This unit focuses on history and types of names. It defines names, discusses the types of names, and traces the history of naming ceremony. This unit also focuses on names as channels of communication in African. It presents uses and communication functions of names. It also highlights spiritual implications of names.


At the end of this unit of study, you should be able to:

  1. Define names
  2. Outline types of names
  3. Trace the history of naming ceremony
  4. Discuss the communication functions of names
  5. highlight the spiritual implications of names


3.1 What is a name?

Names are channels of communication in Africa. Names are what people are known with and are called. They communicate and tell stories about people and events/occurrences at the time of christening. In fact, it is a pointed application of African communication to the situation and circumstance, especially during the period a child is born. This is the cultural dimension to naming.

It is a common knowledge that in human history, human beings start using a name after christening. So, in Africa once a child is born, the child is christened, which is referred to in Africa, as naming. It usually involves a ceremony; hence, Africans hold naming ceremonies, which in fact originated from the Bible.

3.2 The History of Naming (Christening)

This is what the westerners refer to as christening. It is old as the history of creation, probably extending into pre-history. Even in The Holy Bible, there is an example. God told Adam to name all the creatures. According to Adeboye (2006) in Genesis 2:19-20; God organised a great naming ceremony. He created animals and brought them to Adam to name. This means that the creatures had no individual identities until they received impartation from Adam and became what he said each should be.

Children are parents’/families’ bundles of joy, because they are rewards from God. So, when children are born, some families organise naming where friends and well- wishers are invited to celebrate with them for new born children. Although all cultures in Africa bear and use names, naming vary from people to people. In some cases, elaborate parties are thrown, while in others, simple parties are held depending on the circumstances of a child’s birth, family tradition/religious beliefs, social life of the parents of the child and their level of income. The level of income is a debatable variable as some people who can barely feed even throw elaborate naming. Some even borrow money to organise naming.

3.3 Religious Naming

A religious name is a name given to a child based on the religion or faith of the parents. Essentially, it signifies identity with a religion. For instance, a child born into a Christian or Muslim family is expected to be given a Christain or Muslim name based on religion or faith of the parents. This also applies to those who practice African traditional religion (ATR). Again, if people convert to any religion, they normally adopt a name to reflect their new religion/faith.

Islam is a religion that is based on the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. In Islam, the first stage in the naming of a child is call to prayer “into the baby’s ears” –Adhan. During this stage, the child is exposed to Islamic call to prayer in the first moments of his/her life and a declaration of faith that “no one is to be worshipped except Allah”. Normally, this should be immediately after birth before the ears of the child hears anything. After which the news of the birth of the baby is disseminated to all. This is followed by supplication for the new born child normally saying the following “may Allah make him/her a blessing to you and the people”. The next stage is shaving the baby’s hair on the seventh day after birth as prescribed for welcoming new babies by prophet Muhammad saying Salalahu Alahi Wasalam (SAW) meaning “May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon you”. Shaving the hair is a form of cleansing to remove the dirt the baby brought from the mother’s womb. During the naming a rite, the sacrifice –Aqueeqah, which involves slaughtering of two sheeps for a baby boy and one sheep for a baby girl is performed. This is also done on the seventh day, when the child is named. A child can be given a name indicating servitude to Allah by calling him Abdul Fatai (meaning servant of Allah who opens the door of blessings; Subuhanohu Wa Tahala (SWT), praise be to almighty Allah the highest; Abdullahi, the slave of Allah; Ar-Raheem, the most merciful and Abdul Rahaman, the most gracious as shown by the Hadith. Generally, Islamic names are derived from the teachings, life, birth and events that surround the birth of Prophet Mohammed and are mainly from Islamic laws and doctrine. 

Other examples of Islamic names include Taofeek, “let me come across favour”; AbdulKabir,”The greatest slave of Allah”; Sikirulahi,”Remembrance of Allah”; Sodiq,”the truth”; Sukurat,”Praise Allah”; Abdulazeez, “The famous Allah”; Abdullahi, “The slave of Allah”; Abdulrasaq, “The blessing of Allah”; Abdulshaheed, “servant of Allah giving witness”; Abduh, “an epithet of Muhhamed”; Nasiru, “Be patient with almighty Allah”; Hamudalat, “Glory be to almighty Allah”; Samirah, “jovial companion”; Jubril, “Archangel”; Faruq, “Distinguisher of truth from falsehood”; Umar, “lifetime”; Hassan, “first of a set of twins”; Hussein, “second of a set of twins”; Hafsat, “wife if the prophet”; Halimah, “gentle”; A’men or Ah’ man’ “peace or security”; Aarif, “Saint”; Aayan, “Gift of Allah”; Latifah, “kind, delicate, gentle and sensitive; and Maryam, Prophet Esa’s mother”.

Christianity is a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christians, normally choose a day to name their children. In Nigeria, some are done after the seventh, eight or nineth day depending on the culture of the ethnic group of the parents. Once a date has been chosen and agrred upon by the parents of teh new born, priest, normally the pastor of the parents is communicated and invited. On the day, songs of worship and praise are rendered in an atmosphere of celeberation. The pastor prays for the child and pronounces the name(s) of the child. Normally, the ceremony is characterised by eating, drinking and dancing. How elaborate the ceremony is, is determined by how wealthy the parents of the  new born are and/or their decision to make it conservative or elaborate. The names given could be from the dictionary of Christian names, the Holy Bible or coined from the parents’ knowledge of the Bible and/or level of faith. Those from the Holy Bible and in most cases are of Jewish and Hebrew Origin. Such are names of great men/women, Jesus’ disciples, prophets, and even kings. For instance, Abigail is a Hebrew name meaning the joy of the father. Other examples of Christian names include Amos, “burden bearer”; Barnabas, “son of consolation”; Christiana, “Christ-bearer”; Clement, “merciful, gentle”; Daniel,”God is my judge”; Elijah,”Jehovah is God” Elisha, “God is my salvation”; Elizabeth, “consencrated to God”; Emmauel,”God with us”; Isaac, “laughter”; Jacob, “supplanted”; Naomi, “my delight”; Zacharias,”remember”; Ruth, “beautiful and compassionate”; and David, “the beloved”.

In African traditional religion, parents give names to their new born babies based on their cultural beliefs or affiliation to a particular cult group or deities as worshipped by the family. Children are given such names either as a symbol of appreciation to the deities or as a mark of dedication of such children to the gods. In Nigeria, some are done after the seventh, eight or nineth day depending on the culture of the ethnic group of the parents. Examples of such names drawn from Western Nigeria are Ifadare, “Ifa has justified me”; Ogunmakin, “the god of iron takes victory”; Ogunmakinde, “the god of iron has brought the brave one” Sangobiyi, “a child given by the deity Sango (god of thunder)”;and Oyagbemi, “Oya, the goddess has rewarded me”. Other examples from eastern Nigeria include Chima,”God knows”; Ginikanwa,”What is greater than a child?”; Oluchi,”God’s work”; Kasarachi,”Tell it to God”; and Ugochi,”God’s glory”.

3.4 Types of Names

There are basically three types of names- personal, family and creative names.
Personal Name: A personal name is what belongs to a person. It is the identity of a particular person. There are mainly two types of personal names – first name, the name by which a person is commonly called; and second/other name(s), the name(s) apart from the first name.

Family Name: This is what the western world refers to as surname or last name. It serves as family identity. Normally this is the name a woman drops when she is married and does a change of name to reflect the new family to which she has been married.
If a woman does a change of name after marriage, the family/surname/last name that she dropped is normally referred to as a maiden name. The people who argue that a woman should change her name after marriage believe that it is for the woman to identify with her marital family. While priests argue from a spiritual dimension and say that it is for the woman to take on the destiny of her husband i.e. for them to have a common destiny as the two have become one.
However, many women in contemporary Africa, who have made marks in their professions before marriage, do not find it easy to change names as they have been known in their careers by their maiden names. Also, there are those whose maiden names give additional advantage in the public sphere because of their fathers’ exploits in the public sphere. Such women either continue to use their maiden names in the public sphere or add their husbands’ surnames to their maiden names to form compound surnames. Critics of the use of compound surname names by married women, say that women who use compound surname names are pumpous. This position is contestable as some do it to share their loyalty to the two families. However, they should realise that a sudden change of maiden name without adopting the use of a compound surname name by a woman who has made career progress with her maiden name may lead to a loss of identity if not properly managed.

Creative name: This is name that is not family or “personal”, but a name by which a person is populary called. Creative names are coined from a person’s personal or family name, exploits and/or character. It is what the person is popularly referred to as. If care is not taken, people may think it is the person’s personal name. It is a.k.a of a person or a pet name. It could be what a husband calls the wife, parents call children, peers call peers. They could be derived from personal names or made up by combining people’s initials. For instance, Sally is created from Sarah, Zik from Isaac, Abbey or Abby from Abigail and many more. In fact some African names have been so transformed creatively to the extent that they have become anglicised and almost lost the meanings/origin.

3.5 Names as Channels of Communication in Africa and the Communication Functions of Names

What is in a name? Let us find out! All over the world, names function as means of identification. Several authorities on this subject such as Akpabio (2003); Olusanya and Olurode (1994); and Doob (1966) agree with this view. They argue that more than identification, names communicate and provide a lot of information about their owners such as the bearer’s position in the family; the circumstances surrounding the birth of the bearer; parental /family situation; family hopes, desires, expectations and aspirations; financial situation; links with departed family member ancestors and a way of keeping records (i.e. historical accounts). Essentially, names tell stories about people and reveal a person’s place of origin, i.e. the part of Nigeria/Africa the person originates. This is very common among the Hausa people of Nigeria. Abdullahi Jibia, this is the name of a man that comes

from Jibia (a town in Katsina state); and Sada Mashi, the name of another man that comes from Mashi ( a town also in Katsina state).

Apart from these, this author also posits that it could show the day the child was born, e.g. market days such as Nkwo, Eke, Orie and Afor (local week days), which can be likened to such English names that people bear in Africa (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) to reflect in English the day the child was born. Even, in Yoruba Land, a girl child born on a Sunday is referred to as Abosede. Names are also given to show whether the child was born during harvest time, planting season and war times amongst others. Others reflect the birth order of a newborn child. An example is the name Obianuju and Obianibeli names from the eastern part of Nigeria, which means a child that was born in the midst of plenty and a child that has come to enjoy wealth respectively.
Again, apart from the main function of identification, it is the evidence of the origin of a person; it atimes tells the circumstances surrounding the birth and it could imply the type of trade by which the family is known. In Ondo State, for instance, most names start with the prefix “Akin-“ (which means bravery) because they are believed to be very brave and “Ogun-“ (the god of iron), which depicts reverence for a deity associated with the Ondos and Ekitis. In fact, history has it that when Ogun came down from heaven, he landed at Ire-Ekiti.

Olusanya and Olurode (1994) further add that apart from the identification function of names, they serve as links with departed members of the family and a system of record keeping. For instance, Yetunde among the Yorubas mean dead mother has come back again; while Doob (1966:191) stated that: It may suggest circumstances relating to the child’s birth or appearance; it may express a hope concerning parental disappointment; it may reflect feelings of the mother; or it may even be a brief adage

3.6 The Spiritual Implications of Names

It has been argued especially, by spiritual heads that names have implications for what the bearer would become or behave. In Nigeria today, comedians and even spiritual heads had interpreted why the erstwhile National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) could not live up to its billings of supplying constant electricity. They argue that the acronym NEPA that people have commonly referred to as “Never Expect Power Always” because of the epileptic power supply from the public utility company could be responsible for the epileptic powers supply from NEPA. The change of name of NEPA to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) again has been seen as jumping from frying pan to fire. PHCN has been interpreted by people as being responsible for the worsening supply of electricity in Nigeria. They say that before it was “Never Expect Power

Always”; now it is “Holding Power”. Many Nigerians are of the view that the public utility company should have been given a name that will spiritually ginger it to effectiveness and efficiency in power supply.

Names can also reveal the source(s) of their bearers. For instance, in Yorubaland Esubiyi means satan has given birth to this one (child). Also, Ogunbiyi and Ifabiyi mean Ogun and Ifa have given birth to these ones respectively. That probably explains why some christains, who become aware of the spiritual implications of these names (i.e attachment to idols), change them to Oluwabiyi or Olubiyi, for short, meaning God has given birth to this one.
In all the cases above, the names (i.e. Esubiyi, Ogunbiyi and Ifabiyi) reveal the idols that were consulted before the bearers were born.

3.7.0 Examples of Names

Some written African texts contain examples of the names of prominent people that lived years ago, even globally, there is a book that contains the names of prominent people i.e. people who have made history. That book is known as The Guinness Book of Records.


This unit concludes that Africans who practice Christianity, Islam or African traditional religion organise naming ceremonies; and names communicate and tell stories about people and events/occurrences at the time of birth. Also, that christening in African usually, involves a ceremony; hence Africans hold naming, which in fact originated from the Bible.

Also, it concludes that names communicate in traditional Africa and African people believe that there is an agreement (i.e.) there should be a correlation between the name given to a child and that of child’s soul/destiny. Hence, the saying, that when a name is given to a child, the child’s soul or spirit must give assent by saying “yes” to the name. The name given to a child becomes personal him/her.


This unit focused on names as channels of communication in African. It defined names, discussed the types of names, and traced the history of naming. This unit explained what a name means, uses of names, types of names; highlighted spiritual implications of names; and traced the history of christening. This unit also explained the communication functions of names and highlighted the spiritual implications of names.

Self Assessment Exercise

  1. What is a name?
  2. What is in a name?


  1.  Discuss the origin of naming ceremonies.
  2.  List ten names from your linguistic group.
  3. Translate the ten names listed.


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