Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Naming a baby in Africa is serious business in Africa

Every African has a meaning or a significance attached to his or her name. First names may be assigned based on family lineage, day of the week when baby is born, order of birth, religious reasons or circumstances of birth. This is not an exhaustive list as the meaning and significance of assigning a certain name to one's baby may be entirely based on parents' subjective circumstances.

In almost all African families, there will be children named after grandparents. Grandma and grandpa on both sides expect this gesture from their children to the point it sometimes becomes a source of contention between in-laws. It's also exerts unwanted pressure on a young couple who had other name choices in mind for their future baby.

Some babies are name after their day of birth. For instance, a female baby born on Friday could be named Djouma by a Bambara family. The Bambaras may also call the first baby Somah if it's a boy. In the Akan tribe in Ivory Coast, Amah is the name for a baby girl born on Saturday, Ndah is for the male twin and Ndablah for the female twin.

Circumstances of birth give ample room for creativity in name assignment but even then, no name is assigned frivolously. My own father was name Banta for his resilience. My grandmother carried his pregnancy under both physical and emotional difficulties. My paternal grandfather was called Houne - twin in Soninke language. Saney is for a female born on a starry night.

Some names are meant to be premonitory. Woody is a baby boy of the Bete ethnic group of Ivory Coast that one wishes to be manly, virile, as he grows, Sanou (gold) for a girl one wishes to glow in life, Fanga (power) for a Bambara boy one would like to become a leader some day.

Most African do not have middle names but when assigned, middle names have for purpose to indicate one's religious affiliation or beliefs. A Christian or muslim name will denote the parents adherence to Islam or Christianity. Similarly, animist parents may assign names to reflect their beliefs in the supernatural and animist deities.

There is always a story behind an african's name. The next time you meet one, ask him or her about the meaning or significance of their name. It more than likely won't be that their parents just loved that name.

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