Kalenjin Kips.

I was glancing at a news story on the Boston Marathon that headlined the (unsurprising) fact that both men’s and women’s winners were Kenyan, Benson Kipruto and Diana Chemtai Kipyogei respectively, and I couldn’t help noticing the repeated Kip-. And then I remembered that the first Kenyan runner I ever heard of was Kipchoge “Kip” Keino, and I wondered what was going on. A little research showed that the majority of Kenyan runners are Kalenjin, and as it happens there’s a Wikipedia article Kalenjin name that explains:

For most Kalenjin speaking communities, masculine names are often prefixed with Kip- or Ki- though there are exceptions to the rule e.g Cheruiyot, Chepkwony, Chelanga etc. Feminine names in turn are often prefixed with Chep- or Che- though among the Tugen and Keiyo, the prefix Kip- may in some cases denote both males and females. The personal name would thus be derived through adding the relevant prefix to the description of the circumstance of birth, for example a child born in the evening (lagat) might be called Kiplagat or Chelagat.

So I’m provisionally satisfied, though of course if anyone knows anything more about the prefixes or about how Kalenjin works in general, I’m all ears.


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    This gives a sketch and might lead you to more complete references…

  2. John Emerson says

    There are 6 million + Kalenjin — it’s a group of related tribes.

    From the horse’s mouth, with all that that entails:


  3. John Emerson says

    Filbert Bayi of Tanzania is also a Kalenjin. His race with John Walker in NZ was the greatest race ever run. He was the first 1500 m runner to frontrun the whole way. He set a new world record, and several other runners in the race broke the old record.


  4. This gives a sketch

    I like the fact that the first example sentence uses a Kip- name:

    kêerey Kípe:t làakwéet

    see.3SG Kibet.NOM child

    ‘Kibet sees the child.’ (Nandi, Creider 1989: 124)

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Creider and Creider’s A Grammar of Nandi on p55 says that there are only five productive prefixes in the language, of which two are associated with gender: kip- (male) and ce:p- (female.) They go on to say that they form personal names and epithets: the second element may be a noun, adjective, verb, VP or even a clause. They cite e.g.

    kip-lakat “boy born in the evening” (lakat “evening”)
    ce:-pir-tic “girl who hits cattle” (ke-pir “hit”, tic “cattle”)

    Being a Southern Nilotic language, it doesn’t incorporate masculine/feminine into the grammar like the Western languages (Maasai, Turkana etc.)

    The general naming system looks analogous to the Kusaal one, in which the prefix is A- (with no sex difference, as befits a good Niger-Congo language.)

    I once encountered a man called A Tiim Bɔdigya “The medicine has got lost” (as I think I have mentioned before.) Most Kusaasi names are duller than that though; they tend to refer (sometimes rather obliquely) either to birth circumstances or to the identity of the child’s spiritual guardian (sigir.) If someone is called Awin “Awini”, for example, it means that his sigir is the win (spiritual identity) of an ancestor in the male line.

  6. In case anyone is wondering, voicing isn’t phonemic in Nandi and stops /k/ and /p/ are voiced intervocally, which is why Kípe:t is usually written Kibet. They are also subject to lenition in faster speech, which might have something to do with the fact that Kip- and Chep- most often seem to become Ki- and Che- before m, and sometimes before other sonorants.

    Another distinctive feature of the Kalenjin languages is the use of the patronym element arap as in long-time President Daniel arap Moi.

  7. Thanks, DE and JP — that’s exactly the kind of information I was hoping for.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Oops. I meant Eastern Nilotic languages, not Western. (Western is Dinka, Nuer, Anywa and the like. They don’t have grammatical gender either, though they have quite enough in the way of complexity going on without it. Hence the linguistic-fieldworker saying: “Dinkah – is a stinkah.”)

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