Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Personal Name as a Reality of Everyday Life: Naming Dynamics in Select African Societies

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Personal Name as a Reality of Everyday Life: Naming Dynamics in Select African Societies

Article excerpt


A name is what somebody or something is called, it is a term or phrase by which somebody or something is known and distinguished from other people or things. According to the Chamber Dictionary (2005), name is a word or words by which an individual person, place or thing is identified; it is the nomenclature used in making reference to all things, - tangible or intangible, living or non-living, concrete or abstract, liquid or solid.

The Creationist theory of evolution claimed that the ability of Adam to know and identify the name of all things positioned him to have dominion over other creatures (Quran 2, Verses 30-33). Hence, name has important role in the evolution of human being since the time of the first creations, and Agyekum (2001:211) asserts that:

"naming can be considered as a universal cultural practice; every human society in the world gives name to its newborn as tags majorly as a means of identification, but how the names are given, the practices and rituals involved and the interpretations attached to the names differ from society to society and from one culture to another".

In African societies, great importance is attached to names, because in general, the belief system of African people is often anchored in a name given to an individual which determines his or her personhood and character (Chuks-Orji, 1971; Suzman, 1994). Jayaraman (2005) asserts that the meaning attached to name plays a significant role in the definition of human self, since it is believed that a given name does not only serve as a social identity, but it also influences several aspects of human living. Thus, names are expected to influence, mold and shape the character and personality of its bearer.

Name is a universal phenomenon, for instance in the Arabian culture, name and naming is an important cultural practice among that they have specific name codes, usually referred to as 'book of names' (Guma, 2001). Similarly, in African societies, name culture (i.e., the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired in the course of generations) is an important component of the cultural system in that it is conceived among the African people that a good name should be given to a child because the name assigned will determine a lot about the present and future of the child (Agyekum, 2006). Although naming is a universal culture, the processes involve patterns of naming and types of names common in all societies varies across cultures. For example, in most Western societies, names to be given to an infant are predictable because few socio-cultural factors influence naming dynamics in those societies. This might have influence the conclusion that 'there is nothing in a name'. Similarly, among Indians, a name has some socio-cultural relevance to people's socio-cultural characteristics as class, caste, religion and deities which could be observed from a person's name. Also in Africa, people's name can be a source of information regarding a person (Yusuf, Olatunji, & Issah, 2014).

In the African context, name is not taken with levity since a huge socio-cultural importance is attached to it. For instance, among the Yoruba of south-western Nigeria, there are many proverbs which reflect the importance given to a name. Some of the sayings are: 'Oruko rere san ju Wura ati Fadaka'--meaning, 'good name is more precious than gold and silver'. And similarly, among the Akan of Ghana, a name is not just given to a person, but rather there are some important factors that are considered first.

For instance, it is common to hear among them saying 'ne din ne ne honam se' (his or her name befits his or her body). Also, the Swahili of East Africa gave so much value to individual's name in a way that they believe that a name is an essential part of a person's spiritual being, a Waswahili's proverb says: 'Wewe na jina lako' (You and Your name; you are what your name has made you). …

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