How Jomo Kenyatta's Name Changed Five Times

  • The name of Kenya's founding President, Jomo Kenyatta, changed at least five times during his lifetime.

    Tracing the origins of these changes reveals information that is intertwined with the country's history and the events that shaped the colonial era.

    Born Kamau wa Muigai (Kamau son of Muigai) in a year believed to be around 1893, Kenyatta lost his father Muigai at a young age.

    He was taken in by his uncle Ngengi, thus becoming Kamau wa Ngengi.

    After training for three years with the Church Missionaries of Scotland (CMS) mission at Thogoto, Kiambu, he was baptized in 1914 and became Johnstone Kamau wa Ngengi.

    [caption caption="File image of Jomo Kenyatta (Courtesy)"][/caption]

    According to historical reports, he had Maasai relatives in Narok whom he used to visit regularly and, during this time, he developed a fascination with the beaded Maasai belt known as 'Kinyatta'.

    He apparently liked it so much that, around the year 1928, he dropped his second and third name and became Johnstone Kenyatta.

    In 1938, Kenyatta was in the United Kingdom (UK) due to present his thesis in search of a Diploma in Anthropology from the London School of Economics (LSE).

    His supervisor was Proffesor Bronislaw Malinowiski, a renowned scholar who is still considered one of the most important 20th-century anthropologists.

    Under the guidance of Malinowiski, Kenyatta prepared his 1938 thesis on Kikuyu Customary Law titled Facing Mt. Kenya.

    It is widely believed that Malinowiski prevailed upon Kenyatta to adopt a more authentic African persona by dropping his Anglicised name given that he was also to appear on the cover of the thesis/book in Kikuyu customary attire.

    Little information was available about African culture at the time and, therefore, the move was explained as necessary so as not to have a mismatch or create confusion.

    Other reports, however, claim that it was Kenyatta's brother-in-law, Mbiyu Koinange, who was also in London at the time that advised him to Africanise his name entirely.

    He finally adopted Jomo Kenyatta, with Jomo believed to be a combination of the names Johnstone Muigai.

    [caption caption="File image of Jomo Kenyatta (Courtesy)"][/caption]