Democratic Republic of the Congo Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Democratic Republic of the Congo Historical Changes[edit | edit source]

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is common for individuals to possess three separate names: a first name (prénom) and surname (nom) as well as a post-surname (postnom). Each form may comprise one or more elements. This practice is distinctive to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is not found in other neighbouring countries. As well as ethnic, regional, or familial identity, modern-day naming customs reflect significant historical changes under Belgian colonial rule and the Mobutu regime as well as the post-Mobutu restoration.[1]

Pre-colonial and colonial-era naming[edit | edit source]

  • Before the colonial era, people living in the Congo basin tended to have one or more names of personal, local, or ethnic significance rather than following Western-style naming conventions.
  • Names and naming conventions in the pre-colonial period were diverse and could vary between different ethnic groups. Names could be given to persons either before, at, or after their birth.
  • Some groups kept the birth name of a person throughout their life, while others such as the Kongo people changed the name of a child once they reached puberty.
  • The Mbaka people people would append a second name onto the birth name of a person at a circumcision ceremony once they were teenagers.
  • Families sometimes changed the names of their children, but Congolese would never change their own names until they had reached adulthood. They would do this if they disliked the connotations of their contemporary name, felt it brought them misfortunate, or to pay homage to life events they experienced.
  • The spread of Christianity to the Congo basin created a major shift in naming practices. After baptism, converts would adopt a new "Christian name" (nom chrétien) as a first name (prénom) to signify their changed identity in addition to their existing "pagan name" (nom païen). Often, the new name would be chosen because of its connection to a particular saint and would be of European (Belgian) origin.[1]

Mobutu Regime[edit | edit source]

Joseph-Désiré Mobutu came to power in 1965 after a five-year period of political unrest and violence which had followed independence. On 15 February 1972, the Popular Movement of the Revolution resolved that all Zaireans must adopt "typically Zairean names". Many priests violated the prohibition by naming children after saints but not officially declaring this.[1]

Post-Mobutu Restoration[edit | edit source]

Mobutu was forced to agree to the liberalization of many areas of his regime's policy in the final years of his rule. In 1990, it was announced that the legal restrictions on naming would no longer apply and that people were free to use Christian names. Many people re-adopted Christian names which are now a common aspect of Congolese naming practices. However, most also chose to keep their post-surnames as well. In addition to the names of Western saints, there is an increasingly diverse range of modern name choices including common nouns, the names of presidents or employers, value-based adjectives (Précieux, Sublime) which are usually positive in nature. Increasingly, some have adopted names which are contractions of existing phrases such as Plamedi (from Plan merveilleux de Dieu, "God's Marvellous Plan") or Merdi (from Merci Dieu, "Thank God") or Glodi (from Gloire à Dieu, "Glory to God").[1]

Other Naming Practices[edit | edit source]

  • A Congolese child in most cases is named after grandparents, parents or closed relatives (uncle

or aunt).

  • A first-born is usually named after her father’s side of the family; the second born usually takes the name of her mother’s side of the family.
  • Once grandparents are honored with the naming, then the parents name themselves if they have more children. Then they usually name uncles, aunts, and then their siblings.
  • Most people name their first born after their father (for boys) and mother (for girls). However, this is not a written rule, since in some situations because of significant events, a girl maybe named after a male for example. This is usually found when a parent’s family member dies childless. In those cases, the next child usually carries the name of that family member regardless of their gender (and whether that family member was a parent or sibling) as a way of honoring the dead. Thus, it is not uncommon to find girls with what is considered a “male name” and vice versa. [2]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Democratic Republic of the Congo naming customs", in Wikipedia,, accessed 14 March 2021.
  2. *African Congolese Names or Zairian Names (Given Names)