Ethiopian Culture

Naming

  • Ethiopian naming conventions generally have the following format: [personal name] [father’s personal name]. For example, Ahmed Kassa.
  • People do not have a surname in Ethiopia. Therefore, individuals living in the West may use their father’s name in place of a surname. This can result in confusion, as it may appear members of the same family have different surnames.
  • It is not customary for women to change their names at marriage, as the second name is not a surname.
  • Parents may be referred to by their relationship to their child. For example, a man and woman may be called “Ye Nuro Abbat” (Father of Nuro) and “Ye Nuro Enat” (Mother of Nuro). These identifiers can change amongst many groups and ethnicities across Ethiopia.
  • People born to Muslim parents may have names derived from Islam. For example, they may have Arabic names, such as Ahmed, Awad, Mahmud and Ali
  • Orthodox Christian children are given the name of the saint that is celebrated on the day of their baptism. This can be used as a person’s personal name. However, parents generally give their children an original name that replaces their baptised name.
  • Personal names may be chosen on the basis of circumstances existing at the child’s birth. For example, an Ethiopian girl was named ‘Misrak’ (east) because she was born during the sunrise. A man may be named ‘Abiyot’, meaning “Revolution”, if he was born when the Derg military took over power.
  • There are traditional names for each ethnicity/language. For example, traditional Oromo names include Tolera, Waaggaaro and Caaltuu. However, it has become more common for people across different ethnic groups to use Amharic names as it is the official language across the country and more standardised in the city.
  • Nicknames are used to show closeness or intimacy. If you switch back to using someone’s full name after you have established a nickname basis, the person is likely to think that something has occurred to make you dislike him or her.
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