The names: Kipchoge & Kemboi. Cheruiyot & Jepkosgei. They immediately bring to mind our favorite athletes, but they are actually among the common Kalenjin names. Most Kenyan runners hail from the Kalenjin community, which is also the second largest ethnic group by population in Kenya. The names all are deep with meaning, so we wanted to break down how our favourite athletes got their names.
Just like many other indigineous African communities, Kalenjin naming is based on what happened at the time of the child’s birth. So names often refer to the weather, events, a season, a time or place of birth, a special happening.
The masculines take on the prefix “Kip” or “Ki” with a few exceptions like while the feminines take on the prefix “Chep,” “Che” as well as “Jep” or just “Je.”
We did a list of some common Kalenjin masculine names and feminine names. Take your time and spot the names of your favorite Kenyan runners.
Common masculine names
Kipkeino - means born when cow milk is short and the goats or sheep are being milked instead.
Kimutai -born in mid-morning.
Kibet -born at midday
Kipkorir -born just before dawn
Kipkoech -born at dawn
Kiplagat (sometimes, Kiplangat) - born at sunset
Kipkirui - born just soon after nightfall, after dark.
Kipruto -born on a safari
Kiprotich -born when cattle have been brought home for milking in the evening.
Kipchoge -born near a grain store or a barn
Kipsang - born on the outdoors, in the open.
Kipkemboi - born at night
Kipketer-born on the open porch or verandah
Kiptanui -failed to cry or breath just after birth
Kiprono -born in the evening at time when sheep and goats are being returned to their sheds.
Kiprop - born during the rainy season.
Kiplimo -born among grazing cattle
Kipkosgei - born after a extended labor or a long gap between siblings
Kipchirchir - born in a hurry or after a short period of labor
Kipngeno -born when goats are waking up
Kipngetich-born when cows are taken out to graze after morning milking
Kiptoo - born with visitors around
Kiptum - born during circumcision ceremonies
Kiprugut- born at a time of famine
Kipkemei - born during drought
Kiptalam -born during locust infestation, ‘talamuet’ is locust
Kitur -born after parents had lost hope of ever having a child
Kigen -born after a period of long wait (a son born after several other daughters)
Kimaiyo/Komen -born during brewing or drinking of beer or traditional liquor.
Kibitok -born on the father’s side of the homestead’s bed or hut.
Common feminine names
Jepchirchir/Chepchirchir -born in a hurry after short labor
Jepkorir/Chepkorir-born just before dawn
Jepkoech/Chepkoech -born at dawn.
Jemutai/Chemutai -born in mid-morning.
Jebet/Chebet -born at midday.
Jelagat/Chelagat -born when the sunsets.
Jepkirui/Chepkirui -born shortly after dark.
JepkemboiChepkemboi-born at night
Jepngetich/Chepngetich- born when cows are taken out to graze after morning milking
Jerotich/Cherotich --born when cattle have been brought home for milking in the evening.
Jepngeno/Chepngeno -born when goats are waking up
Jerono/Cherono-born in the evening at time when sheep and goats are being returned to their sheds.
Jepkeino/Chepkeino - means born when cow milk is short and the goats or sheep are being milked instead.
Jeplimo/Chelimo-born among grazing cattle
Jepkosgei/Chepkosgei-born after a extended labor or a long gap between siblings
Jeptanui/Cheptanui--failed to cry or breath just after birth
Jepketer/Chepketer -born on the open porch or verandah
Jepchoge/Chepchoge -born near a grain store or a barn, “choge” means a barn or store.
Jepsang/Chesang -born outdoors
Jebitok/Chebitok -born on the father’s side of the homestead’s bed or hut.
Jemaiyo/Chemaiyo -born during brewing or drinking of beer or traditional liquor.
Jeruto/Cheruto -born on a safari
Jepkemei/Chepkemei-born during drought
Jeptalam/Cheptalam -born during locust infestation, ‘talamuet’ is locust
Jepsigei/Chepsigei -born by mother without help, lucky!
There are a few interesting twists on this general pattern of naming: patrilineal naming, and different prefixes used by certain sub-tribes. Let’s take a look at those.
The Kalenjin naming system often affirms the identity of an individual and also puts them into a relationship with others. Father’s tend to pass their names to their sons through the removal of the prefix “Kip.” For example, if a father is Kipkorir, the son may be named Korir. A good example is Kenyan long distance runner, and former parliamentarian Wesley Korir. Wesley Korir is the son of Nehemiah Kipkorir. If the name is Lagat, like the Kenyan-American middle and long distance runner, Benard Lagat, then it means the father’s name is Kiplagat.
The word “arap” is also used to make reference to “son of.” Whereas personal names are given at birth depending on the circumstances at their birth, the patronym “arap” is given later in life following initiation ceremonies. Wesley Korir’s son may later be named “arap Korir,” meaning son of Korir.
Occasionally, Kalenjins have been easily mistaken to be a single tribe. But actually, the Kalenjin are a community of culturally and linguistically related subtribes. This includes sub-tribes like the Kispsigis, Nandi, Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet, Sabaot, Pokot, Terik, and Ogiek. Each group does names slightly differently, so meanings and how people come by their names might change from one group to another.
The Tuwei, Mibei, Mosop, and Merop people generally don’t use the Kip or Che prefixes
However, there are names that do not have a “Kip” prefix like Cheptegei, Cheruiyot, or Chepkulei. These do not change when passed on to children.
The prefix “Kip” especially among the Tugen and Keiyo subtribes, may denote both males and females. A good example is the 2011 and 2013 IAAF World Champion marathon champion, Edna Kiplagat. There are sub-sub-tribes among the Kalenjin community where the prefix “Che” which is feminine has also been used among men. A good example is the Sabiny (a Kalenjin sub-sub-tribe in the border of Kenya and Uganda), where Joshua Cheptegei (Ugandan long distance runner) hails from.Just like there is a special meaning behind the names of our shoes, there is also a bit of a story about these Kalenjin names. We hope the next time you spot your favorite runner, you most likely have a story to share about their names.