Namesâ€¦ From Ebele, Abati, Sambo, Fashola, Oronto..., I am yet to see anybody who does not have one; the English language calls it a noun. Everyone and everything has one, from the very popular to the virtual unknown. Most people have a vague idea what their own means, but few give them much more thought. The study of names is called onomastics, it is a Greek word, Ã‰Ã•Ã‰Ã€Ã‰Ã•Ã‰ Ã‰Ã¸ (onoma), which means, "name". It is a field that touches on linguistics, history, anthropology, sociology, philology and much more.
Questions onomasticians try to answer about given names include: What they mean - their etymology or origin. How they affect the people, their cultures and why names are chosen?
Etymology is the study of the origins of words. The etymology of a word is its linguistic history. The word etymology comes to us from the Ancient Greek Language. It is composed of two parts: the Greek word etymon, which means "the true sense of a word", combined with the Greek element logia, which means "doctrine, study". Combining these two parts gives us "the study of the true sense of words".
So my first question would be what is the etymology of the word Nigeria?
In writing this essay I spoke to a number of historians, spoke with Nigerians and no one could give me a satisfactory explanation, definition, in one word no one could give me the etymology of the name Nigeria, the common answer, it means Niger Area and I asked how many of us would name our kids Abuja, Lagos or Aba Area because they were born close those places or would we just address them without as much as knowing the meaning of the name.
What is in a name, why is it that Matthews, Mohammeds, Joshuas, Solomons, Peters, in our political landscape have not behaved to name. Can someone show me a stealing or a corrupt government official and I will tell you the history, the origin, anthropology and philosophy of the name whether Muslim, Christian or Pagan and the question then is why are they like they are. Do they respect the values that the names stand for, and talking about values, what value does the name Nigeria stand for?
Is it because we do not know the meaning of Nigeria or could it be because we do not know the origin of the name that we have attached a phenomenon to it called the Nigerian factor...
For the name Ghana, it has both the Arabic and indigenous meaning, from Warrior King, Kings land to gold, precious stones and what have you. It was very explanatory as regards origin, linguistics, and much more, it stretched to now Ivory Coast and talked about similarities in meaning with Togo, sadly nothing on Nigeria. I almost want to say at this point that hence Nigeria has no meaning, can we not start to give it an etymology, after all what we want as Nigerians are simple, a Nigeria that is as good as its promise. We need a Nigeria that is a definition of principles, of idealism, of character, not birthplace, creed, ethnic group or tribe. This lack of origin is one that has led to a weakness of attitude, which translates to weakness of character.
Our name Nigeria has left a sour taste in the mouth right from time, we have become fanatical, we cannot change our mind, we cannot change the subject, so we are still grappling with the same problems, only the styles that change and new terminologies developed but the ideology be it corruption or ethnicity it remains largely the same. So our culture has been shaped by the Nigerian factor, one that we have been forced to develop for lack of direction, for lack of a beginning. So as a nation we have continued with a culture of indifference.
When we do not know the meaning of our name, we do not know why it was chosen, our case can then be only likened to getting a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. For lack of an origin, because we do not know the why of Nigeria, we have leaders that have integrity without knowledge, thus they are weak and useless, the other lot possesses knowledge without integrity and this equally portends its own danger.
Is it because of this lack of meaning that makes a whole University community freaks, protests and the whole nation engage it talk-shopping because of a change of name. A change of name that does not bring quality or even quantity, does not speak any better of the Changer and changee. Has Goodluck been anything but bare-luck, has Jonthan like the biblical friend of David been friendly to Nigerians...We might as well change the country's name come October 1st, but it makes little difference.
Do we appreciate Nigeria, if we do not, we do not deserve it, we want the Nigeria of our dreams, with this and that, with leadership made in heaven but we have refused to go back and ask patiently what is Nigeria, who is Nigeria, what makes Nigeria? Today it is all talk about reforms, anti-corruption, dividends of democracy, yet we forget that these are not new; no one catches a fish in anger. That Nigeria has gone wrong, should we also go wrong with Nigeria, and can we not help Nigeria take a new meaning. The ordinary Nigerian cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once. We cannot start to give a new meaning to this structure called Nigeria, we have to change it from a Niger area of corruption, an area of lawlessness, an area of bad leadership to an area of hope, an area of godly expectation, an area where all and sundry are treated fair and square.
I end with this encounter, a politician who was charged with profanity for calling an opponent a bastard: the politician retorted, "When I call him s.o.b I am not using profanity. I am only referring to the circumstances of his birth". What is the circumstance of the birth of Nigeria, can anything be done to bring destiny and fate to conjure up some good for us all? Time will tell.
This essay was originally written as 'The Name Nigeria; What Is In A Name...?' on Tuesday, 17 October 2006.
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