Character of the Week: African Names

I’ve been thinking about change this week, about the changes I’d like to make in myself and the changes I’d like to see in the world. When selecting this week’s character, I had this in mind.

Male, 70s, born in the 1740s
Born and raised in an African tribe in the Sahara. 
He has a son called Gatimu, a granddaughter called Kitoto, and an identical twin called Chinweike. The MC is Lila.

He is the “wise old man” of the tribe. He is blind in one eye, has a white beard, and is bald. Sometimes he has visions. He believes (and everyone in the tribe does as well) that he can speak to God.

When I did some name research for this character I learned that African tribal names were often based on the day child was born on, the birth order of the child, or on the meaning of the name. When name meanings were given, they would chose a name that was full of the hopes the parents and tribe had for the child.

I don’t usually chose names based on meaning, but it seemed appropriate to this novel.

  • Ibada: Reverence
  • Hasa: Special
  • Fadhili: Aid, favor, compassion, kindness
  • Elimu: Knowledge, education
  • Darweshi: Holy

The writer replied: I chose Darweshi; it is very appropriate. Thanks a million!

Although it would have been very fortuitous indeed if this holy man had been named “Holy”, the names I gave were with something else in mind: A name change. Sometimes in tribal cultures people are gifted new names that suit their evolving status in their society. In modern days people can still be gifted nicknames that allude to their accomplishments, or can give themselves the gift of a name-change to something they feel better suits the person they are or the person they have become.


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