Jamaica is an amazing Caribbean island famed for its stunning beaches, tropical backdrop and amazing cuisine. Tourists regularly visit the multitude of high-end resorts stretching all along the coastline and enjoy exploring the diverse local flora.
In fact, there are countless native flowers, among them 200 species of orchid that grow only here, to see in the wild or at any of the 20 botanical gardens strewn all over the place. The population here similarly presents an assortment of names, just as varied as the natural surroundings.
What of the history and traditions of naming babies in Jamaica?
The original inhabitants were an indigenous people called Taíno. In 1494, Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica and the island became a Spanish colony. Jamaica became part of the Spanish empire and was named Santiago. This was until 1655, when the British took charge and gave the island its current name.
Throughout all this time, Jamaica remained an important hub for trading, with goods and people constantly transiting its land and territorial waters. While sugar, coffee, rum, were being exported, names started getting imported.
The Bible and Britain made the biggest impact on Jamaican onomastics. Hence, names like Moses, Samuel, David, Peter, Mary, Martha, James, John, and Jeremiah, became very common (with of course the notable exceptions of Judas, Goliath, Jezebel, and Delilah).
Instances of parents registering Spanish or Taino names slowly declined. There are far more persons in Jamaica named Charles than Adebayo; significantly more named Phillip than Kwame; and overwhelmingly more named Catherine than Ingumba or Fumnaya.
A unique program for new parents
The Registrar General’s Department (RGD) of Jamaica issues a free booklet filled with essential information on how to take care of an infant. Plenty of advice and tips for both parents to deal with most situations, but also a list of African, Biblical, and English names from which they might wish to choose one. It includes the meaning of each and even highlights the most common top 10. So here they are:
Most Popular Jamaican Girl Names
A name of Irish origin, meaning “virtuous” or “strong” dating back to the 10th century. At that time, Brian Boru became the most respected king for freeing his nation of Viking interference. Quite a fitting name for a strong and independent little girl.
Two separate sources can be found: one Welsh, where it would translate as “great queen”, while another of Arabic descent, where it stands for “scent, aroma, smell, odor” or “fragrance/perfume”. A name that denotes the modernity of Jamaican society.
French form of the given name Gabriel (Hebrew), signifying “Woman of God” or “God is my strength”.
Derived from the Old English (Anglo-Saxon), today would roughly mean “Dweller near the ash tree meadow”.
Associated with Hebrew where it means “wise”, and also the precious stone jade.
The origins are unknown, but possibly a derivation of a Latin word for “joy” or “happiness”.
A biblical name, Abigail was married to future King David, from the Hebrew word ab, “father”, and the Hebrew root g-y-l, “to rejoice”. The most common explanation being “my father’s joy”.
An English version of the Hebrew Amalia, as in “work”. Diminutives include Emma, Amy, Millie.
Likely drawing from English and Gaelic, translating as “pure”.
A modern French female version of the male name Daniel, stands for “God is my judge” in Hebrew.
Most Popular Jamaican Boy Names
Biblical name, male counterpart to Danielle and sharing the significance “God is my judge”/“God is my strength”. Can appear both as first and last name.
A gender-neutral name of Hebrew origins (Jadon), meaning “thankful” and “God will judge”. Jadon helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Today, this is a modern and fashionable name.
Once again, a religious figure, Joshua assisted Moses during the Exodus and later became a leader of the Israelites, as told by the Book of Joshua. From Hebrew “Yehoshua”, “The Lord is my salvation”.
A name relating to the Jordan River in Israel. In Hebrew it’s “Yarden”, as in “to go/flow down”. Michael Jordan might have also contributed to the popularity of this name.
One of the few Spanish names, it’s derived from the same root as “Richard”. Among the most famous examples is Richard I Lionheart, King of England.
“Highly praiseworthy”, from Latin. A popular name worldwide with an impressive number of variations (Anton, Antonius, Toni etc.). From Marcus Antonius, Roman politician and general, to prolific actor Anthony Hopkins, many remarkable men have carried this name.
Short for Jonathan, the name could be rendered as “he has given” “gift from God” in Jewish culture. Nathan is mentioned several times in the Bible, as son of David and his wife Bathsheba, but also as a prophet during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon.
From Hebrew, “Who is like God?”. A rhetorical question, meant to highlight that in fact there is no one compares. Michael is a very common name, even outside English-speaking countries. It lends to having many nicknames, for example: Mike, Mikey, Mitch etc.
Often a shortened version of Alexander, though it can be a name on its own. From the Greek “Aléxandros”, meaning “Protector of humanity”.
A name which comes from many sources, Arabic, Semitic, Hebrew, they all refer to it as “King” or “master”. The female counterpart is Malikah or Melike and translates to “queen”. Truly a royal name.
It must be noted that more than half of these names are of Hebrew/Arabic origin, which reflects the Judeo-Christian influence mentioned earlier, while the British influence (English/Irish) accounts for another 20%.
Changing Trends throughout the Years
As time progressed and technology made it easier to come across new names through radio, television, cinema, travel, social media etc., people shifted towards what was in vogue. Occasionally there would be an explosion of names with a certain sound: Keisha, Tanisha, Kedisha, or Rajae, Sanjay, Andre.
Then boys might be named after sporting heroes if they were born around a major event, especially football and track and field. Names such as Romario (Brazilian footballer) and Usain (Jamaican sprinter) can be found in certain age groups. In general, many of the names very popular ten years ago are not as popular today; indeed, there are some names in Jamaica that have all but disappeared, or eventually will, because no “modern mother” would name her child Herbert, Cyril, Gwendolyn, or Eustace in 2023.
There was another trend some years ago, with somewhat bizarre outcomes at times, where a child received a name that was a combination of parts from their parents’ name. So, a kid with parents named Winsome and Gary could end up being named Wingar; or the daughter of Sydney and Yvonne would be Sydonne or Sydonie. Thankfully, this style has faded away.
Worthy of mention is the practice (albeit not very commonplace) of combining two first names joined by a hyphen to produce, for example, Peter-John, Gavin-Craig, or Lisa-Ann.
Of course, some parents simply name their boys after their father or grandfather, with the result being “Robert Wilson Jr.”, for example, or William Turner III.
Most Popular Jamaican Names Over The Past Decade
Between 2005 and 2017, the top names for boys included Alex, Justin, Matthew, Ricardo, Michael, Ajani, Anthony, and Jaden, while the top favorites for girls included Jada, Alexia, Christina, Tianna, Britney, Abigail, Ashley, Danielle, and Akeelah. Overall, between 2005 and 2017, Daniel was the top boy’s name while Brianna was the favorite for girls.
The national motto of Jamaica is “Out of many, one people”. It is therefore not surprising that Jamaican baby names are reflective of the potpourri of nationalities and ethnicities that populate the island, and of the rich and storied history of this beautiful island nation.
New trends will no doubt emerge over time in the naming of children, but that distinct feature of ethnic plurality has never changed and is not likely to change any time soon.