Why the Hell do People “English-ize” their Names?


It is not uncommon to see people spell their names in an Anglicized (I humorously call this word “english-ize” sometimes, as I’ve done in the title line) manner, especially on online social networks where a large degree of personal freedom is allowed.

The word “Anglicize’ means “to become or make somebody or something more English” and I think this basically captures the essence of the point I am driving at.

As regards the practice of Anglicizing names, these takes the form of people adding the letters ‘H’ and ‘R’ and other to their names. As such someone bearing “Sola” may spell his name as “Sholar’ or “”Shawla”; “Gbenga” may spell his as “Gbengar”; “Oluwatoyin” may spell her name as “Holuwathoyin”; A person bearing “Damola” may choose “Dhamolah” or “Damorlar” and a “Bayo” could choose to spell his name as “Bayor”.

Now, to tackle the matter at hand head on, “Why do people, especially Yoruba people, Anglicize their names”?

This is obviously not a question with readily available answers mostly because it seems to be a new issue, a fad adopted by 21st century folks, so much so, that many people have never actually given it serious thought of any kind.

An answer that readily comes to mind is to attribute it to some sort of inferiority complex of the path of Nigerians, but is the answer really that simple?

In the remaining part of this piece, I intend to show why I believe the fad of “english-izing” Yoruba names is only the natural consequence of a whole culture and subculture which believes everything “native” to be bad and therefore should be done away with.

At the beginning of the colonialism in Nigeria and other countries in Africa by the more developed and advanced Europeans, their sole aim apparently was to enrich themselves with resources from their “overseas properties”.

Later on, mostly after World War II and especially as calls for independence from African countries became the order of the day, the intention of the Britons, at least so it seemed, seemed to shift to developing and modernizing the native people so that they could become self-governing.

Development and modernization however seemed to mean only one thing to the colonial masters and even to the few educated indigenous elites of the time, the unspoken belief was that- “All things British are good, all things native are bad”.

For example, the Europeans had brought Christianity to us in, and of course, the pantheistic and idolatrous ways of the Yoruba and Igbo (Most Hausa were already Muslims) had already been completely demonized.

In fact the name of one of the Yoruba gods, “Esu”, had the unfortunate lot of becoming the Yoruba word for Satan, probably because of his reputation as a trickster and deceiver, a reputation Christianity attributes heavily to Satan, apparently because of the deception of Eve which eventually led to the “fall of man” in the first few chapters of the Bible.

Secondly, the “official language”, a term I have often considered comical, which was chosen somehow also ended up been English ONLY, even though as at the time of independence in 1960, I am pretty sure, although I admittedly have no statistic to back it up, that most Nigerians at the time would be speakers of Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and other tribal languages because only the small and privileged educated category could have been able to fluently speak English at the time. (It is interesting to note that India has 2 official languages- Hindi and English, Switzerland has 4-German, French, Italian and Romansch Canada has 2-English and French etc.)

This was despite the fact that Yoruba, Igbo and several other native languages, including even some minority languages already had a standard written syntax, thanks to the work of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther and others about one hundred years before independence.

In fact a Yoruba dictionary had already been completed and published in England by the brilliant Bishop around 1850!

What of dressing? The official attire of Nigerian professional men became the white man’s suit and tie, a manner of dressing which one can actually argue is ill-fitted for our environment due to our hot weather, but that is a topic for another day.

We even went as far as adopting the white man’s cuisines, bread became a rival for corn-pap and our home-brewed alcoholic drinks lost favour to the white man’s beers and wines and liquors.

And then of course we also abandoned the monarchial system of government which was in place before colonialism (and is still in practice is some thriving and successful countries e.g. Dubai, Saudi Arabia) for the white man’s mode of government, Democracy. Which apparently we have no clue how to handle.

Now, for the most part, I have nothing against the white man’s ways, some of his meals are a personal favourite, I don with pride his style of dressing which although may be uncomfortable in my environment, I endure with air-conditioners (oh, and that’s another white man’s creation), I love the idea of what a democracy is, at least in theory, even though I’m yet to see practical dividends of it here in Nigeria, and the sublime and immortal teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles preached through Christianity, a religion the white man introduced to Nigeria, has been “a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path”

I have however listed all the points above to point out the inevitability that the notion that the white man’s ways are better than ours is deeply ingrained in the subconscious of virtually every one of us, consciously or otherwise.

Like several other young Nigerians, I attended schools where you were punished for speaking Yoruba in school (except during the Yoruba Language class) the same way you were punished for speaking foul words in English.

I have met adult middle aged Nigerians whose young kids cannot speak their native tongues-and they boast of it……”My child doesn’t understand Yoruba oh, talk to him in English……”, I have heard many a Yoruba mother say that several times in the neighborhood, church, family gatherings and social events.

95% of people who have an English or a “Christian” name, either as their first or second name will prefer that you address them by it because it sounds “cool”, “hip”, “fresh” as compared to native names which have that truly unfortunate word which is not necessarily derogative, but certainly deprecating identity affiliated with them-LOCAL.

In fact, nothing “local” or “native” seems to appeal to the typical Nigerian by default.

The belief is if it is imported (from anywhere at all!), if it comes from overseas then it must be better than anything that originates from here. The Chinese are teaching us the lesson of our lives as regards that anyway!

Now, how can such a society where we celebrate almost nothing that is ours, except for “traditional” festivals or carnivals (This provides for an interesting side note, we have relegated many of our cultural activities into the background so much that we pick out a few days every year to “celebrate” them and go back to our Anglicized lifestyles the rest of the time) blame the 21st century youth, a product of the conscious and unconscious workings of the society, for Anglicizing his name when virtually every other thing around him is in fact actually Anglicized?

Lastly, let us consider a physiological attribute as well. It is well known that Black people have kinky and woolly hair which rarely grows down; white people on the other hand have smooth hair which tends to grow long and fall down on their shoulders.

It is an open secret that black people all over the world have sought for ways to make their hair look like that of Europeans. This is usually either by applying chemicals to the hair to give it desired characteristics e.g. softer, sleeker, wavy etc. or by fixing false hair attachments on the head.

Somehow, I doubt if black people would be doing this if they never met anyone who had sleek hair which could grow down.

Not to talk of the fact that black women fix attachments which have colours that black women cannot, ceteris paribus, naturally have e.g. white or even red hair!

In summary, if we consider it fashionable for people to make their hair look like that of white people, if we somehow consider it normal for people to dress up in suits and ties like the white man in the heat of sub-Saharan Africa, if it is in order that the religion which the white man brought to “save” us from our idolatrous past is what we practice, if some of us are even ashamed by the fact that their kids speak their native tongues, if we consider our name and language local, why then should we condemn or be surprised that young people are now prefer to Anglicize their names?

If everything else in our lives is run the white man’s way, how does our name, a means of identification, get spared from the craze of Anglicization?

In short, civilization by definition may mean development of society but in practice here in Nigeria, it means becoming more like the white man in our ways, behaviours and attitudes

So next time you see an Anglicized name, before you accuse that person of vanity or anything else, think of the white man’s meal you had for breakfast, think of the white man’s cloth you are wearing, think of the white man’s beverages you consume, think of the white man’s language you have willingly or unwillingly glorified over your native tongue, remember the foreign songs which dominates your music playlists, think of the white man’s God who saved you from idolatry and consider an Anglicized name no different from all that, because rationally and logically, whatever it represents, either good or bad, it is only a natural and inevitable product of the workings and machinations of the whole society itself, and not the fault of any one individual.

Agree with me?  Let me know by dropping a comment below.

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Thanks for your time.