Why do so many African leaders have english/western first names?

From wiki:

Benin: Lionel Zinsou
Botswana: Ian Khama
Burkina Faso: Michel Kafando, Gilbert Diendere, Michel Kafando
Burundi: Pierre Nkurunziza
Cameroon: Paul Biya
Central African Republic: Catherine Samba-Panza
Chad: Idriss Deby
Congo B: Denis Sassou Nguesso
Congo K: Joseph Kabila, Augustin Matata Ponyo
Cote d’Ivoire: Daniel Kablan Duncan
Gabon: Daniel Ona Ondo
Ghana: John Dramani Mahama
Lesotho: Tom Thabane
Liberia: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Madagascar: Roger Kolo, Jean Ravelonarivo
Malawi: Peter Mutharika
Mauritius: Monique Ohsan-Bellepeau, Daniel Zaidani
Mozambique: Filipe Nyusi, Alberto Vaquina
Nigeria: Goodluck Jonathan (wtf?)
Rwanda: Paul Kagame
Sao Tome: Patrice Trovoada
Senegal: Macky Sall
Seychelles: James Michel
Sierra Leone: Ernest Bai Koroma
South Africa: Jacob Zuma
Zambia: Edgar Lungu
Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe

My first thought was, of course they have english sounding names, Europe conquered much of Africa so they have that tradition going for them. But if that’s the sole reason, why continue using the names of your oppressors? And why do most of these guys have very native African-sounding last names? You’d think they’d all have names like Nyuogo Lupita, not Kate Lupita. Or maybe western sounding names are some kind of status symbol there, distinguishing you from the rest of the people in your hometown. And most of these are guys, so its not like their maiden name was John Johnson and married someone with the last name Mahama.

Possibly Western, and frequently church, influence over schools, giving status to Western names?

Christian church naming habits.

you list by the way sub-saharan countries. Africa is not only sub saharan.

I just pulled the whole Africa list from wiki. It seems a lot of other countries, possibly the ones I omitted, have different naming conventions. I did notice a lot of Muslim names but I figured its because the countries were Islamic, which makes more sense than having a bunch of western names

Since a Christian background for some of these first names is assumed, I have to check my Bible where Macky is mentioned. Could be one of the lesser known prophets.

In India, western-style names are called “Christian names,” whether or not they have any actual origin in the Bible or in the Christian religion, and it is expected that anyone converting to or adhering to Christianity will take on or be given such a name.

Perhaps the same is true in many African countries.

Idriss (on your list) is a Muslim name.

ETA: Though the Islamic prophet Idris is usually spelled with one I.

I think there you have it. These are mainly not “western names,” they are Christian names. People in Africa commonly get their (official) first names based on their religions, whether Christianity or Islam. Christians will usually be given a saint’s name when they are baptized, and that’s the name that will also be on the birth certificate.

People may also have traditional names based on their ethnicity or tribal affiliation by which they are know to family and friends, but will use their baptismal names for official business.

His parents are/were named Coumba and Amadou. Not seeing a Christian naming influence here.

Amadou is actually an Islamic name, a version of Ahmad.

…anyway, to address the subject, my Kenyan friend is named Milton, after Milton Obote.

And there’s your answer: those names were originally western, but they were adopted by the locals back in colonial times, and the modern people bearing them are most likely named after relatives and friends and local celebrities. So they are African names, just of more recent origin than what you think of as native African names.

What’s up with Goodluck Jonathan’s name?

In South Africa, at least, black people - especially those of the older generations - often have two names, one in their mother tongue and another in English (or Afrikaans). In some cases the English name was imposed on them; famously Rolihlahla Mandela was given the name “Nelson” by his primary school teacher. As he describes it in his autobiograpy:

Ooops, I was thinking Idris Elba, English actor

Part of it is that in countries that contain lots of different ethnic or tribal groups that may not be particularly fond of each other, it can be politically convenient for someone involved in politics at the national level to use a western name instead of their traditional name which links them to their particular ethnic background.

Probably a majority of people whose families have been in the US for significant amount of time use first names of English origin, regardless of the families original ethnicity, whether Italian, German, Russian, or Chinese.



No, this is unlearned speculation

The last name gives this information and in any case it is impossible to hide such background.

It is simple, the European origin first names are an identified of the christians. People may have another name also used.

So these are their real names?

I know a lot of Chinese who come over here to North America adopt a euro-Christian given name (Charles Cheung, Vincent Lee, Tom Lo were acquaintances). I suspect this was because their Asian given names were difficult to spell or say, or confusing. (Yiu Wing Leung also was sometimes addressed as Leung Yiu Wing, so given names came last)

At least parts of many of these countries were colonized by Europeans for centuries. The names have been used in these countries almost as long as they’ve been used in the Americas. French, English, and Portuguese are still official languages in these countries, and often used as a lingua franca because of the variety of other languages. People are perfectly familiar with these names; they are not really “foreign” any more.

In some cases, it’s not really right to think of a single “real name.” That’s a cultural concept.

In Northern Cameroon, people would have a set of names for different contexts. Most people have an ethnic name following their ethnic group’s customs (my town had a complex system based on birth order.) Then they’d usually have a nickname that was what everyone actually called them.

Then they may have a Muslim/Christian/English/French name on top of that. This would most likely be used on official paperwork, and may or may not be used professionally. Finally, some people picked up or were given names based on certain circumstances. My neighbor said her name was picked out by her friends at her wedding.

In a world where you may pass through life with little paperwork or documentation, where you aren’t writing your name on forms all your life, the distinction of one’s “real name” is not as meaningful.