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Naming conventions in Ethiopia and Eritrea

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Title: Naming conventions in Ethiopia and Eritrea  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Eritrean culture, Somali name, Igbo name, Ethiopian culture, Greek Cypriot name
Collection: Eritrean Culture, Ethiopian Culture, Names by Culture
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Naming conventions in Ethiopia and Eritrea

The naming convention used in Ethiopia and Eritrea does not have family names and typically consists of an individual personal name and a separate patronymic. This is similar to Arabic or Icelandic naming convention. Although traditionally the lineage is traced paternally, legislation has been passed in Eritrea that allows for this to be done on the maternal side as well.

The word "Habesha" (English "Abyssinian") is an ethnonym for the Amhara, Tigray-Tigrinya, Tigre, Gurage, and Harari peoples. The naming convention broadly applies to this group, although it also does so for people within the Omotic and Cushitic language groups.

In this convention, children are given a name at birth, by which name they will be known.[1] To differentiate from others in the same generation with the same name, their father's first name and sometimes grandfather's first name is added. This may continue ad infinitum.[2] In the West, this is often mistaken for a surname (family name)—but unlike European names, different generations do not have the same second or third names.[3]

In marriage, unlike in some Western countries, women do not change their name, as the second name is not a surname.

Example Eritrean family tree explained below. Blue: male; red: female.

In the example above, the progenitors, Feiven and Senai, may be differentiated from others in their generation by their father's name. In this example, Feiven's and Senai's fathers' first names are Tewolde and Abraham respectively.

Feiven and Senai have a daughter and a son, each of whom is married and has a child. The first to have a child (a son) is their daughter, Yordanos Senai; she and her husband name the boy Ammanuel. The next sibling to have a child is Yordanos' brother, Zerezghi Senai; this child is also a son. As it is against custom to name a child after a living family member, his parents give him a different first name than his cousin: Afwerki. Ammanuel and Afwerki would each get their father's first name for their last.

In the diaspora, this method is sometimes dropped in favor of adopting the grandfather's name (the father's "last name") as a surname in accordance with Western naming conventions. In modern Ethiopia, a person's legal name includes the both the father's and grandfather's names (the father's full name), so that the father's name becomes the child's "middle name".[3]

See also


  1. ^ Tesfagiorgis G., Mussie (2010). Eritrea. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 236.  
  2. ^ Spencer, John H (2006). Ethiopia at bay : a personal account of the Haile Selassie years. Hollywood, CA: Tsehai. p. 26.  
  3. ^ a b Helebo, Fikru. "Ethiopian Naming System". Retrieved 9 January 2013. 

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