Chic African Culture Africa Factbook

Name Origin’s of Africa's Ten Largest Capital Cities

History, historical significance, and origins of the names of Africa's ten largest capital cities.

Each capital city's name carries a narrative that intertwines with the continent's colonial past, pre-colonial civilizations, indigenous languages, and even the geography that shaped their destinies. 

Delving into the stories behind these names sheds light on the origins of these urban centers and offers a deeper appreciation of Africa's complex history and its enduring influence.

Travel through time and space, delving into the history behind the names on the map. These seemingly ordinary name markers hold a treasure trove of secrets.

Ten Largest Capital Cities

The names of Africa's ten largest capital cities have diverse historical backgrounds and linguistic influences.

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo's name is derived from the Arabic word al-Qāhirah, which means The Victorious. It was named so after the city's establishment in 969 CE during the Fatimid Caliphate, signifying the region's conquest. Cairo is home to the world's oldest functioning university, Al-Azhar University, founded in 970 CE. 

Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, has a Portuguese origin. Portuguese explorers initially named Lago de Curamo in the 15th century, meaning Lake of Curamo. Over time, it evolved into Lagos. Lagos is one of the fastest-growing cities globally and has the highest GDP of any city in Africa. It's a major economic hub.

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Kinshasa was originally called Leopoldville when it was part of the Belgian Congo during the colonial era. It was renamed Kinshasa in 1966 after the country gained independence. The name Kinshasa comes from a nearby river. Kinshasa is located on the banks of the Congo River, making it one of the world's largest cities, not on a coastline or a major river.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town's name is quite straightforward, as it is located at the southern tip of Africa, near the Cape of Good Hope. The city was initially established as a supply station by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. Table Mountain, a prominent natural landmark in Cape Town, is one of the oldest mountains on Earth, even older than the Himalayas.

Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi's name is derived from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nairobi, which means cool water or place of cool waters. This name reflects the city's location near the Nairobi River. Nairobi National Park, located just outside the city, is the only national park in the world within a capital city's boundaries.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa means New Flower in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Emperor Menelik II chose this name when he founded the city in 1886. One fascinating fact about Addis Ababa is that it is the only capital city in Africa that was never colonized by a European power during the scramble for Africa. Addis Ababa is Africa's diplomatic capital, hosting the African Union's headquarters.

Abuja, Nigeria

Abuja became Nigeria's capital in 1991, replacing Lagos. The name Abuja is derived from the Hausa word for Abubu Jani, which means Father of the Rapids. It refers to the nearby River Niger. Aso Rock is a massive 1,312.3 feet tall granite rock formation and is one of Abuja's prominent natural landmarks. It is often considered one of the city's symbols and holds cultural and spiritual significance.

Rabat, Morocco

Rabat's name is of Arabic origin and means Fortified Place. It has a rich history as a strategic location along the coast. Rabat is not only Morocco's capital but also its political and administrative center. The city is home to the Royal Palace and numerous government institutions, making it a hub of political activity in the country.

Accra, Ghana

Accra's name originated from the Akan word Nkran, which means ants. It was later adapted into the Ga language as Ga-Mashi and eventually became Accra. Accra is home to Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, the final resting place of Ghana's first president. Ghana's population is youthful, with 56% under 25 in 2020.

Dakar, Senegal

The name Dakar comes from the Wolof word Ndakaaru, which means trolley or cart, referring to the rolling hills and cliffs near the city. Dakar is famous for hosting the Dakar Rally, one of the world's most challenging off-road motorsport events.

History of the names of Africa's ten largest capital cities weave colonial legacies, pre-colonial history, native languages, and geography.

The names of Africa's ten largest capital cities serve as intriguing gateways to the continent. With their diverse histories, these capital cities stand as beacons of Africa's resilience and ongoing journey toward a promising future, rooted firmly in the lessons of its past. 

As we explore their names, we embrace their cultural richness and gain a deeper understanding of the continent's complexities, making studying Africa's history all the more captivating and enlightening.

"Education is the key to success, the door of freedom, and the gateway to a brighter future."


Wise African Proverb

Wise African Proverb

More Articles to Read from Chic African Culture

Show more

Week’s Best Posts and Pages

Butterflies in Uganda: African Monarch Butterfly Beauty

Chura Dance Twerking on the Beach in Africa

Top ten African countries with the most Gold Olympic medals

Liberian rice bread recipe is traditional bread from Liberia