Why the name: Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso
Flag of Burkina Faso
Flag of Burkina Faso

Have you ever wondered about the name of the country Burkina Faso?  Why would a country have two names, i.e. Burkina and then Faso?  or even simply two names in its history: Upper Volta and then Burkina Faso?  Well, the country named Upper Volta was given a new name in 1984 by then President Thomas Sankara, who chose the name Burkina Faso.

Flag of Upper Volta
Flag of Upper Volta

Originally, Haute Volta or Upper Volta, was just given by the European colonizer, the French, more as an indicator or geographic pointer, and had no real attachment to the people of that region themselves.  Thus Upper Volta was named for the region above the Volta river flowing in the area; the people of that country/area where thus known as the ‘Voltaics’ (Voltaiques in French).  Since the river had three tributaries: the Black Volta, the white Volta, and the red Volta, Upper Volta’s flag also had those three colors.  The Volta river also flew into Ghana, which was never known as the ‘Lower Volta’.  No wonder the name needed to change, as it had no real meaning!

Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara a Ouagadougou

Well, on 4 August 1984, Thomas Sankara, with his usual charisma and revolutionary spirit, decided to change the country’s name to Burkina Faso.  He chose two names after two main languages of the country: the Moore (or Mossi language) and the DioulaBurkina from Mòoré means men of integrity, while Faso in Diouala means fatherland.  Thus the Burkina Faso is the land of upright people or the land of honest people.  The people of the country are known as the Burkinabé, where the suffix ‘bé’ comes from the Foufouldé language spoken by the Peulh people (a tribe found in many countries across West Africa), and means ‘men or women’.  Thus, Thomas used three of the main languages in his country to choose a name that was truly representative of the country and its people.  Sankara was then addressed as the PF or the President of the Faso.  The national cloth made up of woven strips of cotton or silk was called faso dan fani (this will be the subject for another post).

Enjoy this video, and travel to Burkina Faso, the land of the upright people.

37 thoughts on “Why the name: Burkina Faso?

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  11. Desmond

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  17. Thomas Sankara has always been one of my favorite leaders in history. The way this man stood up for his country and its heritage was commendable. He was so ahead of his time and I firmly believe that his assassination was one of the most tragic events in world history. One can only imagine where he would have taken Burkina Faso, and as a result motivated other African nations, had he lived longer!


    1. Neha, you have said it so well. Thomas Sankara was a man of great integrity who loved his country deeply; and yes his assassination is one of the most tragic events in world history, because it was similar to cutting a bird’s wings. Today, his spirit lives on, and we, throughout the world, have a duty to be the new Thomas Sankara, that is to express this kind of integrity and love of our people and mankind.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is, indeed. I do posts on Thursdays and I have been working on one on ‘Thomas Sankara’ for quite some time. I feel inspired after reading yours now. Hope I can also spread the word about this great man some day 🙂 🙂


  18. What a great initial intro to Burkina Faso. My wife and I spent 3 years there, 2007-2010, and still have fond memories and good friends there. I think that Sankara should have changed the country’s name to Smiling Faso.


  19. That is a good history of it. I remember reading a few things from W. E. B. DuBois and Cheikh Anta Diop about the origin of that name. Side note: The first African movie I reviewed on Iridium Eye was Dreams of Dust which is a Burkinabe film.


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    To me Thomas Sankara was so patriotic and I really adore the man. Leaders of this period should borrow a leaf from his type of leadership. Africa needs leaders of high integrity and with sound economic policies.


    1. Amen Anatory… Africa needs leaders of high integrity with sound economic policies… I think more importantly the love of the country, because even if they are not economists, they could surround themselves with those with sound economic advise.


    2. I know that I’m replying to what may be a 9 yr old posting, but I’ve lived in Burkina for 3 years, and a Burkinabe friend gave me a copy of “Thomas Sankara Speaks.”

      Thomas Sankara was overthrown and martyred before his economic beliefs could really be implemented. He was an ardent Marxist and as such, his economic beliefs were faulty. Marxism is not a viable economic structure or theory.


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