Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Origin & Meaning Of The Luo (East African) Name "Obama"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part pancocojams series on Luo (East African) naming traditions.

Part II provides excerpts from online articles about the origin and meaning of the Luo name "Obama", with special focus on the genealogy of United States President Barack Obama.

Click For Part I of this series. Part I provides an excerpt from an article about the Luo ethnic group as well as excerpts from selected articles about Luo naming traditions.

The content of this post is presented for etymological purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Part II
INFORMATION ABOUT THE NAME "OBAMA" (with special focus on United States President Barack Obama's descendents)

These articles are quoted in no particular order. Numbers are assigned for references purposes only.

Excerpt #1
From Obama Surname Meaning and Origin by Kimberly Powell, Updated March 03, 2017
"Obama is an ancient Kenyan surname, found most frequently among the Luo, the third largest ethnic group in Kenya. The surname is believed to be patronymic in origin, meaning "descendant of Obama." The given name Obama, in turn, derived from the root word obam, meaning “to lean or bend.”

Traditional African given names often reflect the circumstances at the time of the birth. Thus, the given name Obama may mean a child born "bent," such as with a crooked spine or limbs, or possibly refers to a breech birth.

Obama is also a Japanese word meaning "little beach."

Surname Origin: African



WorldNames publicprofiler indicates that individuals with the Obama last name are found in greatest numbers in the country of Japan, especially in the Okinawa and Kyushu regions. However, this site does not include data from Africa. shows the highest distribution of the Obama surname to be in Cameroon, with the highest density in Equatorial Guinea, where it is the 10th most common surname. The name is next most common in Kenya, followed by Spain and France.

Barack Hussein Obama - 44th president of the United States

Ancestry of Barack Obama
Learn about the deep African and American roots of Barack Obama. His African roots stretch back for generations in Kenya, while his American roots connect to Jefferson Davis.”

Excerpt #2
From "What is the meaning of the name 'Obama'?" B00Mer, Nov 8th, 2012
" "Obama" is a name from the Luo ethnic group of southwestern Kenya, where Barack Obama, Sr. was born. It was originally the given name of Barack Obama's great-grandfather. It is based on the Luo (technically, Dholuo, the name of the language of the Luo) word bam, which means "crooked, slightly bending."

The prefix O means "he," and many Luo male names begin with it. Since most traditional Luo names were given by the baby's mother referring to something about the child's birth, the best guess is that when Obama's great-grandfather was born, one of his arms or legs looked slightly bent.”...
This article continue with the etymology of the names "Barack" and "Hussein” (the first name and the middle name of President Barack Obama.)

Excerpt #3
[This site is no longer available except in this cached version.]

"Re: What does “obama” mean in Luo | Jaluo dot Kom
Re: What does “obama” mean in Luo

3 Replies
Quoting marc bauer :

Dear Dr Odundo:

Would you please reply to this email? I am wondering what the word “obama” in Luo means. Would you please help me?

Thank you in advance.

Marc Bauer
[Great Falls Montana, United States of America]

– – – – – – – – – – –

O – male
BA – father
MA – Mother

The original name came as a result of the cry of a young woman who was having her first child, and kept screaming for days while in labor, “Ba, Ma” in reference to her father and mother. It is not uncommon for a Luo woman or man in extreme pain to remember and call for their parents. The “O” at the beginning simply denotes that the child was male.

Odundo jaKarateng’

– – –
Date: Tue, 27 May 2008 05:50:43 -0400
From: odundo@ . . .
Subject: Re: What does “obama” mean in Luo

This entry was posted in Who's Who on May 28, 2008 by alangreen.

← Re: Things have really changed! Nyambane in China? Amani on US Tour →
3 thoughts on “Re: What does “obama” mean in Luo”

achieng nya alego May 29, 2008 at 7:58 am
so if it was a girl it would it be Abama?

Okoth L. Sola May 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Bam means bent or crooked.

Bama means bend me.

Obama would mean one who bends things. Just like Otiya- one who is aged, Odhera- one who is thin or Ochwea one who is fat.

I know of a bow legged person called Obama Nyopiyo because of the way he walks.

However some names are gotten from great great grand parents that i am not sure we can trace their original meanings.
Like Obado, Oselu , etc.

To emphasise their uniquiness, they dont have their feminine pairs.
Umesikia Mtu anaitwa ABAMA, ABADO, ASELU?


wuod omera April 30, 2009 at 11:31 pm
I concur with the meaning of the name obama to have connotations with being bent or doubt being the name of the most powerful person on the planet it has aroused immense interest so let us who speak dhok not confuse the good people of the world who might be sitting at their computers doing Google searches on the meaning of ja alego’s name.of course the man belies the meaning of his name ,he being a straight arrow politician.

now , jothurwa ,i would like to ask the meaning of some of the following luo names:
1. Midika
2. Oronje
3. Agumba
I once knew friends with these surnames but never got to asking them about their meanings."
I've not found this article's first explanation for the name "Obama" on any other website.

Except #4
From Google books
Obama Senior. A Dream Fulfilled
By Donde, Fredrick
East African Educational Publishers, Aug 6, 2015

"The Obama Patriarchs [Chapter 2, begins on page 13]

Page 14
..."The Luo regarded the land as their mother, and the tribe as a whole was the proprietor of the land of the land within its jurisdiction. Within the tribe, clan, or sub-clan, the individual laid claim to a piece of land or several pieces depending on his diligence, but he used the land for the benefit of his family, only as long as he lived in the community; as soon as he left to live elsewhere the land reverted to the community and was allocated to the nearest neighbor or given to a newcomer joining that community.

Opiyo, the great- great- grandfather of [United States] President Obama thus located suitable land that he cleared for and claimed for himself. By the time he moved from Alego to Ka’ Rachuonyo, Opiyo had got married to two wives, one from Nyakach, and one from Mbita Wasaki, both in Nyanza. It was the latter who bore him his first born, a son that he named “Obama”, Mama Sarah explains. Obama son of Obiyo was born in Ka’ Rachuonyo.”...
"Mama Sarah" is United States President Barack Obama's step-grandmother.
Here's information about "Mama Sarah" from
"Sarah Onyango Obama (born 1920) is a Kenyan educator and philanthropist. She is the third wife of the paternal grandfather of U.S. president Barack Obama.[1] She is known for short as Sarah Obama; she is sometimes referred to as Sarah Ogwel, Sarah Hussein Obama, or Sarah Anyango Obama.[2] She lives in Nyang'oma Kogelo village, 30 miles west of western Kenya's main town, Kisumu, on the edge of Lake Victoria.[3][4][5]

Although she is not a blood relation, Barack Obama calls her "Granny Sarah".[2][6] Sarah, who speaks Luo and only a few words of English, communicates with President Obama through an interpreter."...

Example #5:
"Obama's Kenyan roots" By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOFDEC. 4, 2008
....[Barack] Obama's late grandfather is said to have been the first person in the area to wear Western clothes rather than just a loincloth. For a time he converted to Christianity and adopted the family name Johnson.

Later he converted to Islam, taking four wives. Obama's father, who apparently converted to Catholicism while attending a Roman Catholic school, was also polygamous in keeping with local custom, taking an informal Kenyan wife who preceded Obama's mother but remained a consort, according to accounts by local people and the senator himself.

The father, also named Barack Hussein Obama, was as much of a pathbreaker as his son. He went from herding goats in Kogelo to studying in Hawaii and at Harvard, even if his career as an economist was frustrated in part by ethnic rivalries.

Obama barely knew his father and does not know his Kenyan relatives well. He has visited Kenya three times, most recently very briefly in 2006."...
This article doesn’t include the number of times that twice elected [former] President Barack Obama visited Kenya as of the date of this pancocojams’ post publication [June 1, 2016]

Excerpt #6
"Barack Hussein Obama Sr... 18 June 1936[2] – 24 November 1982) was a Kenyan senior governmental economist and the father of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.


Early life
Barack Obama Sr. was born in 1936 in Rachuonyo District[3] on the shores of Lake Victoria just outside Kendu Bay, British Kenya, at the time a colony and protectorate of the British Empire. He was raised in the village of Nyang'oma Kogelo, Siaya District, Nyanza Province.[14] His family are members of the Luo ethnic group.

His father was Onyango (later Hussein) Obama (c. 1895–1979), and his mother was Habiba Akumu Nyanjango of Karabondi, Kenya, Onyango's second wife. They had two daughters and a son together, Barack Obama (Sr).

After Akumu separated from Onyango and left the family in 1945, her three children were raised by Onyango's third wife, Sarah Ogwel of Kogelo.[5][15]

As a young man, the senior Obama traveled widely, enlisting in the British colonial forces and visiting Europe, India, and Zanzibar. There, Obama converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam and took the name Hussein. He became a cook for missionaries and a local herbalist in Nairobi.


Barack Obama Sr. Parent(s): Hussein Onyango Obama and Akumu Habiba[5]

This concludes Part II of this two part series.

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