Customs
general

Ethiopian naming customs

My informant is from Washington, D.C. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia. This her explanation of the customs surrounding the naming of newborn children in Ethiopian families:

“A lot of times, it’s a sign of respect—not necessarily for your first child, but for your second child—you will like, allow your parents to name them. But actually naming someone after someone else in your family is definitely a Westernized thing, at least in comparison to Ethiopian culture. Um… but there’s not really any repetition of names in Ethiopian families. So your dad’s… either your dad’s first name is your last name, or that’s your middle name and your paternal grandfather’s name is your last name. Um, the way my parents did it was that my dad’s name is my last name. I don’t have a middle name, um because it was like, easier, and the insurance companies wouldn’t let them do otherwise. So, yeah. And women don’t take their husband’s last name. So it’s like really hard to trace your family lineage.”

Although my informant says that Ethiopian families do not usually name their children after family members and that there is not any repetition of names within families, they do pass on the father or paternal grandfather’s name, so in a sense, those names are repeated. The tradition of keeping the father’s name in the family by using it as the child’s last name is indicative that Ethiopia is a patriarchal society: the father’s name is given to the next generation, whereas the mother’s name is not. However, Ethiopian women do keep their own last names when they marry, so in that sense, they have a certain independence from their husbands that Western women typically do not.

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