Names in Kenya: Meaning of Popular Kenyan Surnames

  • Kenyans at Kasarani Stadium during a past Public holiday celebrations File
  • What exactly is in a name? 

    Names go much further than the individual to whom they are attached. They tell stories of communities that no history book could compete with. 

    They draw pictures of glory and greatness that no artist could attempt to illustrate.

    They’re passed from generation to generation in hopes of restoring, maintaining or creating a sense of honour.

    Nonetheless, it would be superficial to assume that a person is defined solely based upon the merit of their name. 

    A name cannot define a person, but it can definitely give them depth. It would also be superficial to think that the name of a person is simply a depiction of that specific person and his or her own personal trials and triumphs in life. 

    Kenyan surnames and African names, in general, are a window into a particular ethnic group or relation to some form of African culture or geographical region. 

    Most African communities name their children in regards to events, character, seasons, place of birth, weather, mom’s situation at birth, time of birth among other factors. 

    These surnames possess a sense of tradition, unity, distinction, pride, and honour within the community, although there are still some people who feel the need to neglect their names.

    These days, you will find people, mostly teenagers, and young adults, changing their names in order to avoid getting teased or ridiculed by peers who simply don’t understand the significance of their “weird” surnames. 

    Those who choose to change their names usually lean towards a more Western identity, not knowing that they are sacrificing respect for the very past that produced them. 

    Nevertheless, due to the tribal tensions that seem to flair up in Kenya every now and then, especially during election seasons, some people have opted to change their names to avoid ethnic profiling.

    In this article, we have compiled a list of some of the most common surnames in Kenya and their meanings.

    Maasai names

    Barmasai (One who has killed or captured a Maasai)

    Koinet (the tall one)

    Leboo (born in the bush, outside the homestead)

    Legishon (the polite one)

    Lemayian (blessed)

    Lemuanik (one from a large family)

    Lolkerra (owner of many sheep)

    Naengop (from a large place)

    Sironka (the clean one, pure)

    Kingasunye (chubby or fat)

    Kiserian (the peaceful one)

    Lankenua (lucky)

    Naeku (born in the early morning)

    Naimutiae (delayed, born in the evening)

    Naipanoi (the big one, a large baby)

    Naisiae (the hardworking, industrious one)

    Nalangu (came from far, another tribe)

    Nalutuesha (born or married when raining)

    Namelok (the sweet one)

    Namunyak (the lucky one)

    Naserian (as Kiserian, the name implies ‘peace’)

    Nataana (near, born of a neighbour)

    Nkasiogi (the one who is always in a hurry)

    Kalenjin names

    Kipkorir (born shortly before dawn)

    Kipkoech (born at dawn)

    Kimutai (born in mid-morning)

    Kibet (born at midday)

    Kiplagat (Kiplangat) (born at sunset)

    Kipkirui (born shortly after dark)

    Kipkemboi (born at night)

    Kipngetich (born when cows are taken to pasture after morning milking)

    Kiprotich (born when cattle are brought home for evening milking)

    Kipngeno (born when goats are waking up)

    Kiprono (born when sheep or goats are brought into the house in the evening)

    Kipkeino (born when sheep or goats are being milked i.e. when cows milk is short)

    Kiplimo (born among grazing cattle)

    Kipngeny (born when cattle are at a salt lick)

    Kipkosgei (born after a long labor, or a long interval between children)

    Kipchirchir (born in a hurry, after a short labor)

    Kiptanui (fainted, failed to cry or breathe at birth)

    Kipketer (born on the verandah)

    Kipchoge (born near the grain storage bin)

    Kipsang (born outdoors)

    Kipkurgat--born by the door

    Kibitok--born on the father's side of the hut, not the mothers

    Kiptoo--born when visitors are around

    Kiptum--born during circumcision ceremonies

    Kimaiyo--born when beer is being brewed or drunk

    Komen--born when beer is being brewed or drunk

    Kipruto--born away from home, on safari

    Kipchumba--born near white men, i.e. in a hospital, in a town, on a white-owned farm

    Kipkemei--born during a drought

    Kiprugut--born during a famine

    Kiptalam--born during an infestation of locusts

    Kipsigei--born on his own (i.e. the mother had no help)

    Cheruiyot (male only)--born when everyone was asleep

    Kitur--born after parents had begun to despair of having a child

    Kigen--a long-awaited son (usually born after several daughters

    Jepkorir--born shortly before dawn

    Jepkoech--born at dawn

    Jemutai--born in mid-morning

    Jebet--born at midday

    Jelagat (Jeplangat)--born at sunset

    Jepkirui--born shortly after dark

    Jepkemboi--born at night

    Jepngetich--born when cows are taken to pasture after morning milking

    Jerotich--born when cattle are brought home for evening milking

    Jepngeno--born when goats are waking up

    Jerono--born when sheep or goats are brought into the house in the evening

    Jepkeino--born when sheep or goats are being milked (i.e. when cows milk is short)

    Jeplimo--born among grazing cattle

    Jepngeny--born when cattle are at a salt lick

    Jepkosgei--born after a long labor, or a long interval between children

    Jepchirchir--born in a hurry, after a short labor

    Jeptanui--fainted, failed to cry or breathe at birth

    Jepketer--born on the verandah

    Jepchoge--born near the grain storage bin

    Jepsang--born outdoors

    Jepkurgat--born by the door

    Jebitok--born on the father's side of the hut, not the mothers

    Jeptoo--born when visitors are around

    Jeptum--born during circumcision ceremonies

    Jemaiyo--born when beer is being brewed or drunk

    Jeruto--born away from home, on safari

    Jepchumba--born near white men, i.e. in a hospital, in a town, on a white-owned farm

    Jepkemei--born during a drought

    Jeprugut--born during a famine

    Jeptalam--born during an infestation of locusts

    Jepsigei--born on his own (i.e. the mother had no help)

    Cheruiyot (most male name only)--born when everyone was asleep

    Jekigen--a long-awaited son (usually born after several daughters 

    Chepkorir--born shortly before dawn

    Chepkoech--born at dawn

    Chemutai--born in mid-morning

    Chebet--born at midday

    Chelagat (Cheplangat)--born at sunset

    Chepkirui--born shortly after dark

    Chepkemboi--born at night

    Chepngetich--born when cows are taken to pasture after morning milking

    Cherotich--born when cattle are brought home for evening milking

    Chepngeno--born when goats are waking up

    Cherono--born when sheep or goats are brought into the house in the evening

    Chepkeino--born when sheep or goats are being milked (i.e. when cows milk is short)

    Chelimo--born among grazing cattle

    Chepngeny--born when cattle are at a salt lick

    Chepkosgei--born after a long labor, or a long interval between children

    Chepchirchir--born in a hurry, after a short labor

    Cheptanui--fainted, failed to cry or breathe at birth

    Chepketer--born on the verandah

    Chepchoge--born near the grain storage bin

    Chepsang--born outdoors

    Chepkurgat--born by the door

    Chebitok--born on the father's side of the hut, not the mothers

    Cheptoo--born when visitors are around

    Cheptum--born during circumcision ceremonies

    Chemaiyo--born when beer is being brewed or drunk

    Cheruto--born away from home, on safari

    Chepchumba--born near white men, i.e. in a hospital, in a town, on a white-owned farm

    Chepkemei--born during a drought

    Cheprugut--born during a famine

    Cheptalam--born during an infestation of locusts

    Chepsigei--born on his own (i.e. the mother had no help)

    Cheruiyot (male only)--born when everyone was asleep

    Chepkigen--a long-awaited son (usually born after several daughters 

    Kikuyu names

    Gacoki - one who returns

    Gakere- muscular

    Gakuru- elderly one

    Gatete- a milk gourd

    Gathee- elderly one

    Gathii- a wanderer

    Gathoni- She is an in law

    Gathoni- she is an in law

    Gatimu- a spear

    Gethii- wanderer

    Gichinga- a firebrand

    Gicicio- mirror

    Gikuyu- Founder of the Agikuyu na

    Githinji- a butcher

    Gitonga- wealthy one

    Hiuhu- he is hot

    Ikinya- a single step

    Iregi- a rebel

    Irungu- makes right reformer

    Ita- a war raid

    Itimu- a spear

    Jata- star

    Jomo- burning spear

    Kagai- the divider

    Kagunda- of the land

    Kahiga- a rock

    Kairu- black one

    Kamau- quiet warrior

    Kanja- from the outside

    Kanoro- sharpens the sword

    Karani- aide secretary

    Karega- a rebel

    Kariuki- born again

    Kariuki- a child reincarnated

    Kiambiroiro- mountain of blackness

    Kianjahe- mountain of beans

    Kiano- the wizards tools

    Kianyandaarwa- mountain of hides

    Kiara- a finger

    Kihara- a bald patch

    Kihiga- rock

    Kimathi- Kenyan freedom fighter

    Kimotho- the left hand (left hande

    Kinoro- sharpener of knives

    Kinyua- one who drinks

    Kioi- bears heavy burdens

    Kioni- she who sees

    Kioni- she finds (sees things)

    Kirimi- a farmer

    Kirinyaga- mountain of brightness (i

    Kithingi- a butcher

    Koigi- one who speaks

    Kuguru- a leg

    Macaria- seeker

    Maina- a father of the Agikuyu 

    Maitho- eyes to see with

    Makena- happy one

    Mathaathi- name of an age-group

    Matu- the clouds

    Maundu- things ie different thing

    Mbogo- buffalo

    Mbui- grey hairs

    Miano- wizards tools

    Migwi- arrows

    Mokabi- of the Maasai people

    Mugendi- guests passersby

    Mugi- wise one

    Mugo- prophet

    Muiru- black one

    Mukami- a milk maid

    Mukami- a milk maid

    Mukanda- strong cord

    Mukiri- silent one

    Mukondi- a dancer

    Mukondi- a dancer

    Mukuru- elderly one

    Mumbi- creator or mother of the Agikuyu people

    Munene- big great

    Munoru- fat one

    Muraguri- a seer

    Murathi- a prophet

    Muraya- tall one

    Murigo- this is a load

    Muriithi- a shepard

    Murimi -a farmer

    Muriu- son

    Muriuki -one who is reborn

    Muroki- comes with the dawn

    Murugi- she cooks

    Murugi- she cooks

    Muruthi- lion

    Mutahi- a raider

    Mutegi- hunter trapper

    Mutemi- king of the Agikuyu

    Muthee- an elder

    Muthemba- one of a kind

    Muthengi- he move around

    Mutheru- cleansed

    Muthomi- a scholar

    Muthoni- she is an in law

    Muthoni- she is an in law

    Muthuri- an elder

    Mutira- a counselor or advisor

    Mutiri- a counselor or advisor

    Mutitu- a forest

    Mutonyi- he enters

    Mutua- reconciles differences

    Muturi- a craftsman

    Muugi- intelligent

    Mwangi- seizes the nation victor

    Mwara- inteligent

    Mwarania- brings together negotiat

    Mwaria- one who speaks alot

    Mwenda- one who loves

    Ndegwa- a bull

    Ndemi- founders of the Agikuyu n

    Nderu- bearded one

    Ndwiga- a giraffe

    Ngare- a leopard

    Ngendo- a traveller

    Ngigi- a grasshopper

    Ngina- one who serves

    Ngumo- fame

    Njama- a council e g war counci

    Njata- star

    Njau- strong calf

    Njeri- daughter of a warrior

    Njiraini- on the road

    Njiru- black one

    Njogu- elephant

    Njoki- she who returned

    Njoki- she who returned (from th

    Njora- a scabbard i e for a swo

    Njururi- wanderer

    Nyaga- brightness or Ostrich

    Nyaguthii- a traveler

    Nyakio- hard working

    Nyakio- hard working

    Nyambura- born of the rain

    Nyambura- born of the rain

    Nyamu- animal

    Nyawira- hard worker

    Nyawira- hard worker

    Nyoike- stands alone

    Nyokabi- of the Maasai people

    Nyokabi- of the Maasai people

    Riitho- an eye to see with

    Ruguru- comes from the west

    Ruhiu- sword

    Runo- a fold

    Waceera- wanderer

    Wairimu- one of the nine founders

    Waithaka- of the land

    Waitherero- from the rivers flow

    Waitimu- born of the spear

    Waiyaki- famous leader of the Agik

    Waiyaki- a great leader of the Agi

    Wakiuru- one of the nine founders

    Wakiuru- one of the nine founders

    Wamai- come from the water

    Wambui- singer of songs

    Wamugunda- of the land

    Wamuhu- born of ashes

    Wamuhu- born of ashes

    Wamuiru- dark skinned beauty

    Wamuiru- dark skinned beauty

    Wamwara- son of Mwara.

    Wamweru- light skinned

    Wangai- born of God

    Wangari- a leopard

    Wangera- a traveler

    Wangombe- of the cattle

    Wangondu- of the sheep

    Wangu- she gathers the firewood

    Wanja- the one from without

    Wanjeri- born of Njeri

    Wanjiku- one of the nine founders

    Wanjiru- one of the nine founders

    Waruhiu- bears a weapon always

    Warui- come from the river

    Waweru- born of the plains

    Wokabi- she is of the Maasai

    Luo names

    Obong'o/Abong'o — only child

    Atieno-born at night

    Hera — love

    Obama — twisting

    Obiero/Abiero — born with the placenta (biero = placenta)

    Obonyo/[Abonyo] — born during locust infestation (bonyo = locust)

    Obura/Abura — born during a meeting (bura mean meeting)

    Oburu/Aburu — born during a funeral (buru mean ash)

    Obuo/[Abuo] — is a medicinal water plant

    Ochanda/[Ochanda] — difficult birth (same for male and female)

    Ochieng’/Achieng’ — born with the sun shining (born from about noon–2pm)) (chieng’ = sun)

    Ochola/Achola — born after the father’s death 

    Odero/Adero — born during a during a period of abundance (dero = granary)

    Odhiambo/Adhiambo — born in the afternoon (around dusk (3–6pm); born in the evening; born after sunset) (odhiambo = afternoon)

    Odhon’g/Adhon’g — very old name; meaning "fist"

    Odek – born when the mother had picked up traditional vegetables from farm

    Odika/[Adika] — something that steps hard on the ground

    Odinga – Luhya origin

    Odiwuor/Adiwuor — born at night 11pm–2am. Similar to Owuor/Awuor

    Odondi/[Adondi] — quarrelsome

    Odongo/Adongo — second born of a twin pair

    Odoyo/Adoyo — born during weeding

    Oduol/[Aduol] — born in the father's house (Duol)

    Oero/Aero — very old name; meaning "to love"

    Ogola — born outside the house, just under the eave

    Ogol — remove

    Ogolo — striger weed

    Ogot/[Agot] — born on a hill (especially if the mother had taken a walk not expecting the child to come)

    Ogutu/[Agutu] — born next to the traditional Luo Ugali bowl (called Ogutu or Hagudu)

    Oigo/[Aigo] — wrestle with

    Ojwang’/Ajwang’ — born after father died

    Ojuok — born by the intervention of a spirit (juok = spirit)

    Okelo/Akelo — born after a pair of twins or the third born of triplets

    Okech/Akech — born in famine

    Okeyo/Akeyo — born at harvest time

    Okinyi or Okinyo/Akinyi — born at dawn (born just after dawn (6am–10am); the male form is rare

    Okomo/Akomo — born in prosperous times or during planting

    Okongo/Akongo — born during celebration especially where alcohol brew is plenty

    Okoth/Akoth — born during rainy season (koth mean rain)

    Okumu/Akumu — mysterious birth (conception after birth, but before resumption of menses; kum = punition)

    Okungu/[Akungu] — born during the outbreak of caterpillars, which was also an indication of impending bumpler harvest

    Oloo/[Aloo] — equivalent to Adam

    Oludhe/[Aludhe] — provoking, as the case of Peninah to Hannah in the Bible

    Oluoch/Aluoch — born during a cloudy season

    Omolo/Amolo — born around dawn (4–6 a.m.)

    Omondi/Amondi — born around dawn (6-10am). mostly men used interchangeably with Akinyi for women

    Okoka/[Anoka] — Luo for Enock

    Ondiek – monster or a wild animal, especially the leopard

    Oneko/[Aneko] — mad or wild

    [Ong’ina]/Ang’ina — round

    Onyango/Anyango — Born in the early morning (born before noon (10am–noon)

    Ooko/Aoko — born out-of-doors (usually unintentionally)

    Ooro/Aoro — born during dry season (oro = drought)

    Opiyo/Apiyo — first born of a twin pair

    Opolo/Apolo — very old name; meaning "heavenly"

    Opondo/Apondo — born hidden (pregnancy was not visible)

    Otieno/Atieno — born at night (7–11pm) (otieno = night)

    Otiende/[Atiende] — Luhya origin

    Ouma/Auma — infant delivered into a prostrate position on the ground

    Owino/Awino — born with umbilical cord around the neck (born covered in meconium or caul)  

    Owiti/Awiti — thrown out (mother disowns infant for difficult birth as an apotropaic gesture)

    Owuor or Odwuor/Awuor — born between midnight–2 a.m.

    Oyange/Ayange — very old name; meaning "discovered"

    Resa-Save me

    Gor — was the "personal surname" of Gor K'Ogalo a famous Luo chief during the 19th century

    Jalang'o — one who is spirited

    Jow — buffalo

    Magero — causing fearfulness

    Majuma — Swahili origin (born on a Friday)

    Muga — rhinocerous (the O is removed or corrupted)

    Nyang'au — hyena (mostly used in Kisii)

    Nyaoro — drought's daughter

    Raila — Luhya origin (meaning One who tickles and causes laughter)

    Ramogi — Luhya Origin (corruption of Luo for Lamogi — their style of worship)

    Rao or Rawo — hippopotamus

    Ogwang — wild cat

    Ogweyo — lizard

    Omire — Luhya origin (may represents the person’s origin)

    Omuga — rhinocerous

    Oronge — Kisii origin

    Oruoch — Kisii origin (corruption of Oluoch, one born during fog of cloudiness)

    Were — benevolent or philanthropic (attribute of God to Luhyas and Luos)

    Lwanda Jawar — Peter (loosely translated to "Stone Savior")

    Luhya names

    Nasimiyu- girl born during the dry season 

    Naliaka- born during the weeding season.

    Nafula- girl named after the rainy season.

    Nanjala- born during the hunger or famine season 

    Natela-named after brightness and light. 

    Nyongesa- born on a Saturday 

    Wamalwa- born during the brewing season 

    Wanyonyi- born during the weeding season 

    Wafula- born during the rainy season. 

    Wanjala- boy name which means born during the famine season. 

    Wasike- baby boy who is born during the locust season.

    Simiyu- born during the dry season.

    Nabwire- girl who is born in the evening. 

    Nekesa- girl born during the harvesting season. 

    Nangila- born on a journey

    Kamba names

    Kasyoka - Reincarnation of a dead family member 

    Mbuku - Hare 

    Mumbe - Beautiful 

    Mumbua - Born during rainy season 

    Mueni - The new one 

    Mutuo - Born after a long duration gestation 

    Mwikali - Born after a long duration gestation 

    Nduku - Born at night

    Nditi - Dog 

    Ndila - Billy goat 

    Wayua - Born during famine

    Kioko - Born in the morning 

    Makau - Born during war time 

    Mbiti - Hyena 

    Munyambu - Lion 

    Mutongoi - Leader 

    Mutua - Born after a long duration gestation 

    Mutuku - Born at night 

    Musyoka/Musyoki - Reincarnation of a dead family member 

    Musili - Judge 

    Musumbi - King 

    Muthui - The rich one 

    Ngumbau - The brave one 

    Nzoka - Snake 

    Wambua - Born during rainy season 

    Kisii names

    Makori (This name is given to a baby boy who has been born besides the road) 

    If it is a baby girl she will be named Nyanchera. 

    Barongo (This name is given to a baby who is born after the first twin)

    The name is given to both boys and girls. 

    Nyaboke (The name means sweetness. Babies given this name are said to be born during the season when honey is in plenty)

    Omariba (The name is given to babies born during the rainy and muddy season)

    Kwamboka (A child born while the mother is crossing a river is given the name Kwamboka)

    Sokoro (child born and named after his grandfather)

    Mongina (girl named after a mother to her father or mother)

    Omwancha (he loves people)

    Onkwani (he talks a lots)

    Nyathera (she survived)

    Nyanjera (born on the way) 

    Nyachae (generous)

    Muga (confident of one truth)

    Kerubo (born on the plain)

    Source: Namesite.com, Kipblog, Wikipedia, Kenyanames

    Know some other Kenyan surnames that we haven't included? Please add the names and their meaning in the comment section below.