Zimbabwe Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

  • Most Zimbabweans have a first name followed by a surname with no middle name, e.g. Mutamwa MATAKA (male), Bright MUJURU (male), Joyce CHITEPO (female).
  • Many Zimbabweans may have an English personal name and a traditional family name.
  • Surnames are usually in the traditional vernacular of the language group the Zimbabwean’s family is from (e.g. BULAWAYO, MAGWA, KABWEZA).
  • If you are older than 50, you may be referred to as “Sekuru” (Old man) or “Ambuya” (Granny). While this may sound like a slur on your age in the Western context, the terms are actually a mark of respect in Zimbabwe. They are affectionate terms showing the reverence for age.[1]

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • The given names are influenced by the culture of the people, religious and Church involvement, and personal tastes.
  • The first names may be in any of the vernacular languages of that country, English names or derived from English words.
  • Some Zimbabweans give a chid an English name. This English name often has British roots (e.g. Robert, Trevor and Abigail). Some may represent an aspiration or positive connotation (e.g. Innocent, Hope, Happiness and Lucky).
  • It is a common custom among the Shona and Ndebele people to give baby names based on the circumstances of the family or baby at the time of birth. For example, a family that was recently bereaved may name a new baby Munyaradzi, which means comforter, or Tanyaradzwa, which means we have been comforted.
  • It also common practice to give names that celebrate virtue such as: Nokutenda (with gratitude); Tatenda (we are grateful); Ruramai (be righteous).
  • There are also names that praise and worship God, such as: Kudakwashe (the Lord's will); Ruvarashe (the Lord's flower); Nokutenda (associated with faith); Vimbainashe (have faith in the Lord).
  • Traditionally names were also given that express a parent or family circumstances or feelings regarding the neighbourhood and the community they live in. Such names as: Taurayi (speak out, speak up); Nunurai (rescue or save us); Tendai (be grateful); Tamayi (move from here).
  • Names are typically given by the parents of the child when it is born. However names may also be given by grandparents and other relatives with the parents' consent. Traditionally when a person that is not a parent names a child, that person would pay a token sum of money or gift that allowed them to give a name to a child which is not their own.[2]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Zimbabwean Culture: Naming", at Culture Atlas, https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/zimbabwean-culture/zimbabwean-culture-naming, accessed 12 March 2021.
  2. "Zimbabwean names", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimbabwean_names, accessed 12 March 2021.