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Origins of the Name Kenya and Names of Towns in Kenya

Updated on April 1, 2013
Kenya. The Origin of the Name Kenya
Kenya. The Origin of the Name Kenya | Source

What is Kenya?

In the years prior to the coming of British colonialists, the name Kenya didn’t exist. Not even the aptly named Mt. Kenya was known by that name at the time. One is therefore driven to wonder where such a beautiful name for an equally beautiful country that is full of grand landscapes, tourist attractions, and which is the choicest summer vacation and tourist destination in the world came from.

That is the question that I asked myself minutes before I hit the search button on my browser. My research took me to some fascinating depths that I never knew existed. Did you for example know that many parents in America name their girl children Kenya? No? Well, here it is: Kenya is ranked as the 802 most popular girl child name in America!

The name Kenya also has its origins in the Hebrew language where it means "animal horn". How that could be related to the country Kenya don't ask me. In Russia, Kenya means innocent or harmless-now that's something considering that Kenya has always been known as the hub of peace in Africa, albeit for the slight madness of the 2007/08 post election violence!

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta Was the First President of Kenya

Origin of the Name Kenya as a Country Name

Kenya, as a country is however not linked to any of these historical and international explanations of the name Kenya. As a name of the country, severfal fables/tales have been used to explain the origin of the name.

One fable that tries to explain the origin of the name Kenya maintains that back in 1894, as Johann Ludwig Kraft was touring the country, he came across a native of Agikuyu origin near Mt. Kenya (Kirinyaga at that time), and asked him what that was. The native who was carrying a gourd replied, “Kinyaa” (the Agikuyu name for gourd). And thus originated the name of this great country, and the snow-capped Mt. Kenya!

There is another popular explanation that maintains that the name, as are other major Kenyan town names, originated as a result of difficulties in pronunciation by the British colonialists. According to the tale, the British found the Agikuyu population around Mt. Kenya calling it Kirinyaga, the mountain that glitters. And since they (the British colonialists) could not pronounce Kirinyaga properly, they ended up calling it Kenya. How the name came to be affixed to the country as a whole remains everyone's wild guess however.


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