SEXISM IN NAMES: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF MALE AND FEMALE NAMES IN THEIGBO TRADITIONALSOCIETY
OYEKA, CHIAMAKA NGOZI, Ph.D.
DEPARTMENT OF LINGUSTICS, AFRICAN AND ASIAN STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS,
Sexism is the belief that one sex is superior to the other. Sexism is manifest in language. Names are a significant part of culture which is expressed through language. It is observed that there is a bias in some names given to different sexes in the Igbo society. Such names affect both sexes, the men, positively and the women negatively. The negative effects on the women hinder them from self-actualization and positive contribution to the society at large. To find out the cause(s) behind this slant in language, the researcher adopted the survey research method. Through verbal interaction, data comprising ninety names was collected from native speakers of Igbo language. The data were analyzed. It was discovered that the main cause of sexism in Igbo names is because the Igbo society is patriarchal. The Igbo society value male children above the female. It was also discovered that the society is dynamic and so is language. All these equally reflect in some measure in given names which mark personal identities. The work recommends the reorientation of the society in giving sexist names as we are what we are named.
Keywords: Names, Sexism, Self-actualization, Patriarchy
Naming is partly a way of identifying someone. Naming is purely human. Emeka-Nwobia (2015, P.1) argues that "Names are not just arbitrary labels but are socio-cultural tags that function as communicative tools. They carry a variety of semantic, pragmatic and socio-cultural information, and mete out the ethos of the people". The definition shows that names tell a story about the bearer and his or her community.Onyekwere and Nnabuihe (2015, p. 242) aver that "In African societies names are believed to have some great deal of control on the bearer. There is universal contention also that personal names do influence attitude, behavior, success, failure, future and character". This exposition calls for caution. There is need for one to be cautious in giving names as it affects the totality of a person's life.Jahodin Ubahakwe (1982, p. 35) who worked on Ashanti names and their relationship to personality observes that 'delinquent boys frequently have day-names that are associated with misfortune or ill-luck. It is as if the children were living up to the expectations of the ancestral spirit system of causation'. This finding corroborates the earlier statement that names affect the totality of the bearer's life.
Observation and research findings have shown that there is a disparity in names given to men and women.Rapoo (2002) in Arua (2009, p. 67) observes that naming is a powerful ideological tool that is biased against females. Naming practices reinforce stereotypes. Maalej's (2009, p. 58) research on naming in Tunisian Arabic shows that "there are hardly any derogatory FNMs (first names for males) while such names do exist among females in TA (Tunisian Arabic)''. Men's names tend to connote and denote strength and power. In English for example, we have such names as King, Young, Strong, Lyons, Alexandar and such like but the reverse is the case when it comes to women.
The stereotype that the female is inferior manifests also in the value attached to the names given to girls. Nilsen (1977, p. 30) argues that though it is acceptable for a girl to take a boy's name, it is regarded as unacceptable for a boy to take a girl's name. Nilsen goes further to say that, because of the negative characterization of the female, when girls have taken names that were once acceptable for males like Evelyn, Carroll, Gayle, Hazel, Lynn, Beverly, Marian, Frances and Shirley, such lose their prestige by becoming less and less acceptable for males.
Naming practices have not been favourable on women. Women are renamed after marriage by taking their husband's name. Only men have a right of permanency of their names. This makes it difficult to trace 'her story' but not 'his story' (history). The fact is that names are fundamental to our identities. Women have no identities separate from their father's and later, their husband's. Such unfair naming practices are part of the strategies with which the society renders women socially and politically invisible. Romaine (1994, p. 127) claims that practices such as taking a man's family name or using titles such as Mrs. or Miss are symbolic of women's position as men's property and represent their status as sex objects, whose availability or non-availability due to ownership by another male has to be marked in a conspicuous way.
There is an element of sexism in the use of title for males and females in English language. The use of Mr. before a person's name merely identifies that person as a male adult. For the females, the titles are Mrs. and Miss. These do not only identify the person addressed as a woman but also expose her marital status which is fundamentally no one's business. If women and men are created equal, parallel language should be used to describe them.
Feminine titles of honour such as Queen, Governess, Madam, Mistress, Lady and Dame have been degraded and have all in one form or the other been associated with prostitution or fornication. Moreover, feminine terms such as old maid, spinster and heroine, have acquired negative connotations, because while the first two seem to be taken to suggest ill- luck in the domain of marriage, heroine is the name of a destructive drug.
These naming practices reinforce stereotypes. According to Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams (2007, p. 450), 'the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis... proposes that the way a language encodes -puts into words- different categories like male and female subtly affects the way speakers of the language think about those categories'.
The method used for data collection was interview questions which were administered to fifty adults, twenty-five males and twenty-five females. The researcher chose equal number of the two sexes in order to ensure equal representation of each sex group. The interviewees were from both urban and rural areas. They were also people from different educational backgrounds and different ages. Those in the rural areas were reached through the telephone. The sampled individuals were interviewed separately on different occasions. The interviewer tried to elicit from the interviewees, names of males and females in the Igbo society, the meanings, the reason(s) behind such name given, and the expected effect(s) of such names on the individual(s). The data are classified and analyzed under four headings.
SEXISM IN IGBONAMES
The Igbo believe that there is something in a name. Every Igbo name has a myth it celebrates. Ubahakwe (1981, p. 103) notes that "names are part of personality dynamics of the individual". Several works have been done on Igboonomastics(Ezeanya, 1967, Ubahakwe 1981,1982, Onuoha, 1986, Iwundu, 1994,2000, Emeka-Nwobia,2015, Onyekere&Nnabuihe, 2015). These examined Igbo names from different perspectives, ranging from the structure to the meanings. The focus of this work is on sexism as it relates to Igbo names. The manifestation of sexism in Igbo names will be discussed under first names, renaming, general titles and occupational terms.
· First Names
First names in the Igbo society are usually given by the head of the family. Ubahakwe (1982) gives an insight that:
... Igbo personal names reflect what the family is deeplyconcerned with and... names are part of personality dynamicsof the individual. It follows that the pattern and frequencyof names reflect the social values among the people that bearthe names, (p. 31).
Most Igbo first names depict a mark of distinction for males and a sign of subordination for females. Some Igbo female names project the woman as a commodity to be sold in order to make money. On names given to the girl child, Ikekeonwu (2009, p. 30) asserts that such names indicate the following:
- The girl as an object of beauty and feminity.
- The girl as a chattel.
- Lamentation/disappointment it's a girl (lamentation labels)
- The girl as prospective mother and supreme caregiver.
- Market day names.
Table one shows names that depict women as commodities.
Table 1: Names that Depict Women as Commodities
Woman is wealth
House of wealth
Plenty of wealth
Wealth is not only one
Wealth does not finish in time
Wealth is established
Wealth has come
Wealth that is good
The path to wealth
It is wealth
Wealth has come back
Wealth has come in
Carrier of wealth
Wealth of Eke (market day)
Wealth I will consume
Wealth has answered me
One who is embraced for a fee.
Field of money
Let me be favoured with wealth
Boat of wealth
Face of wealth
Water of wealth
Not to be married by the poor
Debt of wealth
The first name in the examples states categorically that woman is wealth. The wealth comes in no other way than when the woman is given out in marriage. This is the wish of virtually every Igbo man for his daughter (at least in the recent past). The other names in the table in one way or another suggest that women are commodities that would be sold at one time or another to accrue great wealth for the family. The second to the last name in the example - Ogbènyèanū (not to be married by the poor) drives home the above point. The last example in the list shows that a woman is sometimes given out in marriage in order to settle a debt.
Most other names for the woman project nothing more than their beauties. Such names include:
Table 2: Names that Project Women's Beauty
Ornament of beauty
Beautiful all over
Beholding is greater
Seed of beauty
The above names bring to the fore beauty in women as if that is all there is about their lives. The eagle stands for vision, strength and beauty. It should be noted that whenever the eagle is mentioned in reference to women as in names three to five, it refers to noting more than beauty.Strength and vision which are other attributes of the bird are exclusively reserved for men.
There exist other female names, which are more of regret or lamentation that it is a girl child. Consider the names in Table three.
TABLE 3: Names for Women that Depict Lamentation
The sharer is above(the creator)
No one choose for her-/himself
Who went to God's house?
A child is not created by human hands
A child is not created by word of the mouth
Did anyone see above?
Did I take with force?
Did I choose by myself?
The one that was given.
You take what comes to you.
Will one reject?
(Words of the) mouth does not kill a child.
- Child is not sold in the market.
Women have become surplus
My husband forgive me
God come to my rescue
God, choose for me
The above names are filled with regrets, excuses and pleas, all because it is a female. The first thirteen names push the blame of having a female child to the creator. For the woman, she is helpless. She tries exonerating herself by claiming she did not choose by herself or force herself into having a girl child, rather, she accepted the one she was given (by God). The 14th name shows a strong limitation in determining the sex of the child. It is more of a lament. One would have preferred to go for a male child if children are sold in the market. 'Nwaanyierie' (women are surplus) expresses the disgust of a man whose wife have girls in quick succession. The name, 'Dimghalum' (my husband forgive me) summarizes the heartbeat of an Igbo woman who had a female child when everyone looked forward to a male. It is more of a plea that the husband should forgive her for having a girl. In a society like ours, the woman is made to take the blame for the sex of the child when the reverse should have been the case. It is clear the woman accepts the fault to be hers, hence, the plea. For the child, no one needs to tell her that she is not fully welcome into the family. The adverse effect of such a name on the girl child is innumerable. In the last two examples, the woman resorts to God to come to her rescue, by giving her the expected choice.
Interpretations so far reveal that names for women show that they are objects of beauty, sources of wealth for the family and in some cases, not really the desired sex, especially when they come in quick succession in the family.
Names can either affect one positively or negatively. The above names limit the vision of women from childhood. The girl child either sees herself as a source of wealth for the family when her hand is eventually given out in marriage or as not fully accepted as in some of the names in Table three. On the other hand, she might see herself just as a beautiful ornament meant to adorn the life of a man.
In contrast to the names given to women, names given to men make them have positive outlook in life. Strength and valour are extolled. Such names make even one who would have been a weakling to work extra hard to live up to his name. Consider the following names in Table 5.
Names for Men
My strength will not get lost.
Strength of the people
Strength of the people
There is strength
Strength of the Igbo
God's strength is quite plenteous
Let strength not kill me.
Father is strength
Let the land give strength
May my name not get lost
A replacement for the homestead
My heart is at rest/I am consoled.
When the ear hears, it will be calm
There is an outhouse
There is now a replacement
There is an additional member of the town.
The names show disparity. It should be noted that quite unlike women, men are always accepted when they come in quick succession. 'Nwaànyìerie' (women are surplus) has no antonym. The male child is rather given the names: Ìgwèbùike (multitude is strength), Ìgwèoñù (plenty of joy), and Ùbakàmmā (it is better to multiply). Names for men show they surpass women in action and are more valuable than they (the women) are. The names of women suggest they are created for men. The names affect both sexes. Ude (2010, p. 23) asserts that 'naming has two important perspectives - the meaning of such names to the people and the revelation of such names about the culture of community and people'. It is very clear that the Igbo have preferential value for the male child over the female. The male child is seen as a source of continuity of the ancestral lineage. The societal expectation on the male child is to be strong, stand and defend the father's house hence names one to eleven center on strength. Names twelve and thirteen show the fulfillment of the inward desires of the Igbo man. The blessing of having a male child brought a psychological relief on the man -he did not break the lineage.
Women are renamed at marriage. Her identity is subsumed under her husband's as she takes to her matrimonial family name. In most cases, she is referred to as the wife of whoever she is married to. Most often, when she gets her first child, she is addressed in conjunction with the name of the child. She answers 'NneEmeka' (Emeka's mother) if the child's name is Emeka. The man maintains his name after marriage and is less likely to be referred to as a husband to somebody. Umeh (2005, p. 281) remarks that ''the first evidence of an Igbo woman's marginalization is the loss of identity''.
There exists a disparity in the general titles for men and women in Igbo. While the man is referred to as "Maàzi" (Mr), age and marital status notwithstanding, a line is drawn for the woman. She is referred to as "Nwaādā" (Miss) if she is still 'nubile' and 'Nnàyà-ànu' (father will marry), Àjàdumkpūkè (a widow in the hut) or Ònòchìlìòbi (one who occupies the outhouse) if she is assumed to have passed the age of marriage. 'Àjàdù' refers to a widow. Associating an aged spinster with it sounds bizarre. Furthermore, there is no such association as regards the males.
· Occupational Names
Men are the only ones seen as achievers and professionals. This is explicitly clear with the use of 'Di' (husband), and not 'Nwunye' (wife) as a prefix for most Igbo professions and achievements even when a woman is into such a profession as the men. Table five corroborates the above claims.
Table 5: Some Igbo Professions/Achievements
A wine tapper
A master musician
A great yam farmer
A doctor/medicine man
A marksman/a sharp shooter
An expert wrestler
The above examples show the dominance of the male over the female. It is worth noting that women are into traditional medicine. Many women are also into traditional music like Loolo Chinyereude. Some Igbo towns have records of women wrestlers.
Language changes in all its ramifications and so does names. The names of many people in biblical times like Jacob, Abram, and Sarai's were changed to reflect their new status. Some people in Igbo society have also changed their names either for religious or social reasons. Onyekwere and Nnabuihe (2015) aver that:
Currently in Nigeria, quite a number of people have also changedtheir own names and the names of their parents and grandparents.The names of some villages have also been changed. There arealso reasons to believe that names were changed in ancient Africa. This suggests strongly that there is the belief in the force andpower of names in human existential commerce with the world.There is no doubt that some of these changes may have hadpositive result...this can open a flood gate of achievement. TheIgbo are not left out in this universal human belief (p. 243).
One will not deny the fact that there are some changes in female names in the Igbo society. Names like Nwaanyibuihe'woman is something', Ngozi 'Blessing',Obiageli 'one who comes to eat' and so many others are now prevalent. This paper argues that hardly do any of these new names have to do with strength or other very positive attributes that spur one to achieve great heights in life.
There is more than physical beauty in women. Women should not be seen as the Other in the Igbo society. More positive names should be given to women in order for them to self- actualize since the society believes that names affect the totality of a person's being. Life is not all about inheritance and continuity of linage. Changes in the society have made adoption legal. One can now adopt a child with the sex of his or her choice. The Igbo culture even allows a girl child that wants to remain and raise children in her father's house to do so. Despite these options, the name Nkechinyere'the one god has given' which appears milder has come to replace names that depict lamentations (which appear on Table 2) but the message is still the same.This is not to say that women are competing with the men. The argument is that a fairer traditional Igbo naming practice will make for a better society.
This work has tried to explore Igbo traditionalnames as a cultural and linguistic expression that is biased against women. The naming system reflects the culture of the Igbo people. The world is going unisex. The role of women in our present society cannot be over-emphasized. It is argued that the Igbo society is not static. Changes are taking place. For instance, twins are no longer a taboo neither is any involved in slavery. All these have been done away with. The writer advocates that sexist names be done completely away with, and be replaced by names that reflect the new spirit of women emancipation. The change will act as a catalyst in raising the aspirations of women to greater heights.
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