In most African cultures, a lot goes into the making of a name. There is a belief that a name says a lot about the roots, lineage, future, and in some cases, a person’s destiny. The circumstances of birth and the impact such births have on the family are reflected in the newborn’s given name.
For instance, in the past, names were sometimes given to people based either on their striking resemblance with a family member or whether the death of a family member, especially that of a grandfather or grandmother, was recorded. Any child born after this is believed to be the reincarnation of the dead man or woman and named accordingly. There was no separating the African belief system from names.
In Nigeria also, this has been the practice, until the advent of Christianity and Islam, which brought in their trail a re-orientation and set of values that were at variance with the indigenous ones. So, people started giving foreign, religious names to their children. And though many still give native names, the religious or foreign ones tend to dominate, as these are usually the first names, while the indigenous names take second place.
Nowadays, however, things are taking a new dimension. Today’s Nigerian youths appear not only to favour English names, but have also devised a way of writing and pronouncing their names in an English manner.
So, aside hearing such foreign names as Sean, Hart, Polo, Aria, Jaden, Pepple and Halliday among others, some indigenous names have also been altered to sound English. It has become commonplace to hear and see distorted Nigerian names, made so in a bid to ‘modernise’ them. Thus, Bukky, originally Bukola, has now become Bouqui, while Yomi is written as Yormie, to mention a few.
Hand-in-hand with this, however, is the uncertainty this alteration brings with regards to the bearers’ roots and the erosion of the cultural values attached to them. Curiously, these youths bearing ‘trendy’ foreign names may have little or no understanding of their meaning, but they still prefer them to their indigenous names with deep meaning and which define their being. Their origin is also wiped off in the process.
But why do Nigerians prefer foreign names to indigenous ones?
“I like the fact that my child bears a very fashionable name,” says Mrs. Idara Ukoyen, whose son was christened Sean. “Whenever his name is called, people usually turn around to have a second look. It is not such a common name, which is the main attraction and because it sounds beautiful.”
Does she know the meaning of the name? “Not really,” she replies, “but I will still go for the name, regardless. And though my child has native names, I still prefer to address him as ‘Sean.’”
Mrs. Josephine Ekeh’s daughter’s name is Sophia. She loved the name because it means wisdom in Greek. “It is a lovely name and I like the way it sounds,” she explains. “It is a befitting name for a modern child, especially as native names are no longer that fashionable.”
Mrs. Denwigwe Margaret told The Guardian that her experiences during pregnancy and childbirth prompted the name she gave to her son, who bears Ivan.
“Even though the name has an Igbo version, but I prefer the English version,” she says. “I will also ensure he bears the name in school and not his Igbo name, though he may decide to change to his native name when he is of age.”
But Taiwo Oladele, a father of four, wondered why he should give his children foreign names, when there are countless beautiful and meaningful indigenous names.
“Why should I give my children such names just because they are fashionable?” he queries. “Every child’s name should have a meaning because it goes a long way in defining that child. I usually prefer my children bearing their native names, as their first names and when you hear such names, you can immediately tell who they are. When we were born, my parents did not give my siblings and I English names. It is their belief that people should easily identify your locality from your name.”
WHILE analysing the factors responsible for this development, Dr. Pius Adejoh, a Sociology lecturer at the University of Lagos, said although it may appear to be a trend to some people, it is nothing new.
“Someone once said the worst form of colonialism is the colonialism of the mind and the worst form of slavery is the slavery of the mind,” he says. “Africans, especially Nigerians, are victims of mental enslavement and mental colonialism. What you are seeing by way of Europeanisation of Nigerians is symptomatic of ‘identity crisis’, which is a situation of mental confusion of who they are. Colonialism came with the rubbishing and demeaning of everything African and not just the African man, but also everything that he stands for.
“Identity crisis is the major reason people opt and prefer another man’s way of life to their own and in the case of Africans, it is not only in the giving of foreign names, even when they don’t understand the name, but also in the change of their complexion.
“Why should an African man not be proud of his black complexion, but would rather spend money on buying bleaching creams and face the consequences of skin cancer and pigmentation? The same goes for the hair. What is the business of an African girl with Brazilian hair? Where is the African hairstyle that typified the African beauty? Where has it gone?”
“Have you also noticed how people travel to Europe for just five days or so and their intonation and accent will have changed? All these boil down to the same identity crisis.”
In Adejoh’s view, an average African man has been made to lose his self-confidence, hence the problems of identity crisis. “I remember growing child up as a child,” he recalled. “Then, if you spoke your native language in the school premises, you would be punished for speaking vernacular. We were forced to speak a foreign language. That on its own sent a big message— that the foreign language is better and superior to our own languages.
“Culture is the way of life and it evolves. It is usually transferred from one generation to another. When the Europeans came, they started converting our languages and names because they couldn’t pronounce them. And for you to get baptised, you had to adopt an English name. It is clear and very sad that a vast majority of today’s youths has no bearing with their past; they have been culturally removed. Today, how many parents speak their mother tongues?”
The university don also blamed the development on inter-tribal marriage, which he says is another factor responsible for loss of mother tongues and the excessive foreign names most children bear, as couples tend to close up the communication gap by settling for the language they can easily understand, which, in most cases, is English.
“This is a big challenge to the nation and for this to be resolved, there must be a conscious effort by government at all levels,” he explains. “There must be a rebirth of cultural awareness, and this must be drummed into the ears of all. This is because our development has been impeded and battered by our inability to instill our local languages, as a result of colonialism.
“For instance, if I were to teach you in your mother’s tongue, you would understand better than if you were taught in a foreign language, which you struggle to process. Correcting this will need a collective effort, especially from government in terms of ensuring that Nigerian languages are made core subjects in our curricular.”