Monday, Friday, Sunday. Blessing, Joy, Prosper. Grace, Goodness, Patience. Wondering why I wrote these words in capital letters? Because these are just some examples of some of the names of people in Nigeria!
Child’s name is very important in Nigeria, and it is crucial that it has some meaning. If parents do not name their child on the religious bases (John, Muhammad, Michael …), then it is important that the name has some other “great significance”.
Every Nigerian has at least two names and one surname – one “English” name, one “tribal” name and a surname. As I have already said, English names are either religious or have some deep meaning (patience, joy, blessing …).
“Tribal” names also have a deep, and even more beautiful meaning. The Yoruba Tribe often adds a word “Olu” (short for Oluwa, meaning God) to names, while Igbo Tribe adds to their names Chi (translated ,again, God). Therefore, the meaning of the tribal names can be God’s gift, God is good, God’s beauty, God is great, God’s joy, God’s own …
Serbian people may not find these names interesting. Not that long ago, before we became “cool” and “westernized” we also had a trend to give names that mean something – Bogoljub (the one that loves God), Srećko (Lucky), Dragan (someone sweet and kind), Ljubomir (the one that loves peace), Miroslav (the one that celebrates peace) etc..
Even though the traditional names are almost extinct in Serbian people, it does not seem likely to me that this will happen in Nigeria any time soon. Nigerians are very proud of their roots and culture, and they are really doing everything to preserve them, no matter how strong the “western” influence becomes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TITLES
I have often written about the extremely developed class system in Nigerian society. I have also mentioned that the Nigerians are the ones who set up and plunge the class among themselves. Everyone strives to become “somebody”.
And what better way to show that you are “someone” than the title in front of your name? Every title that exists in all countries around the world is used in Nigeria! It took me a couple of years to figure out what each title means. To be honest, I do not think I understand some of them even after all this time! While some titles are religious, some tribal, some educational, others are the ones you are born with. Some Nigerians do not care about their titles that much, while others use the title as the only way to be “respected”, and can become very offended and insolent if they are not addressed by their title.
His Royal Highness, Emir, Alhaji, Prince, Barrister, Chief (I still do not really understand the meaning of this one), Honorable, Pastor, General … Religious institutions assign their own titles to people. The military and the police have another type of titles, the political titles are different and so on… I cannot even describe how many titles exist in Nigeria. One person can also have ten different titles and designations (sometimes it sounds like the Mother of Dragons).
Here is a couple of anecdotes to describe the importance of the title in Nigeria. Once I wrote to one Head of one of the Government’s institutions proposing a project. He returned the letter to me because I forgot to add one of his titles when addressing him.
An elderly gentleman (who came to ask for a favor), whom I addressed as Mr. Akamnonu, was insulted. He furiously corrected me: “Chief Akamnonu.” Excuse me, Sir.
If you are buying a flight ticket on any Nigerian airline’s website, you will also see a drop-down menu with about fifty titles to choose from. Many will use their titles and position to intimidate workers and avoid procedures at public places.
I was sitting in the waiting room in the Hospital (remember my malaria?) when a three-year-old boy who waited with his grandmother approached and started staring at me. I anointed him and I asked him what his name was. He just stood there silently. His Grandma called out to him: “Tell Auntie ‘My name is John ‘”.
The boy turned almost offended and said loudly: “No, my name is Barrister John.” Everyone laughed. You can only imagine how much a lawyer from his family (probably father) is emphasizing his title when the boy of three already knows the importance of it.
Most titles are accompanied by some symbol that indicates that a person bears that title. For example, kings wear special caps and sticks while Chief wears red or green caps. If you ever come to Nigeria – pay attention to the titles. You can offend some people if you omit their title, while if you do not omit it and show that you value that person’s status, you can gain a lot.
As far as I’m concerned, I have a very simple view of respect. There is a BASIC RESPECT, the one that parents have taught me. Respect every human being (and living thing). Respect elders, wiser, successful, and so on.
But, the HIGHER RESPECT IS EARNED AND BUILT. You can be a doctor or a priest, have any title in the world, if you are a bad man and you treat another living creature like trash, from me, at best you can only get that basic respect.