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July 28, 2012

by DailyKenn.com

The short answer: "Obama" means "he is crooked."

Online etymology for uncommon names is, well, uncommon. Add the fact that "Obama" is African and that African languages are not well represented [example] makes research a challenge.

Nonetheless due diligence pieced together a few bits of information.

Obama comes from the Luo ethnic group that has been traditionally concentrated in the extreme southwest region of Kenya. Their language is part of the Nilo-Saharan language family. They are sometimes referred to as the Dholuo and Kavirondo.

The O in Obama means he. It is common for Luo males to be assigned names that begin with that letter (or the phonic equivalent).  Think of it as a prefix, similar to the O in Irish names that means from.

The bama in Obama comes from the Dholuo term bam that means crooked or bent. Consequently, the name Obama means he is crooked.

It is logically suspected that an Obama ancestor was born with some physical characteristic that caused the mother to observe "he is crooked". One can imagine bowed legs or something similar.

In English the term crooked implies dishonesty. I don't know if that holds true in Dholuo. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, it's not the context of the name, but the content of one's character that matters.

The name Barak is thought to come from the exclamation mabruk! that means congratulations. Hussein is of Arabic origin and means handsome one.

Barak Hussein Obama, when stated as a phrase, means, "Congratulations, handsome one, you are crooked."

Or, as some could facetiously say in the vernacular, "Congratulations, you handsome devil. You're a crook!"


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  1. Steven S. MellnickJuly 29, 2012 at 12:44 PM


    I actually cackled at this posting. Thank you for the laugh.


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