This is a short and subjective list of continental Africans you can name individuals or yourself after.
- Amina Zazzua. This sixth-century Hausa queen extended her nation’s borders to their furthest in history. Historians credit this warrior queen with being the architect of the earthen walls surrounding the city of Zaria. In addition, they credit her with introducing kola nuts into Hausa cultivation. This queen of Zazzua is remembered and referred to as “woman as capable as a man.”
- Askia Muhammad Toure. He was an outstanding king of the Songhai Empire. Under his military leadership, Songhai became the largest territory in West Africa’s history. In addition, during his reign, Songhai created schools and built trade links with Asia and Europe. My research suggests Askia means “forceful one.”
- Hatshepsut. Born into pharoaonic power, this Egyptian woman adopted the full title and regalia of pharaoh. She wore a beard and male attire. She also insisted people refer to her as he, rather than she. A warrior queen, she trumpeted the cry, “I came as Horus, darting fire against my enemies.” (Van Sertima 1989)
- Jomo Kenyatta. Called the father of the Kenyan nation, Kenyatta became the first prime minister and then the first president of an independent Kenya. History considers him one of the great African nationalist leaders. Born Agikuyu, Kenyatta reportedly said, “The basis of any independent government is a national language, and we can no longer continue aping our former colonizers . . . those who feel they cannot do without English can as well pack up and go.” Research suggests that Jomo means “burning spear.”
- Julius Kambarage Nyerere. He became the first prime minister of Tanganyika in 1961. Three years later, he became the first president of the new state of Tanzania. He was a socialist and a major force behind the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union. Called Mwalimu, Nyerere inspired African nations in their struggles for freedom.
- Kwame Nkrumah. He led the Gold Coast to independence as Ghana, becoming his nation’s first president. A Pan-Afrikanist and nationalist, Nkrumah inspired other African leaders to join him in forming the Organization of African Unity.
- Makeda. Called the “Queen of Sheba (Saba),” Makeda was an African beauty, who, according to the Bible, “melted Solomon’s heart into a song.” (Van Sertima 1989) History over-relies on her relationship with King Solomon. She gave birth to Menelik, Solomon’s son, but she was exceptional in her own right. For fifty years, she ruled Saba, a kingdom larger and more substantial than Solomon’s kingdom. As Queen of Saba, she was a builder who also organized her nation’s extensive trade networks.
- Nitocris. This sixth-dynasty Egyptian queen was responsible for the construction of the third pyramid at Giza. Oral history suggests Nitocris invited her brother’s murderers to dinner. Then, she killed them by flooding a sealed room with water from the Nile.
- Nzinga (sometimes spelled Nnzingha, or Nzingha). She was forty-one years old when she became queen of Ndongo (Angola). She waged war against Portuguese slavers for more than thirty years in the seventeenth century. She also declared Angola to be a free country, and offered refuge to escaped slaves. Like Hatshepsut before her, she refused to let people call her queen and went into battle wearing men’s clothing. Nzinga is also known for so-called feminine charm. She fought against colonialism her entire life and history credits her with inspiring nationalism in central Africa. Research suggests that Nzinga means “beautiful.”
- Patrice Lumumba. He was a Congolese nationalist and anti-colonialist. In June 1960, Lumumba helped to win his country’s independence from Belgium. At age 35, he became prime minister of the Republic of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). He remains a strong symbol of the African struggle for freedom. My research suggests that Lumumba means “one who is gifted.”
- Steve Biko. He was a South African student political leader. His death in police custody prompted worldwide protests and a United Nations arms embargo. In 1997, twenty years after Biko died, five former police officers admitted to murdering him. Research indicates that in Nigeria Biko means “please.”
- Sundiata Keita. He was a thirteenth-century king of Mali. During his reign, Sundiata laid the foundations for Mali’s prosperity and unity. Research suggests that Sundiata means “hungry lion.”
- Tchaka Zulu (sometimes spelled Chaka or Shaka). He was an eighteenth-century Zulu king and military genius. History credits this king with introducing Zulu warriors to a short stabbing spear and to barefoot fighting. His military brilliance led to the emergence of the Zulu as one of the most the most important powers in southeastern Africa. Shaka is credited with consolidating the numerous chiefdoms between the Tugela and Pongola rivers into a centralized military state. My research indicates that Zulu means “people of heaven.”
- Tetisheri. This Egyptian queen set a precedent by the military role she played in the war against Hyksos invaders of Kemit.
- Tiye. Born in Nubia, Tiye was the wife/chief and Queen of Amenhotep III for half a century. Tiye was the secretary of state, and other kings dealt directly with her. Her rule marked the first time KMT proclaimed a so-called “commoner” equal to the king. Tiye greatly influenced the fashion and style for female beauty during her time. She was also the mother of Akhnaton and mother-in-law of Nefertiti.
- Yaa Asantewa. She was an eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century West Afrikan queen-warrior. When the British sent for the Ashanti’s Golden Stool, Yaa Asantewa, the Queen Mother of Ejisu, shamed her cowed chiefs. She said, “If you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We will fight the white men.” This warrior-queen went on to lead the fight against British armed forces at Kumasi.
Do you know anyone named after a “remarkable” African?