Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Why I Wrote: “Zambian Traditional Names”


By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Author of the Internationally Acclaimed Romance Adventure Novel: “The Bridge”.

I was eating breakfast one Sunday morning in 1980 at my home in Handsworth Court maisonettes of the University of Zambia in Lusaka. I was reading the Sunday Times of Zambia when I noticed in the news stories of Zambians who had very peculiar names. My wife and I laughed as we read names of a Judge whose name was “Spainet” another individual was “Witness”. I reminded my wife that one of my cousins had the name “Because”. I also remembered many kinship relatives in the village whose Tumbuka traditional names were even more peculiar such as “Mkhuta Nyanga” or “Nyifwa yanunkha” (death is smelling). It was at that time when I resolved to investigate and research the meanings of Zambian traditional names.

I conducted a study in the Eastern and Southern Provinces of Zambia to investigate the meaning of Zambian traditional names. A total of 323 respondents or people from a total of 26 villages were asked to describe baby-naming customs, identify traditional names and explain the meanings of the names, the circumstances of naming and whether the name is used to name females, males babies or both.

All the information has been compiled and published into 142-page book that describes the naming customs of newly born babies and an identification of names from the Tumbuka, Chewa, Ngoni, Nsenga people of Eastern Zambia, and the Tonga of Southern Zambia. There was a total of 571 traditional names from Eastern Zambia and 312 traditional Tonga names from Southern Zambia.

The study found that in the Eastern Province of Zambia, these were the top ten most popular traditional Names.

1. Masiye (male) – Orphan

2. Suzgho (Male and Female) – trouble, problems

3. Komani (Male) – see the book for definition

4. Mabvuto (Male) – troubles, hardships

5. Misozi (Female) – tears of joy

6. Zondiwe (Female) – see book for definition

7. Mavunika (Male and Female) – breach baby

8. Chimika (Male and Female) – to stop, to halt

9. Ganizani (Male) – think

10. Jumbani Male and Female) – to endanger or complicate

The study found that among the Tonga in the Southern Province of Zambia, these were the top ten most popular traditional Names.

1. Nchimunya (Male and Female) – third or more of consecutive daughters or sons.

2. Mutinta (Male and Female) – born after two girls

3. Michelo (Male and Female) – roots or herbs

4. Cheelo (Male and Female) – see book for definition

5. Lweendo (Male and Female) – born during a journey

6. Miyanda (Male and female) – roots or herbs

7. Mainza (Male and Female) – born during the rainy season

8. Muchaala (Male and female) – to remain behind

9. Milimo (Male and Female) – work

10. Chimuka (Male and Female) – late, baby born beyond due month

I conducted the study from 1980 to 2000. I made a research field trip to Choma and the Gwembe Valley in September 1988 and three trips to Eastern Zambia between 1980 and 1985. This was the time the author was conducting research at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Zambia. During the 1993 field trip to the Eastern Province of Zambia the author was lecturer or Assistant Professor at Bridgewater College in the United Sates.

The initial aim of the research was that the book would be put in the maternity ward of the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka and maternity clinics all over Zambia. This was so that families of women who had just given birth would be able to have a book from which they could choose Zambian traditional names to give to their newly born baby if they chose to do so. Since the book was published in 2006, I have had numerous email requests from Zambians and others who would like to give their newly born baby a Zambian traditional name.

My book: “Zambian Traditional Names: The Meaning of Tumbuka, Chewa, Nsenga, Ngoni, and Tonga Names” is now available at all Book World Bookstores all over Zambia.


  1. Priofessor, one does not EAT brakfast, they HAVE breakfast. There is no such food called breakfast, lunch or supper. Ask Simon Mwewa.

  2. LOL @The Saint. He is writing Chinglish, Chinyanja and English.
    @Professor, always a pleasure reading your articles. I think you need to finish that story about the first time you saw a train. What were your thoughts when you finally arrived in the big cities?
    As a sidenote, blowing your own hone about your previous works seems too much.

  3. Professor you are a tribalist. Where are other tribes?

    LOL, just pulling your leg. I have learnt a lot, I thank you.

  4. Professor expand what you started as it is in good faith and a pride! Lets have a compilation from the diversity of tribes around provinces in Zambia. With intermarriages it wont be strange to have names as Zondiwe Michelo, Mutinta Chitalu or Chimuka Banda they would be easily understood.

Comments are closed.

Read more

Local News

Discover more from Lusaka Times-Zambia's Leading Online News Site - LusakaTimes.com

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading