Emmanuel Kariuki is a native Kikuyu speaker and has written extensively about the Kikuyu community and the language on Hubpages
The Kikuyu people of Kenya have a very specific way of naming children. The firstborn son is always given the same name as his paternal grandfather. The old man is usually very eager to be named and may start insinuating that 'he wants to be born' if the couple lingers too long.
The child may, however, have a different baptism name. The second son is always given the name of the maternal grandfather. If the mother of the child came from a single-parent home, this might present a problem and she may name him after her own grandfather.
In the same vein, the first daughter is given the name of her paternal grandmother and the second daughter is named after her maternal grandmother. Subsequent boys are named after their paternal and maternal uncles alternately.
The next girls are named after their paternal and maternal aunties alternately. What happens when a couple has more children that there are living immediate relatives? In such a case, some research is done to determine who would have been next in line if he had lived. If it happens that a person was never named after a grandchild, the line can still be traced to a great or even great-great-grandchild.
No one really dies among the Kikuyu since he or she is likely to be reincarnated in his grandchildren or brother's children.
It should be noted that some names like 'gathua' - the limping one, may have started as nicknames. A nickname was passed on into the mainstream with the approval of the old man who owned it.
Below is a list of some boy's names.
2. Chomba - The Arabs who traded with the Kikuyu around present-day Kikuyu town on the caravan route from the coast were called 'chomba' by the Kikuyu. Today the term is used to refer to the Europeans.
3. Ciugũ – Relating to cow-pens (where the cows sleep)
4. G ĩchere – A shard, or a piece of something like a gourd or pot
9. Gachũhĩ – A small finger ring, or earring
13. Gathenya - a small gap (usually in between the front teeth)
18. Gathua - The one who limps (diminutive)
19. Gathuuri - The old man (diminutive)
20. Gatimũ - A spear (diminutive)
23. Gĩchohi – The big beer. This was probably first given to a person who made a lot of beer or drank a lot of it.
24. Gĩchuhĩ - A finger ring, e.g. wedding ring
25. Gĩchũki - A big bee
26. Gĩchũrũ - A big ‘porridge’
27. Gĩkonyo - A big belly button
28. Gĩtahi - The big one who gets a liquid (water, beer etc.) — In Kikuyu, to get a liquid from a container cannot translate to emptying. It is more like taking or getting.
30. Gĩtaũ - There was a Gĩtaũ riika initiated in 1847
31. Gĩthaiga - The big medicine or herb
33. Gĩthĩnji - The slaughterer (of goats or cows)
35. Gĩtonga - The rich one
36. Gĩtukũ – The big darkness (big night)
37. Gĩtũma - The big arrowroot (tuber)
39. Goko - The small hand
40. Hinga - The hypocrite. The name was also given to a person who could speak more than one language.
48. Kahara – A bold head is called a 'Kĩhara.' It may have started as a nickname. The prefix 'Ka' is diminutive. The grandchild was then called by this namesake’s nickname with approval from the old man.
50. Kahũthia - the one who makes seemingly heavy things appear light.
51. Kairu – The small black one
52. Kamande - There was a Kamande riika (initiation age set) in 1902
54. Kamau - There was a Kamau riika initiated in 1845
55. Kĩmotho - Big left handed
56. Kamotho - small left handed. A child may have been jokingly called 'kamotho' by his peers, and the name stuck. When he became a grandfather, he authorised the name to be used formally. Of course, not all 'Kamothos' are left-handed as the name entered the mainstream ages ago.
59. Karanja - I was informed that this name was first given to an age set that had been afflicted by a strange disease. The sufferers spent inordinately long periods out in the sun, warming themselves. Kwara means to lay out, nja means outside. The Karanja riika was initiated in 1852. Cagnolo records that there was a famine 'of the small bones' at the time.
60. Karĩmi - Kurima is to dig (or to farm). Karĩmi is the small farmer.
61. Kariũki - When a child died soon after birth, the family may decide to give the next child an alternative name like Kariuki, or Muchoki - the reincarnated one. Kariuki is among the most common Kikuyu names.
63. Karungu - the one of under. 'Rungu' means 'under'
64. Kenyatta - The first president of the Republic of Kenya was known as Njomo Kenyatta. Both were nick-names. His real names were Johnstone Kamau wa Muigai
66. Kĩbakĩ – The big tobacco leaf (The third president of the Republic of Kenya is Mwai Kĩbakĩ)
69. Kĩhara - Baldness
70. Kĩhĩa - the big horn
71. Kĩhiũ - the big knife
72. Kĩhoro - he big cold one
74. Kĩmani - Cagnolo has given the name to mean 'eating beans'. There were two riikas initiated in 1849 and 1850
76. Kĩmotho - The left handed one
77. Kĩmunya - The one who uproots plants
80. Kinũthia - A Kinuthia riika was initiated in 1851
82. Kĩnyua - The one who drinks
83. Kĩoi - The one who lifts
84. Kĩongo - The head
87. Kĩrĩma - The mountain
88. Kogĩ - The small sharp one (sharp brain)
89. Koinange - There was a Koinange riika in 1879
92. Macharia - The one who looks for, searches (in a big way)
94. Maina - Maina was a 'ruling generation' name among the Kikuyu and an age set name (riika) among many Bantu communities in Kenya. This name is common to almost all the communities in Kenya, including the Kalenjin and Luo who are Nilotic. Mwangi and Irungu are also ruling generation names. Dr. Muriuki (A history of the Kikuyu- 1500 to 1900) gives the meaning of “Maina”, a generation set, as being derived from “kuina”, to sing or dance. “Mwangi”, another generation set is derived from “kwanga”, which he states is “rapid expansion."
95. Maitho - Eyes
96. Mathenge – Thenge (he goat)
97. Matu - Clouds
103. Mũchoki - The one who returns (initially a child who replaced a departed one but it is often a name handed down from a grandfather to a grandchild like other Kikuyu names.)
104. Mũciri - The one who participates in a judicial hearing
106. Mũgo - The diviner priest. The Kikuyu have a saying - gũtirĩ kĩrĩra gĩtarĩ mũndũ mũgo wakĩo- Every religion has its priest. A Catholic priest was just another 'mugo' according to the ancient Kikuyu.
119. Mũraya – The tall one
121. Murigo – The burden (luggage)
122. Mũrĩithi – The herdsman
123. Mũrĩmi – The farmer
124. Mũrira – The one who protects
125. Mũrĩranja – The one who protects the courtyard
126. Mũrĩu – The drunkard
127. Muriũki – The one who resurrected
128. Mũrũngarũ – The upright one
129. Mũtegi – The trapper (of animals)
130. Mũthĩnji – The slaughter (of animals)
131. Mũthũi – The honey tapper
132. Mũthũngũ – The white man
133. Mũtiga – The one who abandons
134. Mũtugi – The generous one
137. Mwagĩru – The good one
139. Mwangi - This is another generation derived from “kwanga," which Dr. Muriuki states means “rapid expansion”.
140. Mwanĩki - Beekeeper, one who hangs bee burrels on trees
141. Mwathi – The hunter-gatherer
142. Ndegwa – The bull
145. Ndirangũ - Prohibiting war. A Ndirangũ riika was initiated in 1862
147. Ng'ang'a - Two Ng'ang'a riikas were initiated in 1856 and 1857
148. Ngarĩ – The leopard
152. Ngigĩ – Locust (there were several Ngigĩ riikas in the past to commemorate locust invasions).
155. Ngũgĩ - There was a Ngũgĩ riika in 1876
160. Njaũ – Calf (baby of a cow)
161. Njenga - Broken bits of maize. Maize was foreign to the Kikuyu before the coming of the Portuguese at the coast. When the Kikuyu first saw maize, it looked quite like the hailstones that came with heavy rain - mbura ya bebe. And so they called maize, bebe. When they crashed maize in a pestle and mortar, the result was sand like grains - Njenga. The word has the same roots as the Swahili 'chenga chenga' for many grains or bits of something.
162. Njerũ – White one
163. Njogu – The elephant
165. Njomo – The first president of the Republic of Kenya was known as Njomo Kenyatta. Both were nicknames. His real names were Johnstone Kamau wa Muigai
167. Njoroge - A Njoroge riika was initiated in 1858
168. Njuguna - A Njuguna riika was initiated in 1853, soon after the Karanja famine.
169. Njũki - The bee
170. Nyamu - Animal
182. Wainaina - Courageous. A Wainaina riika was initiated in 1861
183. Waita – Of war
188. Wamiti - Of the trees (herbs)
189. Wamũgũnda – Of the farmland
192. Wang’ondu – Of the sheep
195. Warũĩ – Of the river
197. Watene – Of long ago
Questions & Answers
Question: What does 'mũthii' mean in the Kikuyu language?
Answer: mũthii - the one who travels, goes away.
Question: What is the meaning of the name "Kĩragũ"?
Answer: Kĩragũ - this name is associated with a traditional doctor, Mũragũri, Mũgo
Question: What is the meaning of the Kikuyu name Gĩchũrũ?
Answer: Gĩchũrũ - porridge (big porridge)
Question: What is the meaning of mũritũ?
Answer: mũritũ - heavy person
Question: What is the meaning of the name kĩgera?
Answer: kĩgera - A square stone or other material. It could be a large block or something.
© 2011 Emmanuel Kariuki
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on July 27, 2020:
Thanks for your motivating words. I have written for female names, yes. But not clans. Scroll my contents for "Kikuyu names for Girls and their meanings."
Rose wamaitha on July 27, 2020:
I find your articles really educative...have you written any other concerning female names and kikuyu clans?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 09, 2020:
Hello Wanyoike. You are right, we are acquainted (hahaha). You are right, Kikuyu did not have CH, until the post independence parents started to romanticize their children's names. They even add an 'H' at the end (Chegeh). I suppose we have to allow dynamism in Kikuyu too. Whatever spellings the parents put in their children's certificate gets cast "in stone' forever.
Wanyoike Wamiti on June 06, 2020:
We know each other and would like to say that I have had a lot of interest in Agíkúyú's names.
However, let me ask you: do we really have 'ch' in our alphabet or vowels? When I was learning to read and write Gikuyu, names like Cege, Gaciri, Gicuhi etc never used to have 'h' like today (Chege, Gacheru...). At what point did this change?
Hopefully, I will once have time to write a little about our names.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on April 04, 2020:
Sorry for responding late.
Unfortunately I do not know the meaning of the name Kĩnyanjui despite having the name in the family. Now that you ask, I will redouble my efforts to find out and get back.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on December 14, 2019:
Hi. Sorry, this is one of those names with obscure origins, but I will try to inquire further.
Jkwango on December 02, 2019:
Very informative article.
I would like to know the meaning and origin of the name "Kinyanjui".
Jkwango on November 04, 2019:
Nice article. Do you know the meaning of the name Kĩnyanjui?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on March 31, 2019:
Hi Daniel Wagitungo Kamau. That Eulogy would be an interesting read. Maybe you should publish it, even online so that those in your lineage, both in Murang'a and Kiambu can read it.
Hi wanguigithaiga. To the best of my knowledge, Jomo is not a conventional Kikuyu name and it is possible that Kenyatta coined it to accompany the equally unusual "Kenyatta" when he decided to dump the names "Johnstone" and "Kamau"
wanguigithaiga on March 27, 2019:
Hi.This is all very interesting.What does the name Jomo mean?Please share your suggestions on kikuyu first names i can give to my first born son together with their meanings.I am also curious as tk how a son is named when the paternal grandfather is not in the picture.Looking foward to your response.
wanguigithaiga on March 27, 2019:
Hi.This is all very interesesting
Daniel Wagitungo Kamau from Nairobi Kenya on February 15, 2019:
There was an old man whose father was a brother to my great grandfather.This old man had a lot of rich history pertaining to the period of pre-migration & migration of us Mbari ya Kihara from Murang'a until we settled in Kiambu.since i am fascinated & interested in my family's history,i would sit with him and he would narrate these stories which collaborated with what i had been told by my father & paternal grandmother. That old Man died in 1999 when i was still a very young man in school.he wrote his own eulogy before he died and in it,he narrated how our family migrated from Murang'a and how he was able to arrive at the year 1780 using the Mariika ( age set) system and natural events such as famine,floods,disease etc.His wish was the eulogy to be read as it was so as to educate the young about our origins.His eulogy was about 20 pages long.He was very bright in matters History and he had a small note book in which he kept written records of events in Kikuyu land since time immemorial.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on February 13, 2019:
Thanks Daniel. That was very insightful. How did you arrive at the year 1780?
Daniel Wagitungo Kamau from Nairobi Kenya on February 08, 2019:
Mwai Wa Nderi,
The Kienjeku age group were/was circumcised in 1898. My great Grandfather,Kamau Wa Wangunyu or 'Mutumbu' belonged to this age group.
We are from Kiambu,though our origins was in Murang'a.My family,mbari ya Kihara, were among the first families to arrive in Kiambu( present day Muthaiga,Gigiri,Gachie,Karura) in 1780 (4 years after the U.S attained independence).
'Nderi' means Vulture not eagle.
From the little i know from my Paternal grand Mother,Mwai means to lie down something so as to dry it. e.g,Sheep,Goat Skin,Tobacco leaves have to lay down in the sun to dry.Therefore,your grandfather ( or the one he was named after) must have been good at doing the same thing hence the name 'Mwai'
Takinya- might mean;
1) To arrive
2) To step on something.
hope that was helpful.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on September 22, 2018:
Thanks Ngugi Wagitungo K .
We learn everyday. I did not know that Wamaitha has any connection with the Maasai.
Daniel Wagitungo Kamau from Nairobi Kenya on August 31, 2018:
allow me to give meaning/shed light on kikuyu names mentioned below as i understand them from my paternal grandmother,maternal grandfather & father.Also names of places in Kikuyu Land.
1) Njenga-Was a riika name where the initiates were fed crushed maize.
2) Githuku-was a skin disease that afflicated Kikuyuland sometimes in the 16th &17th Century.some boys were given this name to distinguish them from their grandfathers names( who they were named after & held similar names) cousins & close relatives.
3) Mungai-skin disease like small pox that also swept through Kikuyuland.Those circumcised during that time were given this name.
4) Gakuo- Given to a boy child.this happened when the baby become so sick,passed out( faint) and people would think the baby had died only to later cough up & wake up hence 'kaana gakuo' ( dead baby)
5) Wainaina-An age group circumcised in the 1860's. The initiates trembled due to the morning cold weather & the very cold river water.the initiates were named Wainaina meaning the one who trembles.
6) Waweru-Born in desert/dry places such as Kamba Land or places like ndieya in Limuru Kiambu where men would go to graze their livestock ( mahiu) and their wives would travel there to supply them with food & water.during this times,a boy may be born there hence the name or born during famine when there was little vegetation like the famine of the mid 1800's & early 1900's in Kikuyu land.The boy child would be named after a person who came or visited such dry places.
7) Nyokabi-one who Came from maasai land.This name was given to girls who had been abducted from maasai's by Kikuyu warriors during raids in Maasai land.Since warriors never killed girls during these raids,they would carry the girls back home,raise them & later sell them off as their daughters.Since the girl's name was not known,they would call the girl Nyokabi ( literally meaning 'okabi' maasai).This raids happenned in Kikiuyuland as recently as 1930's with my grandfather( who died this year 2018 aged 111) participating & witnessing such an abduction in a place called 'Nachu' in Ndeiya Limuru.
8) Wamaitha-same as Nyokabi above.'Maitha' is another name Kikuyus refer to the Maasai
9) Njoki-Literally meaning the resurrected one.This name was given to a baby girl after death of a previous baby girl.If the deaths happened twice,then the third girl to replace the one that died before,would be called 'Njoki'.This the Kikuyu's believed,would confuse the death spirits and the baby would survive. Curiously,this always worked.Please note all Kikuyu girls have the 9 nine clans names.Even those named Njoki had an original name like Wambui,Waithira,Wangu,Wanjiru...etc
10) Kiambu- It is a mbari in Kiambu.Its ancestor was named 'Mbuu' hence the name Kiambu meaning the village of 'Mbuu' ( gicagi Kia Mbari ya Mbuu)
11) Nyeri- Nyeri is a Maasai word meaning 'red'. The Maasai's gave this name since the soils in Nyeri are red in Colour.The maasai's were the original inhabitants of this palce.Nyeri was originally called 'Gaki' by the Kikuyu's.When the Maasai were describing the place they would say 'Nyeri' meaning place of red soils and the name stuck.
12) Karura-This were large green leafy wild vegetation( they looked like Nduma (arrow roots) growing along rivers in Kiambu but are now extinct.Hence Karura forest in Nairobi is named after a river that passes through it.
13) Ruaraka( Nairobi)-This name comes from Ruui Rwaka( Rwaka River) The Europeans could not pronounce it well so they said "Ruaraka'
14) Ruiru-This is a river that passes in or near Ruiru town.It has big blackish stones making the water look black.hence the Kikuyu's called it 'Ruiru' meaning the black river
15) Gigiri-UNEP. This name comes from the kikuyu word ' Thigirii'.It is basically a river that passes through Karura Forest.The Europeans could not pronounce it well so they said'Gigiri'.Another corruption of the word is 'Thigiri'
16) Muthaiga-came from the word 'Muthiga' which is a tree that grew in abundance in this place,Muthiga.The Karura Kikuyu would harvest herbs from the forest ( Karura forest is a remnant of this) to make poisons for their arrows. when The Europeans came,they asked what the name of the forest was were told 'mutitu wa Muthiga' They could not pronounce the name well & corrupted it to Muthaiga to suit their pronunciation.
Anothert boys name is 'Mwai' it basically means to spread something like maize out in the sun to dry.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 03, 2018:
I have been unable to fathom the meaning of Kagwanyu.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 03, 2018:
Some names are difficult to unravel. could you transcribe in English how you pronounce it?
Is the the U in Nju as in Uruguay or as in O - ode ?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on April 12, 2018:
Mwai wa Nderi,
Hi. Am really sorry for not keeping tabs with my page. I do not have information on your questions. Below is my contribution, which is definitely inadequate.
Takinya - just arrive. That is the literal meaning.
Mwai is common in Nyeri and not Murang'a or Kiambu. That is all I know about the name.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on April 12, 2018:
Forgive me for responding late. I never saw the notification.
But it seems you managed to contact me elsewhere and I answered you. However, for the sake of others, I answer.
A woman does not name her father twice just because she has married several men, or has had children by several men. She merely names the man's father when it is his turn. When it is her turn, she names the next relative in the queue.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on April 12, 2018:
Wanjiru 40 -
Hi. sorry for responding six months late. I did not see the notification.
Ofcourse you can give you child her Kikuyu name. If you husband is not Kikuyu and you still want to give all your children kikuyu names, you can act as though they were all born by a single parent and give them your relatives name. If I were you, I would pretend that my husband is Kikuyu. Let say your first born is a boy and your father's name was Joseph. Give that Joseph a Kikuyu name eg. Kamau, then name your son Kamau. The next boy will be named after your own father.
The first girl should be named after the father's mother, so again you can give the mother an African name eg. Njeri, then call your daughter Njeri.
I hope my answer is satisfactory.
Mwai wa Nderi on January 20, 2018:
@kariuki Thanks for the article its very helpful.
my great great grandpa name was Nderi meaning eagle, his riika was Mwaura 1830. I am trying to find out the origin of the name.
What I would like to know is the meaning of the name Mwai being the name of my great grandpa of whom am named after, his riika wa Kienjeku am not sure when..
Also the meaning of the name Takinya.
Minneh Kane on October 10, 2017:
Thanks or all the very useful articles you have on this site. I have a question about the Kikuyu naming system. I see you wrote this article some time ago, but I hope you still look at comments/questions and will find time to consider this one which my friends and I are debating. In the polygamous system, if a man has more than one wife, then the first born son of each wife is named after the man's father. What would be the situation if a woman had more than one husband (due to death for example). Suppose she was married and had two sons. She would name the first son after her husband's father and the second son after her own father. Suppose that her husband dies and she re-marries. Would she name her second son by the second husband after her own father again (thus having two sons with the same name)? Also, what if a woman has several children "at home" (or while being unmarried)? Would she keep naming the first son from each man after her father? Many thanks for your thoughts on this issue.
wanjiru40 on September 19, 2017:
Hi i have a question : i am half Kikuyu , named after my paternal grandmother. So when i have a child , can i give him / her a kikuyu name eventhough i am girl ? This would mean that my first born would not be named after paternal grandmother , but maybe maternal grandfather /aunt/uncle or cousin ? it would be sad to end the heritage ...
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on August 06, 2017:
Hi Wangui Kaguanyu. Unfortunately even elders have forgotten the origins of some Kikuyu names like your husbands name. Perhaps for you there is still hope if you can seek out the oldest members of your husband's family. It may have been a nickname that stack to be handed down. Some nicknames remain family secrets.
Wangui Kaguanyu on July 31, 2017:
My husband's second name is Kaguanyu. This name is not only rare on the web but i also can't seem to find the meaning. What does it mean?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on July 29, 2017:
I worked in a broadcasting house with a man named Njonjo who used to come from an area between Kinoo and Kikuyu but he is now deceased. Perhaps you are related with him and the Kenyatta era Atorney General. Charles Njonjo.
Njubi muiruri on June 17, 2017:
@kariuki, thank you for your quick response. Am told my great great grandfather named Njubi Njonjo migrated from muranga and settled in lower kabete. Those are the hints I have so far
Njubi muiruri on June 17, 2017:
@kariuki, thank you for your reply. My great great grandfather named Njubi Njonjo migrated from muranga then settled in lower kabete. Those are the hints I have so far.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 16, 2017:
Hi, Njubi Muiruri. I have not heard of your name but I will ask some elders and respond later.
Njubi muiruri on June 16, 2017:
@Emmanuel Kariuki would you help me understand the meaning of my name Njubi and where it originated?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on August 26, 2015:
Thanks for this question and sory for taking time to answer.
Mūkono - If a man stretched out his hands (to the left and to the right), the length from one outstretched hand to the other was one “mukono,” a form of measurement no longer in use.
The remnants of banana flower after the formation of a bunch of bananas is called ‘a banana “mukono” which is used as stopper or lid
for water containers
Njagī - Rhinocerous
Mūkuria – meaning not clear
Gīoce – any contraption to help lift heavy objects the way a modern crane functions
Mūirūrī – boys name from ancient times - meaning not clear
I hope that helps
Marira-ikihia on August 08, 2015:
What do the following names mean- Mūkono, Njagī, Mūkuria,Gīoce, Mūirūrī.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 17, 2015:
Hello Mugo Mutungi.
Thanks for that insight. I would also have guessed that the name Mutungi has something to do with a water container. Your information will be of great help to others.
Mugo Mutungi on June 07, 2015:
The origin of my first name is no mystery. My second name 'Mutungi' is rare in Gikuyu but very common among the Meru and the Kamba. Friends sometimes call me' Jerrycan' insinuating that my name originated from the Gikuyu word: mutungi wa maii. However, I was able to know from grandmother the source of the name. My great great grandfather was always in the battlefront during Maasai / Gikuyu skirmishes and so my second name is derived from Gikuyu 'gutunga njamba cia ita'- confronting the enemy forces.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on March 05, 2015:
Hello Wamaitha K.
Thanks for visiting my page and finding it useful. My sources are old books like the Akikuyu by Cagnolo and old knowledgeable Kikuyus. For example I have just asked about Gitau. Though this may not be the real origin of the name, Kikuyus used to roast unripe bananas then hold two or three and press them in the palm to form a sort of bread. This lump was taken with tea or porridge and was called "Gitau kia marigu".
Kiambuthi is from Mbuthi - the seeds and small stones that were thrown to the ground by a diviner so Kiambuthi would mean "of the diviner pebbles." It was probably given to a diviner or diviner's son as a nick name before it joined mainstream names. Sometimes conjecture is all we have to rely on so I cannot speak authoritatively about a name such as Kariri and Keguro unless of I an elder who is certain or I find a document by early writers like Leakey, Cagnolo and Jomo.
WamaithaK on March 04, 2015:
Thank you for your article, Kariuki. I am curious about some of the names which originated from riikas, like Gitau. Where do you find your sources for riika names, and can I access them in the states? Also, what about Kariri, Kiambuthi, and Kiguro (often spelled phonetically, like Keguro)?
Mware Wa Mbatia on January 03, 2015:
Ne thegio, I appreciate. You suspicion are as mine.
Do ask, if i.e my grandfather who I never met was called Mbatia n my dad's sisters had such names relating to maasai i e nyokabi ( of maasai).
My dad keeps ditching the my wanting to duscuss who my grandpa was.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on January 02, 2015:
Mware Wa Mbatia - I highly suspect it is originally Maasai. I will try to ask around and see if there is another explanation.
Mware Wa Mbatia on January 01, 2015:
Thumbs up for the info found here.
I ended up here after a long search of kikuyu naming system.
Curious about my grandfather by name Mbatia.
So little is known about this name and the little leads to Mbatian.
Any clue about this name? Is it originally maasai or kikuyu?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on March 19, 2014:
I would go with "Courageous" for Wanaina as was handed down orally - If someone was to shiver during Circumcision, the matter would be so embarrassing that it would not be honoured with a name.
Clans do not change - you and your sisters belong to your fathers clan, he to his father's, and your grandfather to his father's without change. Your sister's children will however belong to her husbands clan.
Wainaina Njenga on March 18, 2014:
Your research on Kikuyu culture and traditions is breathtaking, however I would like you to clarify whether the name Wainaina means courageous(as you have indicated) or the one who shivers(during circumcision) keeping in mind that "riitwa ni ria gukuria muana"
In addition, there are other names such as Gachahi, Gathata, Kahihia, Kagiri , Wandeto...
Do clans change from one generation to another or do I belong to the same clan as my father, grandfather, children and grandchildren?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on January 09, 2014:
Deusdedit Munthal, thanks for your comment. Only some sections of Kikuyu use animals names and that may point to a certain direction in their migration.
Deusdedit Shija Munthali from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania on January 08, 2014:
It was very interesting to me to get to know the meaning of the Kikuyu boys and girls nanes. Especially the names that reference animals. In the South of Tanzania, there is a Ngoni tribe that resembles the Kikuyu for these names that reference animals. They have mapunda - donkeys, Simba, nguruwe, nyoka, Tembo Mbawala - deer, komba - etc.
Kamau on June 11, 2012:
I've also found Mugi, Kibuku, Nguyai and Munyari
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 27, 2012:
Thanks Kamau, Keep them coming.
Ngureco, we differ only one point. I think the Murang'a Kikuyu were the same group spreading into Kiambu after the Embu became more distinct and ceased calling themselves the Kembu. However, It appears to me like the Nyeri Kikuyu came a bit late on the trail from Ethiopia by between 30 and 60 years. This is because they have a different name for the Muirungu and Chuma 'ituika' names which might imply that they held the ceremony separately from the Murang'a Kikuyu.
Kamau on May 25, 2012:
You also don't have Gatuna
ngureco on May 24, 2012:
I hope you will have to excuse me for introducing migration of Kikuyu on this hub – a hub that is discussing the Kikuyu names for boys. We may have to do so in an attempt to try and understand why some areas are having some boys’ names referencing animals.
Your speculation that people arrived/expanded to Nyeri and Kiambu latter after they had first settled in Muranga is most likely to be correct.
My believe is that to migrate to upper Nyeri may not have been an easy task as it may look today – the families, including children and the elderly had to cross thagana, which 400 years ago may have carried twice as much volume of water as it does today. Crossing such a river required lots of preparations and in those days that was not a mean task if the naming of the senior clan of Aembu as thagana a.k.a nguua migogo is anything to go by.
My supposition is that upon crossing into Mathira and Nyeri, they were joined by another group of Kikuyu who were late arrivals from Kirinyaga in search for better settlements. In the process there was a lot of integration of these two groups as mobility was now easier and the names referencing animals came into play. It is this second group that carried the names referencing animals.
It’s my conjecture that the Kirinyaga group seems to have migrated along the right side of Thagana from Nyambene hills whilst the Muranga groups seems to have migrated on the right side of Athi river through Chania river and into Ithanga, Makuyu and Muranga.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 23, 2012:
Yours is a thought provoking question and I will throw in some speculation.
1. Maina and Mwangi are commong because each ruling generation was either a Mwangi or a Maina (Leakey has called them generic names because there were actually nine known Ituika names). It was common for people to be called by their Riika names instead of their true names and the ruling generations cut across Kiambu (Karura), Muranga (Metumi) and Nyeri (Gaki)
2. Animal related names are more common in Nyeri because (speculation) I believe the Nyeri group arrived last and in their wondering were influenced more by the naming methods of the communities they cam across than say the Muranga who had settled earlier.
I believe that Muranga and Kiambu names do not differ much.
ngureco on May 23, 2012:
Some names are more common in Kiambu and Muranga than they are in Nyeri and Kirinyaga. For example: Cege, Gitau, Kamau, Kangethe, Karanja, Kiarii, Kimani, Kinuthia, Kinyanjui, Mbugua, Mburu, Nganga, Njenga, Njiri, Njoroge, Njuguna and Wainaina are more common in Kiambu and Muranga.
The names that reference animals are more common in Nyeri and Kirinyaga. Names such as: Mathenge, Nyamu, Njogu, Muruthi, Wangombe, Ngari, Njau, Mbogo, Kamunyi, Nguku, Ndegwa.
The names Mwangi and Maina seem to be common in all the four districts.
What happened especially when one considers that the 9-plus clans are uniformly distributed in all the four districts?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 22, 2012:
Thanks Kamau. Kikuyu names are endless it seems, but we should strive to have as many as possible. Will update soon.
Kamau on May 22, 2012:
You also don't have Githu, Githae, Njai and Mahihu
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 22, 2012:
I believe Mucugi means the feather that one added to his or her head during a dance. Any one else with another idea?
My own specualation about Kiambu is - Kia (of) mbu (distress call). The Embu people were once called Kembu before they detached from the main group so more Kikuyu from Central moved into the Peryphery to act as Distress callers when attacks were made. This would give the Kikuyu in the interior time to mobilise. Muriuki G. (Historian) does not agree with that and is categorical that a man called Mbuu started "Mbari ya Mbuu" - the clan of Mbuu, and then moved south into present day Kiambu which is named after him. I choose to go with my own speculation. Nyeri could have been a clan or people who are also represented in that area called Ntonyiri in Meru.
Muchugi on May 21, 2012:
My name is very common in parts of Kiambu district (Mucugi) and I don't have a clue what it means. someone joked it's related to dancing or jumping?? Great job on this site and keep up. Anyone who knows what names of various places like Kiambu, Nyeri etc mean?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 12, 2012:
I had said that because the Kikuyu saw the owl as a harbinger of death, no one would have wanted to be associated with it, therefore, Ndundu as a person's name could not have been associated with the owl. Since then, an old Kikuyu saying came to mind - ita ritari ndundu rihuragwo na njuguma imwe - a warrior group that is not united is beaten with one club (knobkerie). Ndundu is therefore a united group or platoon and also connotes 'unity'
Kamau on May 11, 2012:
Google Kikuyu people and select the Wikipedia link. It might hold a clue as to the name Ndundu which isn't an owl as you said but has to do with the old Kikuyu judicial system.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 09, 2012:
Mbiyu will be promptly added in this 'work in progress.'
Kamau on May 08, 2012:
You don't have the name Mbiyu like Jomo Kenyatta's brother-in-law Mbiyu Koinange
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 04, 2012:
Grace Wanjiku, you are most welcome. We will continue updating.
Grace Wanjiku on May 04, 2012:
Did not know that Kibunja was a kikuyu name,am grateful for the kikuyu names knowledge provided by all of you.
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 03, 2012:
It is likely there was a Kamba ancestor. You could ask the oldest relative to confirm. Intermarriages are common in Muranga along the common border on the Kenol, Makuyu, sagana road. Saying Siro instead of Shiro may be just modernity since letter 'S' has entered Kikuyu through English and Swahili usage. Ndundu is an owl, but since it was feared to cause death, I doubt anyone would carry its name.
Kamau on May 03, 2012:
Thanks for the help. The name Muchembi is in my family, does that mean that we could have Kamba ancestors somewhere? I'm from Muranga where we say susu instead of the more common 'shosho'. Also, a lot of words are pronounced with the distinctive Kamba 's' instead of sh like in the example above. I have a cousin named Wanjiru but we pronounce it siru instead of the more common shiru. I know Ndundu is an owl
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 03, 2012:
Hello Thuo, I have still not found the meaning of Thuo, but I will keep the search.
Kamau, you cannot use the 'special characters' in this comment capsules, they will appear as question marks.
Githii, was the cloak that was worn by men. Rich men and chiefs would wear cloaks made from colobus monkey or other special animal. Gathee, an old small man; Muthee - and old man; Muchembi- from the Kamba Musembi; Kabata - a Kikuyu dance; Getei - ? Karabu - ? Kiambiroiro - the name of a mountain; Kamiti - of trees; Ndundu -? Huhu- a bat; Muhunyu -? Ruiru - a ruver by that name; Ruhiu - a big knife; Wakhungu- ? Wahiga - perhaps associated with a stone; Ng'arua -? Kahiga - small stone; Waikhenye-? Wakiihuri - of the calabash; Nderu - beard; Gachiengo-? Igeria - one who tries; Rie (i think Rie might be short of something but i can't figure out what)- ?, Gicicio - mirror; Gashamba - strong male; Makara - charcoal; Ikinya - step (footstep). I have put question marks where I have no idea.
Kamau on April 28, 2012:
It's a pity I can't write the names in proper Gikuyu alphabet
Kamau on April 28, 2012:
My brother is called Githii, I wonder if you know what that means. I've also heard Gathee, Muthee. There is Muchembi, Kabata, Getei, Karabu, Kiambiroiro, Kamiti, Ndundu, Huhu, Muhunyu, Ruiru, Ruhiu, Wakhungu, Wahiga, Ng'arua, Kahiga, Waikhenye, Wakiihuri, Nderu, Gachiengo, Igeria, Rie (i think Rie might be short of something but i can't figure out what), Gicicio, Gashamba, Makara, Ikinya.
Thuo on February 09, 2012:
Hi, I am trying to find the meaning of the name Thuo. I am half German-Half Kikuyu and I would be quite pleased if anyone assisted me to know the meaning and origin of my name
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on November 17, 2011:
The average Kikuyu will tell you the 'shyness' interpretation because the word 'thoni' is use everyday to mean shy. A week will not pass before someone says "I felt thoni, Why are feeling thoni before your own cousin etc. The word also means shame. A child will be told 'nd nduri na thoni! literaly 'you have no shame.' It is not surprising then that Muthoni is associated more with Shyness than with 'in-law'
About 'gakuo'. This comment box will not allow me to use Kikuyu characters so where the u should have a sign above it I will bracket it.
Gakuo - (o like in always):a small piece of cloth
Gaku(u) - o like in own) with a strees on the middle 'u':small hippo from the word 'ngu(u)
Gaku(u)- with a quick transition from the middle 'u' to the last one: small dead one.
I have given you the three above because Kikuyu is tonal and the meaning could lie anywhere.
Now about unfortunate names - People seem to love whatever name they were given regardless of its meaning. The Kikuyu have a proverb: ritwa ni ria gukuria mwana (a name is for the child to grow): Don't attach too much to a name.
Ponder about these names:
Murage - the killed one
Wamuku(u) - belonging to the dead one
Muite - the strangled one
Muriu - the drunkard
Ngondu - Sheep (the Kikuyu believed that sheep were among the most stupid animals, and I suspect people with this name suffered excessive bullying)
So, a name is for the child to grow.
malaika on November 17, 2011:
Thanks for the explanation on Muthoni! That's so interesting! I wonder if that tradition/origin is common knowledge among the average Kikuyu since even a child could tell me it had to do with shyness.
Thanks for your quick reply! I wasn't expecting that so fast but its great.
Another suggestion: Gakuo (I believe this means small dead thing--an unfortunate name)
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on November 14, 2011:
Hello Malaika, thanks for the compliments. That will give me some fuel for a few more years.
As you say, this is a work in progress. For some names, there aren't any Kikuyu people alive who know the meaning so I am still researching. For example, my Clan name is 'Anjiru a Mbari ya Thuku - Anjiru of the House of Thuku. Thuku is common boys name. But I have not found an elderly person yet who knows the meaning.
I have checked the site with meanings of Kikuyu names. For the self explanatory names to a Kikuyu speaker it is Okay. For those that have hidden meanings, the site gives the literal one. For example, Jomo is given as 'burning spear.' That cannot be true. I read a book (I forget which) that associated the word with 'guchomora' to unsheath a sword. That to me is more credible. It was also the name of a beaded belt that kenyatta wore.
Your are right about Mungai (mu-Ngai) - of God. Another variant is Muigai - of the Devider, because God devided the land among his people so he was also the Great Devider.
I am impressed by your knowldge of Gikuyu. You are right about all the names you have mentioned. About the following names, I wish to get back to you later so that I am factual - (Chege, Gichege, Mwaniki, Ndung'u, and Wangeci).
Muthoni means 'in-law'. Athoni is the plural. Uthoni is the 'state of being an Inlaw' or the place where the in-laws stay. The Kikuyu have a proverb that says - Uthoni ndurangarangagwo. This means that one does not fool around with in-laws; one does not spend too much time with in-laws; in-laws should be given maximum respect. In other words, you should be shy when you are among your in-laws. If my mother-in-law is called Njeri, my second daughter should be called Njeri according to tradition. Now if I happen to live very near My mother-in-law, I will find it very difficult to shout 'NJERI' when I am calling my daughter. Should my Mother-in-law answer thinking that I was calling her only to find out that I was calling a child, that would be very mannerless on my part. In such a case, I would have named my daughter 'Muthoni', because of that poroximity with my Mother-in-law. In short, the name Muthoni is about shyness, but it really means in-law.
I will add the name Kairu to the hub. I always welcome suggestions. Keep the comments coming.
malaika on November 14, 2011:
I just saw your other page about Kikuyu names for girls. I overlooked the fact that this page is just for boy names! Disregard my comments/questions about girl names (Mukami, Wangeci, etc.); I will repost them on the appropriate page :)
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on November 06, 2011:
To ynw - My Mbari is Thuku but I have not found someone who can tell me the meaning. Perhaps it was a riika (cirmcusion age set) whos meaning has been forgotten.
to kiarie - I can only guess that the Kamanya is derived from 'menya - know' and that it has something to do with knowing, or knowledge.
KIARIE on November 05, 2011:
what does kamanya mean
ynw on September 26, 2011:
emmanuel - wow, that's really interesting..thank you for your help. i forgot to add the name "thuku" to the list, do you happen to know the meaning of this name?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on September 24, 2011:
Waweru means from the dry lands. Open grasslands on flat ground are called 'weru'. the word also gives the impression of dry lands, as Kamba country was known to be. It is even used for deserts. A person from Kambaland adopted by the Kikuyu would be called Waweru. The name has of course lost that original meaning.
I am not sure about Mwaura but I guess it comes from 'kwaura' - to remove a covering. Kwara - to place a cover. Mwaura was probably a person working in hides and skins to make leather goods who would be seen to 'kwaura' the skins after a given time of being stretched out in the sun to dry. This is pure conjecture. Kibutu - I have no idea. But mbutu means eyelashes. Kibutu would a big eyelash. Help from the others please.
ynw on September 22, 2011:
does anyone know the meanings of the names 'mwaura', 'waweru', and 'kibutu'?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on August 17, 2011:
You are right - Wambugu was derived from 'deviner.' Will update with more 'animal' names soon.
nderitu on August 15, 2011:
There are other names that are shared by both girls and boys in Nyeri like Wagura , in othaya it's girls name but in Tetu it's boys names .I would also like to more names like Wambugu Ihope it was derived from mbugu of a diviner,Nderi (vulture ),Wanyagia Muruuthi ,Ngatia (Lion )Kibiru
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 25, 2011:
Njenga, your name is interesting. First of all, maize was foreign to the Kikuyu before the coming of the Portuguese at the coast. When the Kikuyu first saw maize, it looked quite like the hailstones that came with heavy rain - mbura ya mbembe. And so they called Maize, mbembe. Now when they crashed maize in a pestle and mortar, the result was sand like grains - Njenga. The word has the same roots as the Swahili 'chenga chenga' for bits of something. Isn't that interesting? I will update this information besides your name. Thanks for the inciteful query.
Njenga on June 23, 2011:
what does my name mean? I hope there's some deeper meaning other than maize..ha ha
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 16, 2011:
Thanks for the additions. In MS word you get the special vowels from 'symbols' and then you 'copy paste' each time you need them. There is probably an easier way but that's the way I do it.
When updating, I will order the names alphabetically. I intend to credit readers directly in the hub when they contribute the meanings of the names. Initially I will give a literal meaning e.g. Wangombe - of cattle; followed by the origins where it is known... Work in progress.
ngureco on June 16, 2011:
Thank you. For Wachiuru, I intended to man Wachiuri.
You can also check if you have the following names: Mukundi, Munene, Muraguri, Maitho, Gathongo, Gachii, Muraya, Murigo, Ngina, Gachagua, Kimaru, Njaramba, Muchoki, Murigi, Ndiangui.
You may need excel spreadsheet to sort out the names. Where can one get Kikuyu keyboard/fonts?
Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on June 16, 2011:
Thanks for your contribution. Consider this to be a work in progress where readers' input is highly welcome so that we can have a complete database of Mt. Kenya region names.
I have included the additional names.
ngureco on June 15, 2011:
The information you have here is going to be very helpful to people. People would be interested to know the meaning of Kikuyu names for boys and girls. Perhaps you can call for your readers to suggest more names which you may have omitted (a small table with three columns can hold 300 names).
People would also be interested to know the place where each name is most common – Kiambu, Nyeri, Muranga, Kirinyaga, etc. This really is an important component of history that is getting mixed up and the sooner the various names are documented, the better.
It would also be interesting to get a similar listing of Embu and Meru names. For example, if you look at your list of names for names starting with “N” - Ndegwa, Ngare, Ngigi, Njagi, Njau, Njeru, Njogu, and Njoka, they are names that are more common in Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu and Meru than they are in Muranga and Kiambu. Why?
May I add some more names - Wamiti, Wachiuru, Nyamu, Wachira, Mwai, and Thairu?