Nigerian names as access points



Nigerian societies treat many aspects of their cultures with reverence. Names and naming are just two of these. It is for this reason that Nigerian names deserve more than just a passing interest by cataloguers. Although long contact with the West has resulted in the adoption of family names, the issue of surnames, as a whole, is more complex. It is not in all Nigerian societies that surnames fit into the standard definition. For accurate identification and choice of names as access points, the cataloguer needs to have a deeper knowledge of the peculiarities that exist in various cultures. Cataloguing rules have made provision for a similar peculiarity in Asiatic names. It would be over simplistic to assume that Nigeria, or Africa for that matter, fits snugly into the Western mode.

The electronic library revolution is not the hurricane some feared it would be. It might have changed the face of the landscape, but some edifices with very strong foundations have survived and are still standing. One of such survivors is cataloguing – at least many aspects of it. Information Technology has changed traditional library chores; we cannot as yet burn our codebooks. I have yet to come across a library software that has completely done away with access points. I would rather think that digitization has actually created more of them. Even if some have been de-emphasised, the good old name entry appears still to stand on solid ground.

Nigerian Names

Perhaps to the uninformed outsider, there is nothing unique about Nigerian names. Are they not like other African names? Of course not. Nigeria’s ethnic diversity is reflected in its variety of cultures. Names are not just picked up and stuck on people. The process of naming is deeply rooted in the culture of most ethnic groups. And, of course, names must have meanings – usually expressing the givers’ (i.e. the parents’) feelings, the peculiar circumstances of the birth (e.g. twins, breech birth) and so on.

These apply to given names, which due to centuries of interaction may reveal parallels and similarities among different ethnic groups. Names can be broadly categorised into: day names, natural names, marriage names, nicknames /eponyms, town (or village) names.

Three classes can be identified among the Yoruba: the name with which the child is supposed to be born (natural name), the name given at the formal naming and the “oriki” (i.e. pet name, cognomen). The Yoruba names for twins, Taiye and Kehinde have parallels among the confluence Nupe as Bako and Bagi. Similarly the Yoruba name children born with the umbilical cord round the neck Ojo (male) and Aina (female) with the Nupe equivalent of Ndalai (male) and Nnalai (female). The Hausa natural name for children born with a caul is Mairiga (“the clothed one”) which among the Nupe is Siru.

Day names original to Hausa are also given in the Middle Belt area. Danladi or Ladi is given to children born on Sunday, Tanimu or TanilTini for Monday etc. Among the Igbo, day names come in the form of the days in the five day market week with children named NwekelOkeke, Nwoye/Okoye, Nwafor/okafor, Nwankwo/Okonkwo for the day of birth. (Market days are ‘eke’, ‘oye’, ‘afor’ and ‘nkwo’).

Nicknames are mostly acquired in childhood although some such as Dogo (Hausa: the tall one) may only come later. But many do get carried into adulthood and become accepted as real names. Eponyms are more peculiar to Hausa Muslims. They are variations of personal names which, contracted, are associated with the basic name and may even replace it. Many such are Arabic in origin but have been much influenced by local usages and abbreviations.

Among Yoruba Muslims are names such as Ramonu (from Abdul Rahman), Latnidi (Abdulhamid), Rasaki (Abdulrazaq). Hausa variations inclide Mamman, Musdafa, Murtala, Dahiru, Inuwa derived from Mohammed; Buba, Bukar, Garba, Habu from Abubakar. A name like Baba has Uba, Magaji etc as derivatives for children who take their names from their grandfathers’ names. …

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