Hausa Names & Their Meanings

Source: twitter

Still in the spirit of Celebrate Your Name Week which comes up every first week in March (1st- 7th) here are some Hausa names and their meanings.

“kayan nama biu tana rikitar da hankali’n kuda.” (Two pieces of meat confuses the mind of a house fly)

Random Hausa proverb








The Hausa tribe is perhaps the biggest ethnic group in West Africa, mostly concentrated along the North West and to a large extent, north eastern part of Nigeria. It is easy to confuse them sometimes with the Fulani and other minority tribes in northern Nigeria because of how closely intertwined they are, coupled with the fact that Hausa as a language is the de facto lingua franca of Northern Nigeria.

Most traditionally non-Hausa states with multiple minority tribes like Taraba, Benue, Plateau & Kogi have adopted Hausa as an informal language for trade & intertribal communication and in many cases, they even name their children Hausa names. This partly explains why a Southerner tends to look really confused when he/she is told for the first time that all Northerners aren’t Hausas. Yeah, I’ve seen that look too many times in conversations with other Southerners, haha.

Of the three major languages in Nigeria (hint: wa zo bia), Hausa, in my opinion, is the easiest language to learn. It’s non-phonetic (compared to Yoruba) and is pretty straightforward if you get a grip of the basics.

One interesting aspect of the Hausa tribe and language is how they name their children. While there’s a vast array of Hausa names, there tends to be a relatively modest pool of popular names you’d find. For example, if you pick 100 people bearing Hausa names, you’re very likely to find a Fatima, Aisha, Mohammed multiple times.

The names they give their children are more heavily influenced by religious inclinations than culture. Chances are high that you’d meet a Hausa person whose name has roots in Arabic or the Bible (or its Hausa version, at least). Below is a list of some common Hausa names and their roots or meanings where applicable.

Male Names:

Abdullahi: Allah’s servant

Abubakar: [arabic] father of young camel *a meme reaction would’ve been (in)appropriate here*

Babangida: Hausa for “father of the house”

Danladi: Born on sunday

Garba: Derived from Abubakar

Ibrahim: arabic for Abraham (as per father of many nations)

Ishaku: laughter (Isaac)

Mohammed: duhhh, everyone knows where we got this name from.

Musa: Moses

Nuhu: Noah

Sarki: King

Suleiman: Solomon (Arabic)

Tanko: born after 3 or 4 girls (oh well)

Yakubu: Jacob

Yusufu: Arabic for Joseph

Female Names:

Aisha: prosperous

Amina: Honest/trustworthy

Habibah: beloved

Halima: gentle

Hamida: thankful

Husseina: Gift of God; usually female in a set of twins (like Taiwo & Kehinde)

Jamila: beautiful

Jumai: Friday

Khadija: premature child

Nasara: Victory (unisex)

Salamatu: safety/peace

Turai: born on Tuesday (??)

Ummi: Mother

Zahra: blossom

Zainab: flower

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From the list above it’s apparent that some popular Hausa names are derived from Arabic. This is due to a long history which the Hausa tribe shares with the Arabic language & Islamic religion, with many elements of Hausa language having their origin in Arabic.

Hausa Muslim women - farmers
© Flickr / Wikimedia

For the nerds reading this, “The language belongs to the Chadic group of the Afro-Asiatic (formerly Hamito-Semitic) family and is infused with many Arabic words as a result of Islamic influence, which spread during the latter part of the 14th century from the kingdom. of Mali, profoundly influencing Hausa belief and customs.” – Britannica Encyclopedia 2020

Like the Yorubas & Igbos, English names aren’t uncommon among the Hausa tribe. In fact you’re more likely to find a Hausa person bearing an English first name & surname than among the southern ethnicities. There’s probably no simple answer to why this is so, but it’s definitely not unrelated to the Christian side of the tribe.

It’s not uncommon to find a significant Christian population among the Hausa tribe as opposed to the general assumption by Non-Hausas that they’re barely a handful. Virtually every Hausa person bearing an English name is a Christian, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since it was already observed that religion plays a very significant role in how the Hausas name their kids.

So basically, the Muslim population often names their kids from the Arabic pool of derived names while Christians often opt for names from the Bible. While you could easily find adopted English names like John, Faith, Joseph, Sarah, etc; you may not meet a Hausa person bearing English names like Allen, Smith, Taylor, Stones etc., because they’re hardly directly related to Christianity.

It’s worth noting that there’s often an overlap where you’d have a Christian Hausa person bearing a conventionally Muslim name like Ahmed, Mustapha, etc. In fact it is quite common and often happens in cases of conversion where the person decides to retain his name after switching religion and in other cases they bear the name just because.

However, religion-neutral names (such as Tanko, Buba, Sambo, etc) and gender-neutral names (I can’t even think of any at the moment) aren’t very common compared to say –the Yoruba language which is replete with neutral names.

Hausa names –both derived and original– are some of the most beautiful names you’ll come across and they’re unique in the meanings attached. One of my personal favorites is Zara; not because it sounds like a designer brand (ok it does, but hear me out) but for its meaning; “blossom,” slaps differently. Furthermore, it has a regal ring to it as well.

Either way, in case you plan marrying into the Hausa culture or just want to adopt a Hausa name for your baby, irrespective of which direction your Faith or culture swings, you’ll definitely find a vast array of beautiful names to choose from.

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This feature was authored by GODWIN. Godwin is a Physiotherapist by day, an avid reader, lazy writer & erratic sketch artist by night. You can follow him on twitter @Godwiiiiiiin

Check out the meanings of names in other Nigerian tribes (Efik-Ibibio, Igbo, Tiv & Yoruba)

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