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Habesha names, which are in wide use amongst Eritreans and Ethiopians, are constructed in a fashion similar to Arabic or Icelandic naming convention. In this convention, there are no family names. Instead, one is known through their lineage. Traditionally, this is done paternally; however, legislation has been passed in Eritrea that allows for this to be done on the maternal side as well.
In this convention, children are given a name at birth, by which name they will be known. To differentiate from others in the same generation with the same name, their father's first name and sometimes grandfather's first name is added. This may continue ad infinitum. In the West, this is often confused for a surname (family name)—but unlike European names—different generations do not have the same second or third names.
In marriage, unlike in some Western countries, women do not change their name, as the second name is not a surname.
In the example above, the progenitors, Senai and Feiven, may be differentiated from others in their generation by their father's name. For example, Senai and Feiven have fathers with first names Abraham and Tewolde respectively. They are the father and mother of a daughter and a son who are each married.
The son and daughter each had a child. The first who had a child would name their child Ammanuel. The next sibling to have a child would give their child a different first name. It is against the customs to name a child after a living family member. Ammanuel and his cousin would each get their fathers first name for their last.
In the diaspora, this method is sometimes dropped in favor of adopting the grandfather's name (the father's "last name") as a surname in accordance with Western naming conventions. In modern Ethiopia, a person's legal name includes the both the father's and grandfather's names (the father's full name), so that the father's name becomes the child's "middle name".
- Tesfagiorgis G., Mussie (2010). Eritrea. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 236. ISBN 978-1-59884-231-9.
- Spencer, John H (2006). Ethiopia at bay : a personal account of the Haile Selassie years. Hollywood, CA: Tsehai. p. 26. ISBN 1-59907-000-6.
- Helebo, Fikru. "Ethiopian Naming System". Retrieved 9 January 2013.
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