Kikuyu Names for Boys and Their Meaning
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
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.
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
56. Kamotho - 'Kimotho' means left hand. 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.
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
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
What does 'mũthii' mean in the Kikuyu language?
mũthii - the one who travels, goes away.Helpful 19
What is the meaning of the name "Kĩragũ"?
Kĩragũ - this name is associated with a traditional doctor, Mũragũri, MũgoHelpful 15
What is the meaning of the Kikuyu name Gĩchũrũ?
Gĩchũrũ - porridge (big porridge)Helpful 12
What is the meaning of the name kĩgera?
kĩgera - A square stone or other material. It could be a large block or something.Helpful 8
What is the meaning of mũritũ?
mũritũ - heavy personHelpful 8
© 2011 Emmanuel Kariuki