Origin of Kenyan town names Explained. Kenya, country in East Africa famed for its scenic landscapes and vast wildlife preserves. Its Indian Ocean coast provided historically important ports by which goods from Arabian and Asian traders have entered the continent for many centuries. Along that coast, which holds some of the finest beaches in Africa, are predominantly Muslim Swahili cities such as Mombasa, a historic centre that has contributed much to the musical and culinary heritage of the country. Inland are populous highlands famed for both their tea plantations, an economic staple during the British colonial era, and their variety of animal species, including lions, elephants, cheetahs, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses. Kenya’s western provinces, marked by lakes and rivers, are forested, while a small portion of the north is desert and semidesert. The country’s diverse wildlife and panoramic geography draw large numbers of European and North American visitors, and tourism is an important contributor to Kenya’s economy.
See the hilarious origin of top Kenyan towns and locations names which have stuck up to date
Names are more than just a bunch of letters grouped together to sound pleasant to the ear. They are part of every culture and they have enormous importance both to the people who receive names and to the societies that given them.
The town is named after a missionary called Barnet, from Alsace, France. The local inhabitants of the region are Tugen, a sub-tribe of the larger Kalenjn community. They added the prefix ‘ka’ meaning homestead in their language, thus Kabarnet – homestead of Barnet. It was the administrative headquarters for Baringo district since 1907, when the colonial government made it the seat of the local government. The local Tugen people then started to refer to the place as Ka- Barnet, the word “Ka” means “the homestead of” and therefore the name Ka-Barnet means the place/home of Barnet.
Tenwek is a shopping centre located in Bomet County and location of one of the oldest hospitals in the region which was built in 1936. The name Tenwek is believed to have come about because it took ten weeks to travel from the Mombasa to the area by foot.
The name “Kajiado” comes from the word “Orkejuado” which means “the long river” in Maasai language. The seasonal river named after the town runs west of the town. The original name for Kajiado was “Olopurupurana”, which means “a round elevation”.
During the First World War a contingent of Africans were recruited by the British army to carry their luggage. The Carrier Corps, as they were known, carried everything the soldiers needed to survive during the East African Campaign of the First World War.
Their base in Nairobi was around the present day Kariakor area and so the Africans used to go there pick their luggage before boarding the Lunatic express to go to war.
The locals simply called the place Carrier corps but the name was too hard for their tongues to pronounce so instead they pronounced it as “Kariako” and the name stuck up today. To commemorate their brave deeds during World War 1 and 11, Carrier Corps statue found along Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi was erected in Nairobi
Karatina (near Nyeri)This name is derived from the word QUARANTINE – the cattle owned by the local population was held in an area – quarantined – before they were slaughtered at the abbatoirs…
Rumuruti is a town in Laikipia County about 40km north of Nyahururu. How did it get its’ name? The town was on the route from Nyahururu to Mararal which was commonly used by white settlers.
They referred to the trail between the two settlements as a “Remote route”, this name was however too hard for the locals to pronounce and they corrupted it and called the place Rumuruti, as we know it today. Rumuruti (in Laikipia)- The town was on the route from Nyahururu to Mararal which was commonly used by white settlers. They referred to the trail between the two settlements as a “Remote route”
Rumuruti was the site of a huge meteor shower in 1934 and some of them are on sale on e-bay.
Chesamisi in Kalenjin this means Buffalo. This place had many buffalos hence the name Chesamisi; the land of buffalos.
As the African buffalo requires water daily, this buffalo is usually found close to perennial sources of water. For the buffalos that gave Chesamisi its name, this source of water was the perennial river Kamusinga that passes close by.
Have you ever noticed that the school crest of Chesamisi High School, ‘chesa’, proudly carries a buffalo as its attitude? Notable alumni of this powerhouse include: The first Bungoma governor Hon Kenneth Lusaka Makelo, Former Vice President, (The late) H.E Kijana Wamalwa, The first Vihiga County governor Moses Akaranga and Kenya Supreme Court judge, Smokin Wanjala.
Kericho takes its name from the Maasai chief ole Kericho, who was killed by the Gusii people in the 18th century. The origin of the town’s name has not been established. One theory is that it was home to the region’s first public hospital, built by the British at the dawn of the 20th century. Medicine in the local Kipsigis language is referred to as kerichek. Another theory is that the town was originally the home of a medicine man named KipKerich.
Kisii town was originally known by the Gusii community as ‘Basongo’. It is believed to have originated from ‘Abasongo’ which means the White people or Whites, who lived in the town during the colonial times. The town was originally established by British soldiers who were being forced to retreat from Lake Victoria by heavy gunfire from German soldiers’ gunboats during the Great War in the early 20th century.
Roysambu is a suburb along the Thika superhighway in Nairobi City County. The place was known as “Royal Suburbs” during the colonial times. However the Africans in Nairobi pronounced it as Roy-Sabu and thus it got the name “Roysambu”.
Kiboswa gots its name from a term coined from Kalenjin (By Kalenjin we mean Sabaot ) “tobosweet” which is the name of type of a tree in Sabaot language which grew in this area. In Lubukusu, this tree is known as Kumuchwichwi, Kumukunusia, Kumutoboso, Kumutotoa. In other Luhya dialects the tree is known as Musunzu (Lulogoli), Musutsu, Omuswitswi. Commonly, it is known as Broad-leaved croton; Scientifically it is the Croton macrostachyus. Kibwosa is a market town south of Gambogi on the Kisumu- Kakamega highway. It sits at the boundary of Kisumu County and Vihiga County of Western Kenya. And is a melting pot of cultures – Maragoli, Luo and Terik cultures.
Kisumu literally means a place of barter or trade, and this comes from the local word “sumo”. Kisumu has warmer temperatures than Kakamega, because it lies below the hills on the shores of Lake Victoria. Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya and capital of Nyanza province. In 1901, it became the administrative centre of the region with the completion of the railway line from Mombasa. Kisumu literally means a place of barter trade “sumo”.
The place was originally known as “The Great Corner” and the Africans could not pronounce it correctly and the corrupted version became Dagoretti Corner which was directly from The Great Corner which has stuck to this day. Dagoretti- “Ndagurite” Meaning a place that’s not yet bought as Karen Blixen had already the rest of the area.
The name was Muthangari and an area in Lavington, Nairobi still maintains that name. Muthangari a Kikuyu name was a bit too t tough for the settlers and so they pronounced it as “Msongari”.
The Church of Scotland Mission was the first mission to settle in the now little town near Kikuyu in Kiambu County. The local Kikuyu Community could not pronounce the name Scotland easily and they would pronounce it as “Thigoto” and thus the name Thogoto was born. The town has maintained the name Thogoto up to date and PCEA Church of the Torch one of the oldest mission churches still stands.
Kimilili got it name from a borrowed Kalenjin (and here we mean Saboat) word kemilil which means leopard. Just like Chesamisi, Kimilili lies in the slopes of Mt. Elgon and was originally a place with many leopards.
Kimilili is a town in Kimilili constituency, Bungoma County in Western Kenya. Kimilili constituency is an area represented by a Member of Parliament in Kenya’s parliament. Kimilili subcounty, which coincides with the constituency, is one of the devolved units of Bungoma County through which which the county government provides decentralized functions and services.
Did you know that Kimilili town is also known as “Kwa Pascari”? This name for Kimilili town comes from Omwami Pascari Nabwana, a magnanimous figure who history threatens to forget widely considered to be the founding father of Kimilili town. It is Pascari’s leadership as the first African chair of the then colonial District council of Kimilili that gave a scholarship to none other than Masinde Muliro to go for further studies in South Africa. Did you know that it is also in Kimilili that Bukusu spiritual leader and neglected freedom fighter Elijah Masinde, Masinde wa Nameme okhwa Mwasame, rose to leadership as a junior elder.
There was a popular cricket field in Kiambu and it was popular with settlers who would frequent the place from surrounding farms. The local Kikuyu community could not pronounce the name Cricket and they pronounced it as Kirigiti. Today the stadium is referred to as Kirigiti which is just a version of Cricket but with a Kikuyu corruption to it. Kirigiti (Kiambu)- There was a popular cricket field there, locals could not pronounce “Cricket” hence the name Kirigiti.
Matayos is a small township of about two thousand inhabitants along the B1 road (Kisumu-Busia Highway), sixteen kilometres from the Busia border point, and about two kilometres east of the Sio River bridge.
According to the residents of Busia, a European by the name Mathew moved to the area during the colonial times and the local Luhya people found it hard to pronounce Mathew so they had to be creative. They instead referred to him as “Mathayo” which is the Kiswahili version of Mathew, however, in Luhya dialect the name was pronounced as “Matayo”.
Ruaka- “Rui rua aka” Meaning “River of women” Ruaka is a town in Kiambu County, Kenya. The city is located north west of Nairobi, at the western end of the Northern Bypass on the C63. Ruaka is part of the larger Nairobi Metropolitan Conurbation. It is bounded by Gigiri to the south and east.
Kapropita (In Baringo)- A settler known as “Corporal Peter” lived in the area. Kapropita is a place in Baringo County , a Baringo Central constituency in Kenya
Limuru- corruption from a Maasai word ilmur which means donkey droppings and even today there’s lots of it there! Limuru is a town in central Kenya. It is also the name of a parliamentary constituency and an administrative division. The population of the town, as of 2004, was about 4,800. In a census taken in 2019 the population had increased to 159,314
Naivasha = Enaiposha – meaning the lake in Masai. Naivasha is a large town in Nakuru County, Kenya, lying 92.8 km (57.7 mi) by road north west of Nairobi.
Nakuru = Nakurro – meaning a dust bowl – dusty place in Masai. Nakuru is the capital city of Nakuru County, Kenya. It is northwest of Nairobi, in the Great Rift Valley. Nearby is Lake Nakuru National Park, home to rhinos, giraffes, lions and leopards. Lake Nakuru is an algae-filled soda lake that attracts thousands of flamingos. Lookout points such as Baboon Cliff and Lion Hills offer views of the birds, the lake and mammals including warthogs and baboons.
Nyahururu – Enaiwurruwurr – meaning windy or place of storms. Also means some plant in Masai. Nyahururu (formerly known as Thomson’s Falls) is a town in Kenya, lying north east of Nakuru. The town derives its name from the Maasai word e-naiwurruwurr, meaning waterfall and/or windy or place of storms. It is located in Laikipia County. Despite this, Nyahururu formerly functioned as the administrative capital of Nyandarua County, before it became a county, until the headquarters was shifted to Ol Kalou. There have been calls for a reversal. The town has an urban population of 36,450. The town still continues to be a central economic power of the immediate former district of Nyandarua. For that reason, the town has strong economic ties to the two counties.
Banana (Kiambu) Lots of bananas were bought and sold along that area. Some historians sya that It was named after the stiff hill climb from Ndenderu(Rwaka River) to Karuri . The hill has a Banana like curve. Hence the name
Kinoo- There was a very large sign that read “NO THROUGH WAY”. The Kikuyu living in the area would refer to the area as “haria hee Ki-no, Hence
Kawangware- Named after the Man called Ngware. He opened the 1st shop there in 60s and Kikuyus would say (ndathii gatuka-ini KA+WA+NGWARE) “I have gone to shop at Ngware’s shop”
Kilifi- Great Cliffs in that area. Kilifi is a town on the coast of Kenya, north of Mombasa. It’s near Kilifi Creek, along an estuary of the Goshi River. The town is known for Indian Ocean beaches, including Bofa Beach, dotted with resorts. Nearby, green turtles swim among coral reefs in Watamu Marine National Park and Reserve. The Mnarani Ruins, archaeological remains of a centuries-old Swahili settlement, include 2 mosques and several tombs
Kabete=a small mbete (ring). So the story goes that a certain white girl lost her engagement ring around the area. To appease her, the boyfriend rounded up all the locals kutafuta…. with whips. After the ring was found, the Kikuyus were like haiya no kabete gaka gatuma tuhurwo. Kabete is located less than 15 km (9.3 mi) outside of the capital city of Nairobi. According to the 2009 census, the Kabete area has a population of 140,427.
Sotik in Bomet county. When settlers were passing through, the forest was “so thick”
That said, there is also reason to believe that Kapchai, or Kabuchai, is a name with Kalenjin (By Kalenjin we mean Sabaot) origins, as a place where Sabaot youths were sent for rituals before circumcision. While this maybe a minority view, it is no doubt that a majority of the names of municipalities, towns, and villages in western Kenya presently have Sabaot origin. Examples include: Bungoma, Kiboswa in Vihiga and Kamukuywa in Bungoma along the Webuye – Kitale road.
Kabuchai is a constituency that elected its first member of parliament in 2017. It was formed following boundaries review by the electoral body of Kenya. Just like neighboring Kimilili, Kabuchai coincides to be Kabuchai sub-county, a decentralized unit of the devolved body Bungoma county.
One of the missionary who brought the gospel to the Lake town was called Peter. Locals couldn’t pronounce his name properly
Ikolomani=gold mine. Ikolomani Constituency is an electoral constituency in Kenya. It is one of twelve constituencies in Kakamega County.
In Lubukusu, kimisinga means beehives. In the days of our forefathers, the banks of River Kamusinga were a place chosen to hung beehives on trees along the bank of the river. It was so a favored location for traditional bee keeping as the permanent waters of River Kamukuywa provided a key ingredient (water) in honey making by bees. The availability of water all year round meant that bees could make honey all year round as well. The permanent source of water all year round makes it possible for surrounding plants to blossom, providing a source of nectar. In addition, bees need water to thin thick honey that they feed their young ones on.
Mbooni~ Leila, a rich Swahili woman trader was stranded there and noticed that there were alot of men there as the famine had drove the women away. after partaking more than her fair share of men, she christened the place Mbooni after enjoying the constant dryfry, which is used up to date. She later passed by mitamboni which the akamba corrupted from the original name, nitombeni
This is not named after an individual but derives is an acronym for Teachers of Nairobi Sacco. The Sacco had wanted to put up residential houses in Eastlands including the present day Tena, Donholm, and Savannah estates. The plan, however, did not materialize as their bid was sabotaged by corruption and mismanagement.
WILLIAM MACMILLAN he who of the Macmillan library fame is said to have bought two jinxed idols (za uchawi) in West Africa and had been instructed to preserve them well so as not to perish at sea. One was ‘JU’ and the other one ‘JA’. Macmillan later settled on the road to Thika and bought some 19,000 acres of land, at a time when no one was allowed to own more than 5,000 acres. Macmillan privately attributed this to the dark powers of ‘JU’ and ‘JA’ idols and as a result he named the farm ‘JU-JA’ farm.
Because of the numerous superstitions that surrounded the farm, the locals feared entering the land that they believed was jinxed. as a result, Macmillan’s wife took the two idols from the house and buried them in NDARUGU valley near Thika town. In the meantime, the name JUJA started getting prominence in the colonial era and interestingly refused to give way to its former name ‘WERU WA NDARUGU” meaning ‘The NDARUGU PLAINS’ NB In a twist of fate after Macmillan lost the idols (to the wife who buried them), he surely died at sea and buried on Mt. Ol Donyo Sabuk.
Kiambu, when the locals first saw the white man walipiga “Mbu” sana because they thought the white man was a ghost because of the pale skin, hence the name Kia-Mbu.
Mugoya estate in South C derives its name from a Ugandan engineer-cum-businessman, perhaps the only Ugandan who has a Kenyan estate named after him. James Isabirye Mugoya studied Engineering at the University of Nairobi where he is said to have developed a friendship with one of former President Daniel Moi’s sons.
It was this closeness to power that saw him win lucrative housing projects in Embakasi and South C estates. However, Moi’s exit from power saw Mugoya falter as the Narc government cancelled some of his tenders, forcing him to relocate to Uganda. Unfortunately, he was not well connected in Uganda and his empire quickly crambled like a house of cards.
Mariakani derived its name from the Kambas who were trades men and used to carry bows and arrows,the small container that carries arrows in kikamba is called ‘Thiaka’ (riaka in Mijikenda) so when travelling to Mombasa the kambas would leave there thiakas somewhere & coz they were so many so they called the place ‘MATHIAKANI’ so the coasterians called it MARIAKANI.
Iten is a town in Elgeyo-Marakwet County of Kenya. It is located along the road between Eldoret and Kabarnet. Elgeyo escarpment and Kerio River are located east of Iten. The name of the town is a corruption of Hill Ten, a local rock formation named by Joseph Thomson in 1883. The hill is located 800 meters outside the village, on the road toward Kessup. It can be best viewed from the Iten Viewpoint.
Zimma, as it is fondly referred, got its name from pioneer industrialist Karl Fritz Paul Zimmerman. The deceased industrialist ran Zimmerman International which operated a taxidermy factory (mounting the skins of animals for display).
In 1977, after 33 years of raving success, Zimmerman Ltd was given months to close shop following the ban on hunting. The ban effectively meant the end of the business empire – but the estate that developed on its land still carries its name.
The estate located next to Garden City is one of the few Nairobi estates that are named after a Kenyan businessman. Andrew Ngumba was an ambitious businessman-cum-politician who served as Nairobi mayor in the 1970s and later as Mathare MP.
Like many of his colleagues, Ngumba used his political connections to build a business empire with interests in insurance, banking and real estate. It was his real estate business that gave rise to modern Ngumba but while the estate now stands tall, Ngumba’s empire crumbled in the mid-1980s.
Like Icarus in the greek story, Ngumba’s ambition saw him accumulate excessive debt to the point that his business was placed under receivership.
Donholm was previously a dairy farm known still as Donholm Estate, and named after Glasgow’s Donholm Estate where its previous owner, James Kerr Watson, hailed from. Dohnolm derives its name from one of Kenya’s pioneer dairy farms which occupied the land from City Stadium all the way to where the current Donholm estate sits. Watson had named his farm Donholm – inspired by an estate that had a similar name in Scotland’s Glasgow city where he grew up from.
Nyeri is where the British defeated the native Kikuyu warriors a little over a century ago. The Maasai warriors referred to this as Na-aier ‘the little hill’.
Mumias is named after the King Nabongo Mumia, ruler of Wanga.
Ngong is the Maasai word for ‘knuckles’, a delightful reference to the four peaks of the overlooking ridge of land.
Litein is derived from the word liteito, a stone used for sharpening iron objects in the times before the Europeans arrived and showed the locals better ways of producing the casting.
Kakamega is a modern name, one apparently derived from a word meaning ‘pinching’, a description of the European settlers attempts to feed themselves the traditional maize meal dish without using cutlery. This does not seem overly likely.
Kapsabet comes from the local kap sabit or ‘the place of life’.
Bungoma is from the Bukusu word engoma or ‘drums’. This being the meeting place for Bukusu elders who would be summoned by the sound of the drums.
Webuye, possibly one of the best origins I have ever discovered, for it is named after a cobbler who once repaired shoes for the railway workers.
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