Names are among the most important things your family gives you when you’re born.
It’s something you carry with you forever, and for many people, it’s something they cherish because it ties them back to their ancestors.
So, here are a list of the most interesting African last names, along with their meanings and origin.
Abebe is an Ethiopian name that means “flower” or “blossom.” Abebe is closely related to the Amharic word for flower, which is “abeba.”
Many famous Ethiopians share Abebe as their last name, including Addis Abebe, a retired long-distance runner who earned Ethiopia an Olympic medal in the 10,000-meter race.
Keita is a last name that originated in West Africa, although it’s most common in Mali. In Mali, Keita means “worshiper” or “blessed.”
Some people think those with Keita as their surname are related to the Keita dynasty that ruled Mali for hundreds of years. So if you know a person named Keita, you may know royalty!
Bankole is a West African surname that means “build my house for me.” It can be both a surname and a first name, but only boys use it as a first name.
Bankole is an interesting name because of its origin. The name originated in the Yoruba language. Families acquired the name because they worked in a trade, like carpentry or masonry. That way, they could carry on their family traditions.
Acheampong is a surname that originates from the Asante (or Ashanti) people of modern-day Ghana. Acheampong means “destined for greatness” or just simply “greatness.”
In Ghana and other countries where Acheampong is popular, it is a highly respected name. People think those born with this name bring good fortune and virtue to their hometowns.
Adebayo is a Nigerian name that they often use for both surnames and first names. Adebayo is a traditional name in Yoruba culture and has two different meanings. It can either mean “they came in a joyful time” or “the king is joyful.”
Since both the meanings have joy in their description, it must have been an important element of Yoruba life. By invoking joy with their name, people named Adebayo are probably the people who have the most fun in their towns!
Afolabi is a last name that originated in West Africa, with the highest prevalence of the name in Nigeria. Afolabi is another Yoruba name, and it means “one born into wealth.”
As the meaning suggests, people born with the last name Afolabi must have had power and connections, at least in the past. Then, the name would pass down through their ancestors, who would inherit the prestige of their last name.
Chidubem is a West African last name that originated in the Igbo language to the Igbo people of Nigeria. Chidubem means “guided by God” or “God guides them.”
The Igbo people of Nigeria, who live in the eastern region of the country, are routinely discriminated against in their own country. The Biafra conflict, which ended in 1970, is still used as a reason to discriminate today.
Abbas (or Abbass) is a North African name that’s popular in Algeria. It’s usually only used for men, and its meaning in Arabic is “lion.”
Many famous people throughout history have had Abbas as their last name. Some of the most famous include Hisham Abbas, an Egyptian musician, and an uncle of Muhammed, the prophet of the Islamic religion.
Kasongo is a surname that’s most common in the Congo region of Africa. Kasongo is a common surname in the Bemba people that reside in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the northern part of Zambia.
Kasongo translates to “bushbuck.” This could be a reference to the name people in the region give to the local antelopes. People with this last name may have been some of the best hunters in their town when it originated.
Buhle is a surname that originated in the Xhosa people of South Africa, who live in the southern and coastal regions. The Xhosa people fought colonialism for more than one hundred years, fighting eight different conflicts with the British and the Dutch.
Buhle is a Xhosa name that means “handsome” or “beautiful.” Seeing as the name has such positive meanings, it’s no surprise that it has become one of the most popular names among Xhosa people.
Jelani is a common name in Swahili. Swahili people inhabit the areas south of Somalia down to South Africa on the eastern side of Africa. Jelani is a common name throughout the whole region.
Jelani means “powerful” or “great.” With a name like that, it must be hard to lead an average life! These people must have a lot of pressure to live up to their name.
Boujettif is a name that originates from North Africa. Interestingly, Boujettif has an Archaic origin, meaning we don’t know where it came from. It is popular in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Boujettif means a few different things. It can mean “family of the person with a clever mind” or “person who has a clever mind.” In either case, people expect those with this name to have a good head on their shoulders.
Musa is an interesting African surname because it seems people invented it twice independently.
In Nigeria and West Africa, the name came from Arabic. Musa has its origins in the story of Moses, which is why it means “drawn out of water.” Since Moses parted the Red Sea, his name usually corresponds with water.
In Zambia and the southern African region, the name means “mercy.” Musa is a common name for the Lozi people, who are the inhabitants of the central and northern areas of Zambia.
The name Ameziane comes from North Africa and has a Berber origin. Ameziane comes from the phrase “tamazight mezyan,” which means little or young.
Most of the people with the name Ameziane reside in Morocco, although some people also reside in Tunisia, Western Sahara, and Algeria.
Nenge is a name most common in Nigeria, although it’s common in Cameroon as well. Nenge comes from the Tiv people’s language and means “to see” or simply “see.”
The Tiv people live in the eastern region of Nigeria and have a long history of resisting outside influences, whether those be political or cultural. Nenge, being one of their cultural names, has persisted due to this resistance from outside influences.
Anotidaishe is a Zimbabwean name, although a large population of people with the name Anotidaishe also live in Botswana and Zambia.
In Zimbabwe, Anotidaishe means “God loves us,” while in other areas or cultural groups, it means “God’s love.” Those named Anotidaishe are usually born into devout families.
Although you may recognize this name from a certain ex-president, it is also a common surname in Africa. It comes from the Lou people who inhabit central Africa, such as South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Obama means “lean” or “bend” in the Lou language. It probably refers to a particular job, such as a wood bender who would help construct homes and other buildings.
Ladipo is a common name among the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Among the Yoruba, Ladipo is an extremely common last name, although it is sometimes given as a first name as well. Ladipo means “wealth and prosperity.”
Although Ladipo is a common last name, not many famous people have the last name Ladipo. The Nigerian tennis player, Sule Ladipo, and the Nigerian academic, Margaret Ladipo, are two examples.
Zivai is a common last name in Zimbabwe. It comes from the Bantu language family that dominates Zimbabwe. Zivai means either “one should know” or “God’s knowledge.”
The name Zivai comes from the Shona language, one of the many Bantu languages. The Shona people, who live predominantly in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa, are the most common users of the surname Zivai.
Agwuegbo is a Nigerian name that originated in the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria. The name means “the hard times are over.”
It is a common name among families that have lost a family member or have been under a lot of stress.
Selassie is an Ethiopian name that means “trinity” or “one that understands a trinity.” The name was most likely given about the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Ethiopia was among the first African countries to adopt Christianity, and many of their names reflect that. Selassie, in particular, might be one of the most common examples of this phenomenon.
Mwanajuma is a name of Swahili origin. The Swahili people generally live in East Africa from Somalia to Mozambique. Mwanajuma is an African surname that means “born on Friday.”
The Swahili people don’t generally name themselves after days of the week, as is a tradition in other areas like Ghana. Mwanajuma seems like a unique name in Swahili.
Ndiaye is a unique name, which can serve as both the last name and a first name. Ndiaye originates from Senegal, although some people from Gambia and Guinea-Bissau also have the name.
Ndiaye has two potential meanings, but both are very similar. The first meaning is simply “lion,” while the second meaning is “descendant of lions.” In either case, Ndiaye is a perfect name for a strong, proud family.
Mensah is an African surname that originates in Ghana among the Akan people. The Akan people generally reside in Ghana, Togo, and Sierra Leone.
Mensah means different things to different groups. In Ghana, it means “third-born son” and gets passed down from generation to generation.
Mensah can also mean “power” in Ghana. In North Africa, the name can also mean “friends of God.”
Kenyatta, as you may guess, originates in Kenya. It is among the most common last names in all of Kenya. Kenyatta means “musician” and people likely gave it when a family expressed musical abilities.
Many famous people in Kenya share the last name Kenyatta. The anti-colonial activist and first President of Kenya was named Jomo Kenyatta, while the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, also shares the last name.
Aside from political leaders, other Kenyans have the last name Kenyatta. Muhoho Kenyatta is a Kenyan businessman of prominence, while Robin Kenyatta was an American jazz musician who truly embodied his name.
Although Kanye may be more recognized as a first name thanks to the American rapper, it is also a traditional African last name. It seems like two groups generally use the name Kanye as a surname.
In South Africa where the Zulu people live, the name means “once.” In West Africa, the Igbo people also use the name Kanye as a surname. For the Igbo people, Kanye means “next in line.” They reserved it for the leader and their family.
Igbinedion is a name that originates in West Africa, with significant numbers of people in Nigeria and Benin. Igbinedion means “seeking refuge in an elder’s protection.”
Igbinedion isn’t a common name, even in Nigeria and Benin. In those countries, people named Igbinedion generally reside in the southern regions, such as Edo state in Nigeria or Collines in Benin.
Etienam is a name of Igbo origin, who mainly reside in Nigeria and the West African region. Etienam means either “benevolent” or “do well.”
Etienam isn’t just an African name. Many countries in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, like Cuba and the Dominican Republic, also have many people named Etienam. This may be the result of the slave trade, which persisted until the mid-1800s in the Caribbean.
Dogo is a name that seems to have come about twice, independent of one another. Dogo has its origins in both the Hausa people of Nigeria and the Swahili people of the southern Africa region.
For the Hausa people, Dogo means “little.” You’ll often hear it used as both a surname and a nickname. For the Swahili people, Dogo also means “little,” but it is much more common as a nickname than a last name.
Chidozie is a name from Nigeria that is common among the Igbo people. Chidozie has two different meanings among the Igbo. The first meaning is “God perfects,” while the second meaning is “God preserves.”
Chidozie is also a common name in Trinidad and Tobago, an island country in the Caribbean. The name is likely common there due to the high numbers of slaves who were inhumanely transported there during the slave period.
Oladele is a common name for the Yoruba people of West Africa who mainly reside in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. Oladele means “wealth is coming.” It can be both a first name and the last name.
The African surname Oladele isn’t super common, but some famous people share it. The Nigerian football player, Solomon Oladele, and the scientist Oladele Gazal have the name, although one uses it as a last name, while the other doesn’t.
Zadzisai is a name that is most commonly found in Zimbabwe among the Shona people. The Shona people live in Zimbabwe, but also in countries like Mozambique and South Africa.
Zadzisai means “fulfillment” or “one who keeps promises.” With a name like Zadzisai, people who have it must be trustworthy, otherwise, their names would be very ironic!
Temitope is a Yoruba surname that’s most common in Nigeria and the surrounding region. Temitope has more than one meaning though.
One of the meanings for Temitope is “worthy of praise.” In some cases, instead of “praise,” the name can mean “thanks.”
Another meaning of Temitope is “success,” while the final meaning is “I thank God.”
Sarpong is a name that originates in the Asante (Ashanti) people group who reside in Ghana, Togo, and Côte d’Ivoire. Sarpong generally means “great warrior” or “warrior” more generally.
In some cases, Sarpong can also mean “success” or “supreme,” but these are usually in the context of a warrior. In that way, Sarpong is a name reserved for warriors or fighters.
Popoola is a name from Nigeria that’s common among the Yoruba people. Popoola means “way of wealth” or “way of prosperity.” Popoola is a name that we generally associate with positive connotations, like health, wealth, and happiness.
Although it’s not a common name, a few famous people do have the name Popoola. The award-winning Nigerian author, Tolulope Popoola, has the name, while the British actor and director Abraham Popoola also shares the name.
Okoye is an African surname with a rather unknown origin. Some people think it originated in Nigeria, where it’s most common. But some people think it originated in another part of the continent.
Okoye seems to have two meanings. The first meaning of Okoye is “born on market day.” Since the word “orie” or “oye” means market in the Igbo language, it’s not hard to see why people think the name originated in Nigeria.
The other meaning for the name Okoye is “strength.” Okoye is also the name of a fictional character from the Black Panther movies. In the movie, Okoye is a woman of incredible strength.
Ngoy is one of the most common last names in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The people of the DRC are a mix of Bantu-speaking people, including Swahili, Kikongo, and Lingala, although some of these languages have had strong influences from European languages.
The surname Ngoy means “faithful” and probably refers to one of the traditional religions of the area. The Catholic population often has more European-influenced surnames.
Ali is a popular surname elsewhere in the world, but it is among the most widely used surnames in Somalia.
Ali has links to the religion of Islam, which explains why it’s a popular surname in the Middle East and the Islamic world. It also explains why it’s a popular name in the devout country of Somalia.
Ali has two potential meanings. Ali can mean “someone in a superior position.” It can also be an ancestral link, tying the family to the prophet’s cousin, who was also named Ali. In that way, the name takes on a different type of meaning.
Juma is a popular last name in Tanzania, but it has its origins in Arabic. Although Tanzania seems far from the Islamic world, traders from the Middle East would often visit Tanzania in the middle ages.
Juma means “handsome” and people use it for both a first and last name. Some famous people with the last name Juma include Diamond Platnumz (born Nasibu Abdul Juma), a rapper from Tanzania, and Saad Jumaa, a past Prime Minister of Jordan.
Otieno is a common last name in Kenya and the surrounding areas, like Uganda and Tanzania. Otieno means “born at night.”
This name is most common among the Lou people, who speak a Lou language called Dholuo.
Sithole is a name that comes from South Africa. It seems to have two meanings depending on the ethnic group.
The Xhosa people, who live in the south, believe it means “we found it” or “it’s been found.” This was about finding a suitable place for settlement.
The other meaning is from the Zulu people who live in the central area of South Africa. According to the Zulu, Sithole means “half of a cow.”
The Zulu people often named their families after important livestock. The name Sithole means that their family once held cows in high esteem, likely due to their farming practices.
Mohapi is a surname that’s common in both South Africa and the enclave of Lesotho. The name is originally from the Lesotho region, but it has grown in popularity among South African people as well.
Mohapi means two different things, although the meanings are present in both South Africa and Lesotho.
The first meaning of Mohapi is “victor,” while the second meaning is “person who binds” or “capturer.”
Deng is a common last name in South Sudan among the Dinka people. The Dinka people live along the Nile and are the largest ethnic group in South Sudan.
Deng has two origins, but the meanings are the same. In both the Arabic and Dinka origin of the name, Dneg means “rain” or “brings rain.”
In the Nile region, rain meant the start of the flood season and the fertile soil it brought. The name is likely related to some form of agriculture then.
Mba is a common name in West Africa, especially Ghana, Gabon, and Nigeria. The name likely comes from the Igbo people.
For the Igbo people, Mba means “my father,” or simply “father.” The name likely has its roots in some form of remembrance. The name allows the family to see the connections between generations.
Although this name is undoubtedly European, it’s still a common last name in Angola. The name Domingos is of Portuguese origins, and since they were the colonial power in Angola, the name became common there as well.
Domingos means “Sunday” in Portuguese. It is closely related to the word Sunday, which is Domingo.
As you can probably tell, African surnames are as diverse as the people who carry them.
There are thousands of ethnic groups in Africa, and each has its naming conventions. You can learn so much about people’s culture when you learn the meaning of their names.
Comment to let us know what names you liked, the best African last names if you will, and if you think we missed any meanings! Also, check out list of African American surnames while you’re here.