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How Did Obama Get The Name Hussein?

Updated on September 12, 2014

The Skinny Kid With a Muslim Name


One day while he was campaigning for the US presidency in 2008, Barrack Obama joked that whoever gave him the name Hussein did not want him to be president. Given that he was in a tough race against Republican John McCain, he had been subjected to unfair criticisms over the name Hussein, and was being painted as an Islamist and even an Arab. Nothing wrong with being either, except when you consider it against the background of the 9/11 disaster. Such labels, critics hoped, would cost him the presidency. They were dying to portray him as some kind of Al Qaeda sympathizer. Yet how did Obama acquire the name Hussein?

Simple, he inherited his entire name from his father Barrack Hussein Obama Snr, who in turn inherited the name from his father Hussein Onyango Obama. It is Onyango who converted from Catholicism to Islam, thus leaving the name Hussein behind. The question therefore is not who gave President Obama the name, but rather who gave the name to his father. Some people have assumed that the name may have come from Indonesia where the President’s mother sojourned in another short-lived marriage with Lolo Soetoro after divorcing Obama Snr. Indeed Obama Junior accompanied his mother to Indonesia between 1966 and 1971.
But as is already stated, the name Hussein already existed in his family even before he was born, so it could not have originated from Indonesia.

The name has to be traced therefore to the Kenyan roots of Obama. It is in the public domain that Obama Snr was born in Nyang’oma village, Kogello Location of the present day Siaya County in Kenya. His parents were Hussein Onyango Obama and Akumu Nyanjoga. Presently only the president's step-grandmother who was a the second wife of Onyango who still lives in Kogello with several other Obama relatives of younger generations. That village is predominantly made up of Christians, yet Hussein is a very Muslim name. Indeed, the people of Nyangoma have only countable Muslims among them. The name Hussein therefore did not originate from there. Instead, it can be traced to another town about 200 kilometers from Kogelo by road and 100 kilometers across Lake Victoria.

Kendu Bay

That is Kendu Bay, which is a town in Karachuonyo Constituency of Homa Bay County. Kendu Bay is a town that has two predominant religions: Islam and Christianity (Specifically Seventh Day Adventist). The two religions coexist peacefully side by side since the adherents of both are Luo tribesmen. So, you do not hear of any of the clashes between religions, which regularly happen elsewhere in the world.

The Christians are mostly Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs) because Gendia, on the outskirts of Kendu Bay, is the place where the church was first founded in Kenya. Though it has spread over the last one and a half-centuries to other parts of Kenya and neighboring countries, the church still maintains Gendia as its true national headquarters in Kenya.

Kendu Bay is also the only place in the Luo dominated Nyanza region in which Islam is a well established religion. Just like the SDA, Islam was brought to the region over a century ago and has since established itself. Names like Mohammed, Hussein, Halima and so on are common place in the area. It is not altogether uncommon to find persons named Mohammed Owino or Halima Aloo. In case you don’t get the drift, Luo male names begin with letter O while female ones begin with letter A. Indeed, today in Kendu Bay there are so many children called Hussein Obama among the Muslims and Barrack Obama among the Christians. The town is indeed reflective of Obama’s dual heritage.

The Kendu Bay Connection

But what does Onyango Obama have to do with Kendu Bay? Well, it is the place where his second wife Sara originated from. Onyango Obama spent some time in Kendu Bay and thus converted to Islam, carrying the name Hussein with him. Once he went back to Nyang'oma Kogelo, he was already Hussein, even though he only left his name and not new religion behind. Talking to the President’s step-grandmother Sara, who is his closest ancestor that still exists, revealed how her family ended up with a dual heritage living in a predominantly Christian Nyang’oma while her husband was already a practicing Muslim. She reveals to anyone who is patient enough to listen, an in-depth history of the experience with her husband in Kendu Bay. This actually explains why the President’s Kenyan cousins are known by the distinctly Arabic names of Malik and Zaitunni and though they are mostly Christians.

So that explains how Barrack became Hussein. What it does not explain is why of all the places Islam had to settle deep in Luoland, which is miles away from the Kenyan Coast. It also does not explain why of the two established religions in Kendu Bay, the Obama lineage had to be on the Muslim side. Nevertheless, it explains why Obama got a dual heritage, and in spite of his joking about it, this served him well during his first and second presidential elections. He could truly be claimed and therefore voted in by everyone. The only ones who do not care about Obama and his latest antics are the people of Kendu Bay who bequeathed the “skinny kid” with an Islamic name.


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