Is “Diallo” the “Smith” of West Africa?

It seems as if every Guinean in the news has the same last name.

Nafissatou Diallo, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, met with prosecutors Wednesday for the first time since the district attorney’s office raised doubts about her credibility. The Guinean immigrant and hotel maid shares a surname with several other notable Guineans, including Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 23-year-old immigrant who was shot and killed by four plain-clothed police officers in 1999, and Cellou Dalein Diallo, an economist who was prime minister of Guinea from 2004 to 2006.

The name is everywhere in Guinea – applying to roughly 10 percent of the population, experts say – and fairly common across the rest of West Africa, too. For comparison, there were just 2.4 million Smiths in the United States as of 2000, accounting for just 0.9 percent of the population. (Johnsons came in second place, with 1.9 million, or about 0.6 percent.)

What makes Diallo so common? A significant portion of the Guinean population is Fulbe, or Fulani, and almost all Fulbe have one of four family names: Diallo, also spelled Jalloh; Barry; Balde, also spelled Bah; and Sow. (Diallo is not any more popular than the other three names.) About two-fifths of all Guineans are Fulbe, and they live in smaller concentrations in other countries throughout West Africa, with significant clusters in Senegal and Mali, where many more Diallos are found.

Source: Maura Kelly in Slate Magazine, July 27


3 responses to “Is “Diallo” the “Smith” of West Africa?

  1. Eric – Diallo is a very widespread name throughout West Africa. When I was in Guinea and Niger last year, I must have met dozens of Diallos in both countries. Moreover, there are Guinéens and Nigériens who also have Diallo as a first name. It is a reference to their shared Fulani heritage which long predates the arrival of the Europeans and their arbitrary creation of borders which did not reflect the real cultural realities of where people lived.

  2. Fulani is a language and a people spread from the Atlantic all the way to Sudan. They are distinguished by being muslim and traditionally from the Sahel and having cattle herding as the center of their society and mores. good site on Fulani:
    Diallo can mean bold, well-regarded etc…,in various Fula languages and dialects. As mentioned above the Fulani peoples are widespread, and borders established by outside powers rarely if ever reflect realities in Africa, thus the name Diallo can be found in at least 10 countries. BTW, Fulani, or Fullah mean the people or member of a group in Arabic.