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Endangered Species of Names!

Started by Abu-Fatima, June 04, 2010, 06:13:18 PM

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Modernity is threatening the existence of some names in the north of Nigeria: Goggo, Uwani, Kakale, Babangida are being replaced with Ummi, Mummy, Humaira, Ameerah, Daddy, Ameer; Maryam, Fatima and Hauwa'u are replacing Mairo, Binta, Ta-Rasulu and Maijidda in everyday usage. The other day, I have to explain to my 6yr old daughter that Binta and Fatima are synonyms in Hausa land.
We need do something to check this phenomenon, or don't you think so?


i dont want to go into academics but i personally feel that we should move wit d times, if some names are becoming extict, y not, let em. we can document these changes n let em become part of our history.

i mean can u imagine a 7 yr old girl being called ta- rasulu? pls! the meaning is fantastic but d way it sounds is just not smthing one would want to be called, i am ta-rasulu too, but try calling me that! it ll be war!

i know for a fact dat when a friend found out dat his real name is zakari ya'u and not alhajiji like he was fondly called, he threw a fit, he was about 6 then, the parents had to drop d ya'u, n he remains zakari to date.


Well said. Imagine names like juma, jumeme, jumare,ladi, maikudi, dela, kande, tanko, liti, asabe all goin the way of the dinosaur! i will surely miss them.


This is a very fascinating topic and I am glad it has come up as part of cultural discourse on this forum. It is true that authentic Hausa names are disappearing, and being replaced with more "stylistic" modern ones, some based on Arabic (rather than Islamic) practices, while others are reflections of a new dyanmism of nomenclature. I argue, however, that such transformationsw are essentially urban; and even within urban settings, elitist. Somehow I don't see the daughter of a Dan Achaba (motor cyle taxi driver) calling him "Daddy", which is a common parental referent for the DSTV generation of parents; nor the ground-nut-selling-at-motor-park daughter of a village woman calling her mother "Mommy".

I am guilty of such stylized naming myself. My children are Ibtihal, Intissar, Munzir and Ifrah. The first two -- female -- are words (piety, victory) but used within an Islamic context. Munzir is Muhammad, while Ifrah is a straightforward word which means happiness. She was given name after we lost Mutahhar (another Muhammad) and we see her as a joybringer. Now imagine if we had called her "Madadi" or "Farin Ciki"! Ethnic psychology is at work here. For instance, a niece of mine is called Mahjubah -- veil/curtain. Imagine her being called "Labule" Mahjubah gives here a stylistic distinction -- being lost in meaning -- that somehow gives the impression of ultra-coolness, even though it has no spiritual connotation to Islam. Give a typical Hausa urbanite a choice between Yassar and Maikudi, he'd probably chose Yassar -- yet the mean the same thing! The traditional Hausa names, despite being unfashionable, ARE reflections of Hausa identity, for they are unique to the Hausa, no one else. Adopting the stylized names is not necessarily a reflection of being modern, it simply a denial of identity.

Grandparents often wish to be remembered after they had gone, and subsequently many children are named after them or other aunties and uncles held so dear. I think the fear that your own child might lose its identity is what makes modern parents shun the practice of perpetual renaming from a repertoire of dead grandparents. This is because Zainab easily becomes 'Hajiya'. I remember more than 30 years ago having asked by uncle to pick my cousin  (his daughter) from school after they had closed for holidays. I really don't know her name, except the one at home (Hajiyayye). The school could not call her for me because they don't know her with that name! Luckily she had seen my car and came over. Subsequently she became horribly teased by teachers who started calling her Hajiyayye (which she hates!)(Up till now I still can't remember her actual name!).

So why do we shift away from the traditional Hausa names? I think the main answer is desire to cleanse our collective memory of the antecedent Maguzanci (Hausa paganistic totemism) and reaffirm either a more Islamic, or more neautral globalized identity, especially among urban elites.The Muslim Hausa of Nigeria are unique in this process by shifting away from the ancestral naming.  Yoruba Muslims, for instance, often retain their totemistic traditional names (e.g. Abdulganiyyu Adekunle); not the Muslim Hausa. For the Hausa, "suna linzami" (your name leads you) and as Qur'an reveals the name is a critical referent to your own personality. The Ethnic Psychology I referred to gives modern Muslim Hausa a window of opportunity of adopting Arabic-sounding names that gives them a psychological affinity with Islam, even if the Arabic names themselves have no meaning superior to their Hausa equivalents -- for not all Arabs are Muslim (something which many Hausa find difficult to understand).Thus giving your child a more traditional name (whose meaning is often lost) might be seen as harking back to Maguzanci status -- as I said, it is really pschological, not cultural.

What names do the Hausa give themselves BEFORE the advent of Islam and that do not reflect Maguzanci? There are many of these, and I have compiled them from the most classic of Kano History -- Kano Chronicle (translated as Hausawa da Makwabtan su). I am sharing this with other researches on Hausa/African naming systems by other scholars and published in professional journals. The list of the names may help to explain why they are no longer in vogue. Nagudu, for instance, (still in vogue as there is a modern Hausa  music studio in Kano with that name) refers to escape from slave raid -- a process no longer done, subsequently, the name might be considered redundant. The documents I have uploaded provide detailed background from 1917 on Hausa and African names and their etymology -- which will help to explain why they are no longer in use.

My compilation of non-Maguzanci pre-Islamic Hausa names contain beautiful sounding names, and I think if we want to preserve the Hausa naming systems, we might start considering using them, even as nicknames; that way, we keep true to our African roots, while retaining our Islamic identity. All the the documents are freely available for download from my account. The link is: full list of the resources is as follows:

Adamu, Abdalla Uba. "Unique Hausa Medieval Names." Taken from Adamu, Muhammadu Uba. "Confluences and Influences - The Emergence of Kano as a City State". Kano: Munawwar Books Foundation, 1999.
Harris, Percy G. "Some Conventional Hausa Names." Man, Vol. 31. (Dec., 1931), pp. 272-274.
Migeod, F. W. H. "Personal Names among Some West African Tribes." Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 17, No. 65. (Oct., 1917), pp. 38-45.

The files are RAR'd; so you need WinRAR to open them. WinRAR is commonly available on the web.



Thank you for this worthy contribution to the thread, Abdalla. I strongly feel that this short piece you wrote and the link you provided to those valuable resources provides a fountain of knowledge to anyone interested in this aspect of Hausa culture and language. Allah Yasaka da alkhairi, amin.


yes, that was really good and enlightening. thank u.

my mind went back to a similar( but oh so superior) article i read sometime in daily trust, written by someone i know( unfortunately) cldnt even send a txt to say it was a lousy piece. i wish this write up ll find its way to dat daily, it ll be appreciated.

there was a good article in thisday, a variation of this topic, the guy really tried, it was in 2 parts, shld be 3 or 2 wks ago. very interesting.


Ummutameem, we will be glad if you will search the web and help us with links to both newspaper articles. mungode.


Hey Guys,

Sannun ku. I know its been years since this discussion ended, but I hope at least one or two of you are still online.

I recently began compiling original Hausa traditional names that had no Arabic influence. I've gotten up to 300 names at the moment, and I came across this forum. I totally agree with most things mentioned by Abdallah. I tried accessing your compilation, but it appears it has been removed from the database. I would really like access to this please.


Hello AspiringKande,

I just want to take this opportunity to welcome you to Kano Online Forum...
Kaini Kano ko a buhun barkono!!!


Hello Admin,

I really want to get in touch with Abdalla. I want his list of names he shared on this thread. The links he shared are no longer active. If you could please give me his email address, I'd really appreciate it. I can give you my email address so you don't post it on the thread. Thank you.


Hello AspiringKande,

Please try to enter his site.

Kaini Kano ko a buhun barkono!!!


Thank you Admin,

The website is very resourceful but sadly does not have the list of names I am after.

A quick google revealed that Prof Abdallah is no longer at BUK, but the VC of NOUN. I guess he'll be even harder to reach. But I'll keep trying.

Thanks so much for your help.


Prof replies to his emails very well. If Webmaster will assist you with his email, you might reach him easier.

A Sha ruwa lafiya
"My mama always used to tell me: 'If you can't find somethin' to live for, you best find somethin' to die for" - Tupak