afri" for the northern part of the continent. Afri may possibly also refer to a tribe that inhabited North Africa.”
Understanding the meaning behind the name and the sheer size of the continent helps showcase how such an array of names made our list. And “by most estimates, well over a thousand languages are spoken in Africa. Most are of African origin, though some are of European or Asian origin.
Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world, and it is not rare for individuals to fluently speak not only multiple African languages, but one or more European ones as well.”
For perspective, here are some quick geography facts about Africa from WorldAtlas:
- “Algeria is Africa's largest country
- The Seychelles are Africa's smallest country
- Nigeria is Africa's largest country by population
- The Seychelles are Africa's smallest country by population
- Africa's highest point is Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
- Africa's lowest point is Lake Asal in Djibouti”
Africa’s vastness alone is a key contributor to the various cultures that contribute to the popularity of diverse names.
Famous African icons include Nelson Mandela, Shaka (Zulu King), Charlize Theron, Desmond Tutu, Cleopatra and Omar Sharif — and, some of their names even made our list! From Mozambique to Cape Town, here we explore the best African Baby Names of all time. Many, that are still timeless today.
From traditional African names to African American and African-inspired names, here are the top 25 African baby names of all time!
Please note that the statistics used throughout the article are credited to the Social Security Administration and the South African Government. Additional sources provided at the end.
Ayana is pronounced AY-ANA or AY-YA-NA. This girls name was popular in the United States in the 1990s and has bounced around since. Of Ethiopian origin, the name Ayana means a pretty flower. The Islamic meaning for girls is large eyes and perceptive. It can also means hope and represents good luck.
According to BabyNamesPedia “Ayana is an uncommon baby name for girls. At the modest height of its usage in 2001, 0.019% of baby girls were named Ayana. It ranked at #654 then. The baby name has since fallen from favor, and is currently of only irregular use. In 2015, within the group of girl names directly related to Ayana, Anna was the most widely used.”
Alternate spellings include Ayanna, Aiyana, Iana and Aiana.
The 631st most popular baby boy's name in the United States in 2015 and did have a popularity surge in the 1930s and 40s, charting the top 200 list throughout both decades. In France, Nelson was the 361st most popular name in 2010 and in Portugal it was the 87th most popular name in 2014 with 38 recorded birth certificates.
This name is most widely recognized and associated with African activist and icon, Nelson Mandela. Mandela was the first black president in South Africa and served from 1994 to 1999.
According to She Knows, Nelson means “so of Neil” and is a Celtic, English, Gaelic, American and Irish baby name. A popular surname in the United States, we think it’s an awesome name for a baby boy and that it’s due to rise in popularity. Nelson is fabulous!
Pronounced SHA-KAH, Shaka is traditionally a boy’s name and we just think it’s adorable for a baby girl too! Though not on North American top names lists, this traditional name is unique and classic. Shaka was on the United States top names list in 1974, ranking 1,249th on the list.
According to She Knows “The name Shaka is an Indian baby name... In Indian the meaning of the name Shaka is: From the Shaka.” And it is also an African baby name. “In African the meaning of the name Shaka is: The name of the Zulu tribal leader sometimes compared to Attila the Hun. Shaka shaped an amalgamation of tribes into the great Zulu nation in the early 19th century.”
Shaka means first or founder.
22 Malik And Mallika
Pronounced MA-LEEK, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reports Malik was a top 500 baby boy name, ranking as the 379th most popular name of 2015 in the United States.
Of Arabic descent, Malik is a common American name meaning King and Master. With think it’s fit for a queen too! Just add an “A” and boom, Mallika! The name Mallika is pronounced MAH-LEE-KA According to the SSA, Mallika was the most popular in the United States in 2001 and was ranked the 467th most popular girls name that year.
Mallika means queen in Arabic and Swahili and flower in Indian. Malik and Mallika are also familiar Hollywood names! Celebs like Malik Yoba, footballer Malik Jackson and of course Khloe Kardashian’s BFF Mallika Haqq. And, don’t forget former One Direction member’s surname, Zayn Malik.
Alternate spellings for baby boy Malik include Malek, Maliq. Alternate spellings for baby girl Mallika include Maleka and Maliqua.
Pronounced LA-QUE-TA, according to the SSA in the United States, Laqueta was most popular in the United States in 1985, with 22 baby girl birth certificates on record. Interesting, five of those baby girls were born in Texas. And, from the years 1880 to 2015, the SSA has recorded 426 baby girls born with the name Laqueta. We love this name! It’s unique and sassy!!
According to BabyNamesPedia Laqueta is “primarily used in English and it is of English-American origin. The name is derived from the combination of the prefix ‘La-‘ and the name ‘Quita’. The latter could also be from 'chiquita', which is commonly used as a Spanish term of endearment from a father to a daughter.”
Laqueta means quiet one. Alternate spellings include Laquita, Laquetta and Lakita.
Pronounced SHA-NIQ-UA, is a modern African American baby girl name that means grace of God. The SSA reports more than 700 baby girls born of the same name in the 1990s. It was the 313th most popular baby name in 1991.
According to Baby Name Science “The baby girl name Shaniqua was given to 7 baby girls in 1999, ranking #3857 on the national girl baby name top chart. With that position 1 in 213,850 baby girls were given this name - making this a very unique female name.” The SSA also records the name Shaniqua was first introduced to the United States in 1971.
Alternate forms of spelling include Shanniqua, Shaniequa and Shaneyqua.
Pronounced SHAR-LEE-Z, this baby girl’s name was a top 1000 baby name in the United States last year. According to the SSA the name Charlize ranked 978th in 2015. In 2004, it was most popular ranking as the 624th most popular baby girls name. Charlize was first spotted on the naming list in the year 2000.
Box office superstar Charlize Theron is from South Africa and we believe she can be easily attributed to the popularity surge of the name Charlize. In fact, the year Theron won an Oscar in 2004 for her role in Monster, the popularity of the name Charlize skyrocketed!
Named after her father Charles, the Charlize is the feminine form of the name Charles. Charlize means free man and the feminine form, free woman.
18 Chikae And Chika
Pronounced CHE-KAY, Chikae was the 11,933rd most popular baby name in the United States in 2015. Uncommon? Yes. Adorable? Yes! Traditionally an Igbo boy’s name, this name originated in Africa and means God’s power. Guess what? We love this for a baby girl too!
According to Baby Names Pedia, Chikae is also a Japanese name and “Chikae is used chiefly in the Japanese language and its origin is also Japanese. The name is of the meaning a thousand smells and clothes.” It can also mean a thousand summers.
Chika is the feminine form of the name and in Africa means God is supreme. Similar to the masculine form, Meaning of Names’ states “In Africa, the name Chika means - God is supreme. (Nigerian)." Other origins for the name Chika include Japan. How cool is that!
Pronounced THAY-TOE, Thato was the 10th most popular baby boy's name in 2014, according to Brand South Africa there were 622 boys born of the same name that year. A traditional boy's name Thato means he who lives in two worlds.”
According to The Meaning of the Name, “Thato is ranked on the 6,402nd position of the most used names. It means that this name is commonly used.
We estimate that there are at least 44400 persons in the world having this name which is around 0.001% of the population. The name Thato has five characters.
It means that it is relatively medium-length, compared to the other names in our database. We do not have enough data to display the number of people who were given the name Thato for each year.”
So it’s unique but not too obscure! We love this for a little boy and for a girl, why not?!
Of African origin, Taye is a suitable name for a boy or girl. In the masculine form, Taye means he who has been seen. Perhaps the name Taye sounds familiar? Well if it does, it’s likely thanks to actor and broadway phenomenon Taye Diggs.
According to Baby Name Science “The baby boy name Taye was given to 5 baby boys in 2009, ranking #4429 on the national boy baby name top chart.
With that position 1 in 347,480 baby boys were given this name - making this a very unique male name according to our Popularity Score algorithm.”
Interesting to note, the name Taye did spike in popularity in 2005, ranking as the 2,939th most popular boy’s name.
Pronounced ZAR-EE, this African name mean golden. According to the SSA in the United States, the baby girl name Zari was given to 10 babies in the year 2012, ranking 4,079th on the national girl baby name top chart.
Baby Name Science reports that “with that position 1 in 141,325 baby girls were given this name - making this a very unique female name.” And, Zari peaked in popularity in 2012, ranking 4,070th.
According to Baby Name Wizard, like Zari “Zaria comes from an Arabic word for flower and is best known as the name of a Nigerian city. (The variation Zahra is more traditional as a given name.)
In the U.S. Zaria is a rising star that nods to African heritage but sounds good on girls of any background.”
Pronounced OH-MAR, according to the SSA, Omar was the 217th most popular baby boy's name in 2015 and in England, it was ranked the 218th most popular name in the same year.
From the year 2000 to 2009, Omar was a top 200 baby boy name in the United States. Ranking 140th, there were a total of 28,145 birth certificates registered with the first name Omar for that decade.
Baby Name Wizard states “Omar is well known as a name of Arabic origin, thanks to poet Omar Khayyam and actor Omar Sharif. It's also a biblical name, a Latino and African-American favorite, and the name of WWII General Omar Bradley.
What do all those associations add up to? A name that's completely familiar but uncommonly striking.” Omar means life, long-living and eloquent.
Pronounced DEE-ON, Dion was the second most popular African American baby boy's name in 2011. In England, Dion was 861st most popular boy's name. Dion was most popular in 1970 with nearly 300 boys born of the same name.
Of Greek origin, Dion means child of heaven and earth. According to She Knows, Dion means God in Africa and America and in Greece, the God of Wine.
According to the site, “people with this name have a deep inner desire for a stable, loving family or community, and a need to work with others and to be appreciated.”
Also pronounced DEE-ON, Dionne is the feminine version of Dion and She Knows reports Dionne is an American and English name. The “meaning of the name Dionne is: A, derived from Dionysius, the Greek god of wine.
Also from the sacred spring. The mythological Dione was wife to Zeus and mother of Aphrodite.”
The last time we heard this name was in the box office cult classic Clueless and we can’t wait to watch this name rise back to the top!
Pronounced JAY-LA, in 2015, Jayla was the 238th most popular name for girls in the United States. And, Jayla was the second most popular African American baby girls name in 2011 and was most popular in 2006, ranking as the 99th most popular girls name. We think it is simply an adorable name for a baby girl!
According to Baby Name Science “the baby girl name Jayla was given to 1,809 baby girls in 2012, ranking #170 on the national girl baby name top chart. With that position 1 in 781 baby girls were given this name - making this a very unique female name.”
Of Hebrew descent, Jayla means to ascend and in English, the meaning is one who is special. It has been a popular baby name for African American families and we love it!
Pronounced BO-KO-MO-SO, in 2014 Bokamoso was almost as popular for the boys as it was for the girls in South Africa. On the top 10 names list for both boys and girls, Bokamoso ranked as the 8th most popular name for boys with 641 registered births.
What’s even more surprising is that this name was even more popular for the girls, ranking as the 4th most popular girls name with 663 names.
Names.org brings up an interesting point. “Out of 5,743,017 records in the U.S. Social Security Administration public data, the name ‘Bokamoso’ was not present. It is possible the name you are searching has less than five occurrences per year.
You might want to use a short version of your first name or perhaps your nickname. On the other hand, you simply have a name that no one else in America is using. For 136 years only your parents have thought of using your name.”
And we couldn’t agree more! We love the idea of Bokamoso nicknames like Boko, Oko and Moso! So cute!
Pronounced DAR-EE-US, Darius was ranked as the 501st most popular baby boy's name in 2015 and in England it was more popular, ranking as the 494th most popular name of the same year.
Of Persian, Latin and Greek descent, Darius means kingly, he that informs himself and wealthy or possesses well. The Egyptian meaning is pharaoh
According to She Knows “people with this name tend to be passionate, compassionate, intuitive, romantic, and to have magnetic personalities. They are usually humanitarian, broadminded and generous, and tend to follow professions where they can serve humanity.
Because they are so affectionate and giving, they may be imposed on. They are romantic and easily fall in love, but may be easily hurt and are sometimes quick-tempered.”
Pronounced EYE-EE-SHA, Aisha was the 491st most popular girls name in 2015, according to the SSA. Much more popular across the pond, Aisha was the 88th most popular name in England last year.
In Australia, Aisha was even more popular, ranking as the 76th most popular girls name. Most popular in the United States in 1977, Aisha ranked as the 175th most popular baby girls name.
From Arabic and Swahili descent, Aisha means living and prosperous. Behind the Name states Aisha “means ‘alive’ in Arabic. This was the name of Muhammad's third wife, the daughter of Abu Bakr.
Some time after Muhammad's death she went to war against Ali, the fourth caliph, but was defeated.
This name is used more by Sunni Muslims and less by Shias.This name began to be used in America in the 1970s, possibly inspired by princess Aisha of Jordan (1968-), the daughter of King Hussein and his British-born wife.
It received a boost in popularity after Stevie Wonder used it for his first daughter in 1975.”
Pronounced KUN-GAH-WOE, in 2014 Kungawo was the third most popular name for boys in South Africa, with 716 boys registered. This name is on the rise for girls and we think it’s adorable!
While popular in South Africa, this name is so rare in the United States that it has yet to be registered with the SSA.
Of African descent, Kungawo means it is through him. “Kungawo Amandla" is also a famous song by Lord Comforters and is on their album Hallelujah.
Pronounced RETH-A-BILE, Rethabile was the third most popular baby girl name in South Africa in 2014 with 789 baby girls registered. The SSA recorded 19 out of a million babies were named Rethabile in the United States that year.
The Meaning of the Name outlines that “the name Rethabile is ranked on the 27,061st position of the most used names. It means that this name is rarely used.
We estimate that there are at least 7300 persons in the world having this name which is around 0.001% of the population. The name Rethabile has nine characters. It means that it is relatively long-length, compared to the other names in our database.
We do not have enough data to display the number of people who were given the name Rethabile for each year.”
We love it!
Pronounced MINE-IN-EL, Minenhle was the second most popular baby girl name in South Africa in 2014 with 880 baby girls registered. Minenhle peaked in the United States in 2014, with 21 out of one million people names Minenhle.
According to This is My Baby Name “Minenhle is a Zimbabwe name often given to Baby Girl and it is of Shona origin. The meaning of Minenhle in Shona is beautiful afternoon, Masikati akanaka. For boys it means having a good or lovely day.
This is a gender neutral name that pays homage to African heritage, if you’re looking for a meaningful name, this might be for you!
Pronounced BAND-EEL, South Africa’s second most popular baby boy name in 2014 had 794 names registered at birth. In 2015, the SSA in the United States reported 12 out of every million baby boys were named Bandile.
Meaning of Names reports “In African, the name Bandile means - they have multiplied and prospered. The name Bandile originated as an African name. The name Bandile is most often used as a boy name or male name.”
Behind a Name states “Bandile has a high emotivity and is nervous, moody, always on the boil. Bandile reacts impulsively at times and even occasionally with violence. Independent and combative, he is not easy to manage and is highly obstinate.
This is quite a high morality although changeable in accordance with events. His loyalty and commitments are not always as highly principled as his first intentions.
Highly intuitive and possessing a surprising and spontaneous psychology, Bandile knows how to use it efficiently. He is good at listening without letting himself be taken for a ride.”
Pronounced DE-MAR-CO, Demarco was the top African American baby boy's name in 2011, according to the SSA. Of African American meaning, Demarco means Of Mark.
Demarco is also a popular Italian surname. House of Names states alternate spellings include “De Marco, Marco, Marcko, Di Marco, Marcoz, De Marchi, Di Marco, Di Marko, DeMarco and many more.”
She Knows reports “people with this name are excited by change, adventure, and excitement. They are dynamic, visionary and versatile, able to make constructive use of freedom."
"They fight being restricted by rules and conventions. They tend to be optimistic, energetic, intelligent, and to make friends easily. They may be changeable, restless, untidy, and rebellious.”
Pronounced BEE-ON-SAY, Beyoncé was the top African American baby girls name in 2011, according to the SSA. Most popular in the year 2001, there were 353 baby girls named Beyoncé that year.
An African American name, Beyoncé is widely associated with Celebrity Queen of R&B, Beyoncé Knowles Carter. The name Beyoncé was the result of an ode to her mother’s maiden name. Last year, it was reported that there were more than 2,000 females in the United States with the name Beyoncé.
Fusion ascertains that “Beyoncé Knowles’ unique first name was an homage to her mother’s maiden name, Beyincé, but according to SSA data, there are now at least 1,904 women named Beyoncé in America. (There are almost definitely more — the most recent year for which SSA baby name data is available in 2013.) More than 1,000 of the entertainer’s namesakes were born between 2000 and 2004.”
Similarly in 2014, the most popular name for a South African baby girl was Iminathi. There were 1,116 girl birth certificates registered that year. According to XY Baby Names “Iminathi is ranked #30854 for the most popular names in the world. The gender distribution of people named Iminathi is 67% girls and 33% boys.
Of Zulu origin, Iminathi is a Xhosa name meaning he is with us. We love the name Xhose for a little girl too. Pronounced ZO-SHA, this girls name is also a South African girls name that means sweet.
According to She Knows, people with the name Xhosa “tend to be a powerful force to all whose lives they touch. They are capable, charismatic leaders who often undertake large endeavors with great success. They value truth, justice, and discipline, and may be quick-tempered with those who do not. If they fail to develop their potential, they may become impractical and rigid.”
Pronounced JUNE-YOUR, according to Statistics South Africa “the most popular baby name for boys in 2014 in South Africa was Junior” with 1,137 registered birth certificates. In the United States, Junior was the 830th most popular name for boys.
And, nearly 40,000 boys have been born in America with the name Junior since the year 1880. According to the SSA “the greatest number of people were given this name in 1926, when 1,591 people in the U.S. were given the name Junior. Those people are now 90 years old.”
Of Latin origin, Junior means young and is best known as a term of endearment for a boy who was given the same name as his father.