African-American Baby Names

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The African-American culture has many baby names that are worlds away from the oft-used monikers like Dick and Jane. After losing their traditional African names and taking the names of their slave owners, African-Americans dealt with racial discrimination by choosing common names to help them fit in. That ended with the civil rights movement, when they began to choose names more reflective of their individuality, their culture and their faith. Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins says, “Afrocentric baby names are a wonderful way to provide a daily cultural reminder of your child’s roots.”


Boy: Tyrone

Surprisingly, the name Tyrone has its roots in Ireland. Named for a county in northern Ireland, Tyrone, or Tir Eoghain in Gaelic, means the land or “territory of Eoghan.” The name became popular in the early part of the 20th century, thanks to actor Tyrone Power. Variations of Tyrone include Tiron, Tyronne and Tereon.

Boy: Malik

Malik is an Arabic name with Muslim roots. The name means “sovereign” or “king,” and may be related to the Arabic name Malak or “angel.” Many Middle Eastern countries use the term “Malik” to refer to their ruler or king, while it is used to refer to high-ranking military officers in India. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Malik is used to refer to Allah. The name, with its English equivalent Malachi, is used as either a first or last name, and rose in popularity during the mid-1990s. Variations of the name include Mallik, Maliq, Malique, Malek, Maleeq and Maleek.

Boy or Girl: Darnell

Darnell is very much an all-purpose name, used as a first name for both girls and boys as well as a surname. The name is taken from the old English “derne,” meaning “hidden” or “secret,” and “halh” meaning “nook.” English lord Thomas Darnel brought the name to the United States in the late 1600s, where his descendents eventually became slave owners. Variations of Darnell include Darnall, Darnoll, Darnel, Darnhill and Dartnell.

Boy or Girl: Jada

Although the name Jada is used for both boys and girls, both names have very different meanings. Jada used for a boy is a derivative of the Hebrew word “yada” meaning “know.” It is used as “he knows” or “to know and understand.” The name is not used frequently for boys, but it has risen in popularity for girls, particularly since the 1960s and 1970s and again in the 1990s thanks to actor Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. Jada is believed to have come from the Spanish word for “jade,” and is used almost exclusively among African-Americans.

Girl: Jasmine

You may know jasmine as a sweet-smelling climbing flower, and that is indeed where the name originated. In the Persian Pharsi language, a bush with similar fragrant flowers that grows in the desert is known as “yasmin.” Variations of the name include Yasmin, Jasmin, Jazmine, Yasmine, Jessamine and Jazmin.

Girl: Imani

The name Imani is deeply rooted in the Arabic and African cultures. It means “belief” or “believer” in Arabic. The name was picked up in Africa, and Imani came to mean “faith” in the East African language of Swahili. Variations of the name include Mani and Iman.

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