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Austin Uzoma Nwagbara, Ph.

D (Lagos)
Department of English, University of Lagos, Lagos
Tel. 08033157782 E-Mail:


Names as Enactment of Being: The Humanism of Personal Names Abstract The linguistic act of naming, a uniquely human trait and medium for conceptualising and interpreting human experience and essence, primarily constitutes a dominant means of endorsing reality and acting out the human perception of the world. As a consistent means of asserting humanity, names act a device for conceptualisation phenomena and assigning nomenclature to experiences and perceptions. Evidently, through the act of naming, humanity is able not only enact being, but essentially engages the world. This paper attempts to note one of the ways through which the human essence is expressed through an act of language: naming. Primarily, the paper addresses the phenomenon of naming as a means through which humanity enacts being. ROMEO: What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

JAQUES: I do not like her name. ORLANDO: There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christened William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2 Introduction and Background Use of names, and the practice of naming, is a phenomenon that is as universal as it is age long and perhaps has been practised by people for as long as there has been social relations between human beings. Perhaps one of the earliest activities performed by the first human beings in the early days of the establishment of human society and civilisation could have been the act of naming. The Christian story of creation underscores this conjecture. Naming is, probably, from the Judeo Christian perspective, one of humanitys initial accomplishments and one which involved the collaboration of man and God in the process of creation. First, there is the account in (the Book of Genesis 1: 1 - 14) Holy Bible which reconstructs the process of creation and the origin of things as performed through the act of naming. This excerpt from Genesis 1: 1 3 5 (Holy Bible) is illustrative of this fact. It reads: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness

2 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. Secondly, as recounted later in the Book of Genesis also, the act of naming seems to be one of the first tasks performed by Adam, the first human being. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. (Genesis 2: 19; Holy Bible) This more or less suggests that that act of naming is an age old practice peculiar to humanity. It is perhaps one of those activities that distinguish humanity from other forms of life and, may be, proclaims the assumed human superiority over other beings. Other accounts also exist elsewhere in the world, which one way or another, point to the same fact that the act of naming goes beyond the traditional ritual of proclaiming an identity on an individual. Another viable perspective to the phenomenon of names and naming is that, names do not only represent nomenclatures and identity items, they are also linguistic and communicative acts that express some functional, aesthetic and assertive meanings and features. In addition, names are a means of perceiving reality and relating with the facts of life and social existence. The notion that personal names represent significant signposts of information about the about people, their backgrounds and sometimes the circumstances of their birth is common facts in several societies and cultures. This could perhaps explain the belief that names and naming patterns in different cultures across the world tend to give access to a lot of information on the bearers. Names are a valuable source of information. They can indicate gender, marital status, birthplace, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and position within a family or even within a society. (A Guide to Personal Names and Naming Practice, March 2006) The assertion above is given further credence by Omoregbe (1994: 64) who, while commenting on the perception of names in some traditional African religion beliefs and practices, observes that the word God in all African languages, for example, does not take the plural form just as it does not make linguistic reference to any other thing than God, human or material. He states this against the practice in the English language in which the linguistic items God and god co-exist. In many Nigerian societies and cultures, the practice of naming expresses intense social significations that generate far-reaching implications than merely giving an individual a nomenclature. First, through names, individuals relate and interact with the world around them. Second, a name more or less, provides elemental evidence of a persons being or humanness - some rudimentary information on the

3 background of a person as it often tends to tell of the facts and circumstances of the bearer. Third, a name could also be a philosophical statement and a means of acting on the world. Essentially, most names tell of the worldview of their givers and/or bearers, especially as at the time of naming. So in a sense, the names people bear are means by which those who give the names affect the world in respect of their feelings and those of the bearers on behalf of whom they act or so it is assumed. Generally, one could as well mention that names reveal the philosophies and views of those who give them and their opinions on the issues around their lives at the time of naming or at a certain phase of their lives during or prior to that time. Omoregbe, disputing Wittgensteins claim in Tractatus Logico Philosophicus that names are the smallest, irreducible units of language, and that they are unanalysable, corroborates this notion of names and naming patterns when he remarks that African names are certainly analysable, for they are, quite often, full sentences reflecting African beliefs or the circumstances in which people are born. That means that names represent communicative acts and through names people express several meanings and information in several ways. This practice, which could be worldwide, tends to have special significance in the Nigerian situation as names are used to communicative diverse information, significations and entailments. This essay argues that the universal linguistic practice of giving names to individuals at infancy is equally a way of acting on the world making declarations and statements that proclaim certain perceptions and understanding of the world and a way of apportioning significations to human perceptions of reality as well as projection a relevant and/or prevalent worldview. It is an activity that has far more underlying communicative significations with varied or diverse implications and entailments. In view of this position, this paper intends to answer the following questions: 1. Do names make statements that transcend merely identifying an individual? 2. What particular statements do names make, if any? 3. Do names perform acts? What kinds of acts? 4. Are there other implications to this? 5. Do names project some semiotic functions and other implicatures? Thus, naming more or less involves the projection of some linguistic acts which could be interpreted to entail some semiotic implications. In other words, personal names seem to embody and/or conjure many connotations and diverse forms of significations which could be why personal names could be said to communicate some form of the human essence of the individual named. Names: Personal Names

4 Our use of the term, personal names, in this essay refers to the names of people as assigned to them by their parents, relatives, guardians and/or elderly members of the family and their community which serve as a means of reference to them or used to identify them as distinct persons or to capture their individuality as human beings. Many a time personal names are rendered in two or three forms or variants first name, middle name and surname. Of these, the first always refers to or identifies the individual, and optionally, the middle name sometimes refers to the same person, or it is some form of family name (perhaps fathers name). The surname name refers to the family name (mostly the larger or extended family name, sometimes a source of identifying a persons heritage or ancestry). Our notion of names is expressed in three dimensions which to a large extent recreates the sociocultural experiences of various Nigerian communities. For our purpose in this essay we represent the naming pattern as follows: Native names Foreign names (English names, Judeo Christian names, Arabic names, names from other languages and cultures) Hybrid names Nigerian Names as Enactments of the Human Essence: An Analysis The essay studies personal names that are commonly used in Nigeria. Of interest here is the practice of the use of names to enact the human essence, reconstruct and live out experiences and establish a philosophical hold on the world. In this sense, names are examined as ontological elements that distinctly project forms of the human situation and reality through social, philosophical and pragmatic attributes. Our interpretation of names and naming patterns in Nigeria is presented in three categories as follows: Foreign Names (mainly of Judeo Christian, Islamic and Western Sociocultural origins), Native Names (names derived from indigenous Nigeria languages or cultures), and Hybrid Names (a fusion of both native and foreign names). Foreign Names These refer to names with non-Nigerian origin or names which are not indigenous to any Nigerian culture or society. The names classified in this study as foreign names are the names that are derived from cultures outside Nigeria. They are usually Judeo-Christian names, Arabic/Islamic names, European names, and those taken other parts of the world. We examine foreign names in this essay under the categorisations below. One of the common naming patterns in Nigeria is the use of names from cultures, languages and societies foreign to the country. The practice is so prevalent that it has led to a three fold naming pattern expressed in the following structure: Foreign + indigenous + surname
(Christian/Islamic/Western) (Igbo/ Hausa/ Yoruba) (Nigerian/Western/Arabic)

5 As such, there are names such as Sunday Udoka Madu Amina Idowu Kolade Frederick Dagogo Thompson or Indigenous + foreign
(Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba)



This pattern generates names like Ugonma gold Amadi Balogun Isyaka Adedibu Adamu Dogonyaro Gusau Judeo-Christian names These names are derived from the Christian religion, Greco-Roman civilisation, Jewish sociocultural background and experience or taken straight from incidents and encounters portrayed in The Holy Bible; these are names of particular biblical personalities or individuals whose faith are considered outstanding or persons who performed some outstanding feat in the Bible; or names that share similar circumstances or background from biblical stories with the bearers names of people that played prominent or heroic roles in The Holy Bible, which are now used as source of motivation to those that are given the name. For instance, we have names such as Samuel and Esther. 1. Samuel 6. Moses 2. Peter 7. David 3. John 8. Solomon 4. Elijah 9. Abraham 5. Paul 10. Isaiah Arabic (Islamic) Names Names under this classification are those origin the Arabic language and culture, and most often, have Islamic background. Some of the names are plainly cultural while others are Koranic in the sense that they are taken after key personalities and people of outstanding status in the Koran. Examples of some of the names include Ishaku/Ishaka and Hauwa. 1. Adamu 2. Musa 3. Isah 4. Yahaya 5. Idris 6. Samaila 7. Hussaini 8. Abdullahi 9. Abubakar 10. Umaru 11. Hauwa 12. Talatu 13. Salamatu 14. Ismailu 15. Junaidu 16. jamila 17. Jamiu 18. Ishaya 19. mukailu 20. Usman

6 Names from Other Places and Cultures (European, Asia, African, etc) These refer to names that have their origin from other languages, cultures, religions and societies across the world outside those of Judeo-Christian and Arabic origin. Under this categorisation we have names that are derived from French, German, Spanish, African and Asia backgrounds, for example. 1. Yvonne (French) 2. Yves (French) 3. Laurent Native (Indigenous) Names These are names that are native to Nigeria or are rooted in Nigerian beliefs, cultures social and religious practices and world view, and they origin from one of Nigerias indigenous languages. Such names usually and follow known Nigerian naming patterns and forms. Common examples are drawn from few of Nigerian ethnic and linguistic groups in the country, especially the three major groups (Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba). Hausa Female Names 1. Uwani 2. Ladidi Male Names Babangida Yau Dogonyaro Yaro Mai Doya

3. Laraba 4. Binta

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

6. Danladi 7. Labaran 8. Babayaro 9. Dogondaji 10. Dodo

Igbo Female Names 1. Nwaobilo 2. Nneka 3. Nnebuihe 4. Nwanyibuaku 5. Nwanyinnaya 6. Uloma 7. Ugonma 8. Ugochi 9. Ugoeze 10. Ezenwanyi Male Names 1. Obinna 2. Umunnakwe 3. Onyenweaku

11. Ezinwanyi 12. Ugoagha 13. Oluchi 14. Nnenna 15. Adaku 16. Ndidi 17. Nwakaku/Nwakaego 18. Amarachi 19. Nkechinyere 20. Akunna

4. Nnabuihe 5. Nwazuoke 6. Uchenna

7 7. Okebugwu 8. Nwokoma 9. Nwabueze 10. Onuora/Onuoha 11. Ugwumba 12. Ugwunna 13. Maduabuchi Gender Neutral Names Nwadinma Nkemdirim Chijioke Chinenye Uzodinma/Uzoma 14. Umunnabuike 15. Ikenna 16. Nnabugwu 17. Ndubisi 18. Ikemsinachi 19. Ikechukwu 20. Ndukwe

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

6. Ngozi 7. Chidinma/Chimdi 8. Kelechi / Ekelemchi 9. Ebere 10. Chika

Yoruba 1. Babatunde 2. Abiodun 3. Oluwafunmilayo 4. Adenike 5. Olaniyi 6. Adeniyi 7. Fasola 8. Olufunso 9. Yewande 10. Yemisi

11. Yetunde 12. Abosede 13. Olusola 14. Olufunke 15. Aderemi 16. Kikelomo 17. Abiola 18. Bukola 19. Olubunmi 20. Ademola

Hybrid Names Names that come under this classification are those that share the naming features and patterns of both indigenous Nigerian names and foreign ones. These names, for instance bears the cultural, philosophical and religious characteristics and elements of some local Nigerian cultures and societies, but are rendered in English. These names are generally seen as religious names because they are expressed in English, but the meanings, functions and the implications they convey are basically indigenous to Nigeria. In their English forms the meanings they convey are merely translations of the sociocultural forms and implications. They express the same kind of understanding, ideology and intentions they would have expressed if rendered in the relevant vernacular of the linguistic community they originate from. The names listed below are some examples of hybrid names: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Hope Blessing (Ngozi Igbo) Favour Light Grace (Amara Igbo) Patience (Ndidi Igbo) 7. Promise 8. Gift (Onyinye Igbo) 9. Precious 10. Glory 11. Endurance 12. Bright

8 13. Gold 14. Knowledge 15. Justice 16. Mercy 17. Goodluck 18. Faith 19. Joy 20. Love

The names could co-exist alongside the local forms. They could also be interchanged in some instances with the local equivalents. For example, it is possible to have a co-occurrence of the name Ngozi and Blessing for the same person, just as we can have Gift and Onyinye. Names as Acts: General Considerations No matter the structure or pattern a name may take, it largely represents or could be taken to be representative of certain actions, the enactment of some experiences or realities; for example, a name may have its own meanings and connotations such as: Circumstance of birth (late male child, birth of twins, etc) could produce names like Isaac, Jacob and Esau (Foreign) Indigenous and hybrid forms and variants of these names are: Okwukwe (Igbo name meaning Faith), Kehinde and Taiwo (Yoruba names for twins) In another circumstance, the name Isaac could be a proclamation of faith or a declaration of commitment. Other names that could perform this kind of acts are: Job, Peter, Paul, David and Moses Names such as these merely perform acts which re-enacts the circumstance or the historical background of the lives of the people who bear the names. In contrast names which are considered ignoble or which have negative connotations are generally avoided and hard to find. Thus names like Judas, Hitler, and Saul is rare. Local names, on the other hand tend to express deep philosophical meanings and implications in addition to other connotations to which they are associated. This explains names like: Ndubisi, Maduabuchi, Anulika, Some of the names also represent historical and developmental landmarks in the evolution of the family of the persons with such names. Circumstances like deaths and other tragic incidents or occurrences, natural occurrences, wars, social upheavals, outstanding achievements, great experiences pleasant encounters, and the attainment of heroic feats generate significant names and naming patterns. Names that come under this classification are:

9 Goodluck, Victory, Favour, Patience A particular naming pattern that is common in many Nigerian communities and ethnic groups is the use of names as a form of enacting self acclaim and self aggrandisement. This entails a situation in which names are used to engage in acts of glorifying themselves and family lineages. In this kind of consideration are names such as: Sarkin Yaki, Maikudi (Hausa); Ogbuagu, Amadi (Igbo) Religious issues, incidents, occasions and institutions have informed a specific kind of naming pattern and thus been sources of a regime of names. In this consideration, names have become avenues for asserting faith and beliefs evoke acts of faith, acknowledgements of the benevolences of God, proclamation of the supremacy of God and deification of some religious processes, order and entities. For instance, names like: Ogun, Sango (Yoruba) Agbara, Nwaogwugwu, Chukwu, Nwachukwu Malam, Alhaji, Sheik, Abdulallah Gratification and Appreciation More than anything else, through names people often express intense feelings of gratitude and represent ways by which great events and deeds. Names of this kind acknowledge of significant landmark experiences and occurrences. In this class of names are: Treasure, Goodness, Godspower, Grace, Udokanma, Chidinma, Chiemela, Ikechukwu Olufunlayo, Babtunde, Conclusion The idea of naming and the use of names is not merely a means of proclaiming identity or a nomenclature, but serves more as a form of enacting being and the humanity of the bearers. Names as linguistic and communicative tools tend to represent a means for acting out human experiences, engaging the world, asserting their authority over life and expressing their world view or philosophies in life. Names therefore seems to bear more significations and implications than they generally suggest. Therefore names are acts of being, influencing events and proclaiming the assertions of life.


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