Flowerly Maua

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I smile recklessly and I love excessively. I live today knowing I have no other day until tomorrow. Now is my moment. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is a mystery, but today, today is my gift (present).

Thursday, 17 May 2012


Every country has its set of common names. If you take a Kenyan telephone directory (do they still exist), there’s bound to be hundreds of Kamaus, Njoroges, Otienos, Mutuas etc. Some of them have
the same first names too. Kamau Peter, or Otieno Peter could appear like almost a hundred times and you may not identify them. You are likely to find the same thing with the Papathopoulos of Greece, Martins, Campbells, Smiths and Jones of UK, USA and maybe Australia, but these ones are easier to locate with post codes.

But talking of Kenya, the Kamaus and Njoroges have this naming ritual pattern where children are named after their grandparents, aunties and uncles, making them one of the few people who change surnames. A husband will have a different surname with his wife and children. If say, my name is Wambui, and I married Kamau Njoroge, my name will be Wambui Kamau. My children will not be Njoroges, but Kamaus. My first born son will be Njoroge Kamau, and his wife and children will bear the surname Njoroge. This will carry on for every one of the children, meaning that if my father’s name is Mwangi Kihara, my second son will be Mwangi Kamau, but his wife and children will bear Mwangi as their surname. My third son will be named after my husband’s eldest brother, or if my husband is the eldest, the immediate junior brother (or who should have been named). If his name is Maina, his wife and children’s surname will be Maina. You've guessed right, my fourth son will be Kihara Kamau.

The girls will bear set middle names. If my husband's mother's name is Wangui, my first daughter will be Wangui Kamau, and her second daughter will be.........yes, Wambui.

We, the Kikuyus do not fish for names, names find us or found us. We already know what our children's names long before they are born. I knew my second born girl's/boy’s names when I was a little girl.

Gikuyus do not retain surnames, and it saddens me that when Gikuyu women get married to their fellow Gikuyu men in the western world, the authorities kinda force them to adopt their father-in-law’s surnames to prove they are married to their husbands. Their first born sons end up losing their surnames, and some loose identities.

Get the drift?


Shiko-Msa said...

Yes the Kenya telephone directory does still exist. Kenya postel distributes them every year without fail!

Maua said...

Shiko, I have not seen a directory in ages. Welcome back to mauashire.

woolie said...

This post is very interesting. That is not to say that my confusion is cleared up because I knew of a family where both parents' mums had the same name....causing no end of confusion. There is also the case of second marriage resulting in siblings having identical names. Back in my day Shah and Patel were the dominant names in the phone book.


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Wendal said...

Like woolie said, this post was very interesting. Half way through your explanation I had to get a scratch-paper and write down the naming steps to not get confused.

Across the border with the Baganda, kids are named according to a pool of names that belong to their father's clan. Taking it a step further, its common for children to be named after specific grandparents. I wouldnt be able to marry a girl who happens to have a surname that belongs to my same clan, because technically she's a relative of some kind however distant.