History behind the names of some towns in Kenya

Counties and towns in Kenya have unique names with an interesting history.

While the Maasai tribe is responsible for naming a lot of locations in the country, other languages like Kiswahili and English have also played a role in coining names for various towns.

Kabarnet market | Travelstart.co.ke

Below are historical facts explaining how the towns/locations acquired their names.

Kabarnet; The town is located in Baringo county and was named after a French man named Barnet. The locals who were predominantly from the Kalenjin community added the word ‘Ka’ which means homestead in their dialect. Kabarnet was, therefore, Barnet’s homestead.

Kariakor; During the first world war, there were Kenyans serving in the British Army Eas African Campaign as luggage carriers. They were given the title Carrier Corps. These men were located in Nairobi around where the modern day Kariakor is and that is how the location got its name.

Kisumu; The word Kisumu can literally be translated as a place of barter or trade. It comes from the local Luo dialect “sumo”.  In 1901, it became the administrative center of the region with the completion of the railway line from Mombasa and was, therefore, a busy market place which led to the name.

Iten: The home of champions, as it is popularly referred to comes from the English phrase, Hill Ten’, a rock formation named by Joseph Thompson in 1883. The locals pronounced it at Iten and the name stuck to date.

Mombasa. In 1502, Kenya’s second largest city had the Arabic name Manbaca or Manbasa which eventually evolved to Mombasa.

Machakos: This popular town was named after Masaku wa Munyati who was a famous Kamba chief. He arrived in the area in 1816 from Sultan Hamud along the coast.

Malindi; locals in this tourist town allege that the name came from the Swahili term ‘Mali Ndi’ which translates to ‘a lot of wealth’.


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