Seriously, Kanye Means More Than Arrogant: Celebrity Names That Have Deep Meanings

October 22, 2013  |  
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If you ask older men and women, too many people today name their children things that don’t mean anything, and can barely be pronounced, but that’s not necessarily always true. Some names are variations on classic names with meaning (i.e., Shaquille is a variation of the Arabic name Shakil, which means “handsome”), and some people’s whose name just sounds cool can tell you its origins are more about God and promises for success from their parents, rather than just a catchy moniker. Here are a few famous folks whose names are more than they seem (and yes, you’ll find many of the names to be African).

Sanaa Lathan

I know what you’re thinking, Sanaa must mean gorgeous, because this actress is definitely a looker. But no, the name Sanaa is both of Swahili and of Arabic background. In Swahili, it means “brilliance,” and in Arabic it means “art.”

Keanu Reeves

Keanu, pronounced (Kay-anu instead of the popular Key-anu, but carry on), is said to be a popular Hawaiian name that means “cool breeze over the mountains.” Though the actor was born in Lebanon, his father was born in Hawaii, and is of Hawaiian, English, Portuguese, Scottish, Chinese, Dutch, French and Italian ancestry. Woo! That’s a whole lot to have in your blood…

Kanye West

Everyone’s favorite “international a**hole” has a pretty powerful name, whichever way you look at it. In Swahili, the name actually means “the only one,” and the Igbo (Nigerian) variation of the name is said to mean “let’s give” or to give honor to.

Djimon Honsou

The Benin-born actor, former model and absolute delicious piece of eye candy has a name that pays tribute to his lineage. The name “Djimon” translates to “powerful blood,” or “one who has strong roots.” 

Nia Long

The actress, who is of Afro-Trinidadian background, has a name of Swahili origin. If you’ve ever had to learn the seven days of Kwanzaa (hey, I went to a predominately black elementary school), you’ll know that “Nia” is the fifth day, and it means “purpose.”

Idris Elba

One of the FINEST men in Hollywood, Idris Elba was born Idrissa. He has made it clear in the past that he was somewhat embarrassed by the feminine qualities of the name as a kid. However, Idrissa actually means “immortal,” and that’s nothing to be embarrassed by, am I right?

Issa Rae

She might be known for her awesome sense of humor and hilarious web shows, but Issa Rae’ first name is known for coming from Swahili and Muslim origins. It actually means, “The Messiah.” Now that’s deep…

Boris Kodjoe

Born to a German mother and a Ghanaian father, Boris Kodjoe’s name is actually a lot longer than the version we get to see in his acting credits, and some of it is inspired by movies and family members, and it’s in full, Boris Frederic Cecil Tay-Natey Ofuatey-Kodjoe. He broke down how he got his full name and what Tay-Natey  means to BET:

“My full name is Boris Frederic Cecil Tay-Natey Ofuatey-Kodjoe. Boris comes from Boris Pasternak, who wrote Dr. Zhivago, my parents’ favorite movie. Frederic is my uncle’s name. Cecil is my grandfather. Tay-Natey means “first born child” in Ghana. And Ofuatey-Kodjoe is my family name. My origin is from Ghana, my father is from there, in West Africa.”

Tiki Barber

Known for his days as a New York Giant, and for leaving his pregnant wife for a 23-year-old intern at NBC, Tiki Barber’s full name is actually Atiim Kiambu Hakeem-Ah. So where does Tiki come from? And what does Atiim Kiambu mean? Here’s what Barber said while doing a live chat with fans on Reddit: “My real name Atiim Kiambu it means “fiery tempered king” because I was in an incubator when I was an infant and wasn’t happy to be there. “Tiki” comes from the ti” in Atiim and the “Ki” in Kiambu.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

The gorgeous actress, who has an English mother and a South African father, has a very unique first name that is from the Zulu people (South Africa). Gugu is a shortened version of  “igugu lethu” which means, “our pride.”

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

The handsome actor, who was once a model who appeared as Mary J. Blige’s love interest in the “Love No Limit” video, and is known for playing crazy a** Adebisi in Oz, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has a name that promotes success and power. Adewale means, “the crown has arrived,” the “Akin” of Akinnuoye means “warrior,” and Agbaje is “prosperity and wealth.”

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