Zaire is the former name of the African country now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which is the second largest country on the African continent (after Algeria); Zaire is also the former name of the Congo River. Zaire (or the DRC as it is now called) is located along the equator in the mid-section of Africa. Its history is multifaceted and complex starting with its early divisions of kingdoms based on chieftainship after Bantu invaders forced out the ancient Pygmies. Rich in natural resources, the Congo region would eventually become a target for slave traders and European colonists. Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to come in contact with the people of Congo in the 14th century – it was they who brought Christianity, literacy and trade agreements to the chiefdoms which eventually established the region as the Free State of Congo. But it was Belgium King Leopold II in the 19th century who managed to obtain title to the territory renaming it Belgian Congo. Leopold savagely subjugated the native people and exploited their resources for his own personal gains until the Belgian government was forced to take over and quell the international embarrassment. It would take 75 years but eventually the Congolese reestablished their own independence and broke free of Brussels in 1960 only to plunge themselves into a series of civil wars. Control of the newly developing yet precariously independent Congo was basically usurped by the country’s army general: Joseph-Desiré Mobutu. During Mobutu’s corrupt rule (1971-1997), the country’s name was officially changed to The Republic of Zaire and the Congo River was renamed the Zaire River. The word “Zaire” comes from the Portuguese; it represented their interpretation of the Bantu word “nzere” meaning “the river that swallows all rivers” (obviously in reference to the Congo River which, aptly named Zaire at one point, also happens to be the world’s deepest river). When Mobutu’s corrupt, thieving, autocratic dictatorship was finally toppled in 1997 the country’s name went back to the Democratic (and we use that term loosely) Republic of the Congo. Zaire was just too strongly associated with her once unsavory ruler so the country wanted to shed itself of such remembrances. Since Zaire is used primarily as a masculine given name in the United States (most likely among African-American parents), we have to assume it’s in reference to the geographical place name. However, Zaïre also carries some literary weight. It’s the name of the heroine in French playwright Voltaire’s 1732 tragedy “Zaïre” – about a Christian slave woman who falls in love with a Muslim sultan and becomes a tragic victim of his misplaced jealousy. Most likely Voltaire coined the name Zaïre from the Arabic “Za(h)ra(h)” meaning “blooming flower”. From this perspective, Zaïre could arguably be used as a girl"s name.

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Zaire first appeared on the masculine naming charts in 1999. Oddly enough it has only so far appeared on the male charts and not the female. We think this is a name that works for either gender. Since the turn of the 21st century Zaire has been dwelling near the bottom of the boy’s Top 1000 list of names in circulation. This is a rarely used name and therefore quite unique.

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Exotic and “deep” (like its once namesake river), Zaire is a distinctive name choice. Of all the many geographical place names on the charts today Zaire is one of the more original.