@Hembuts: Of names, missing the point and African proverbs

by Hemenseter Butu

After the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan completed his hat-trick of political ascensions. Since then, the chances that a child born to Nigerian parents will be named Goodluck have become higher than they were just a few years before. This depicted the height of a trend amongst our people. Numerous ethnic groups in the country share proverbs that can be roughly paraphrased as “names precede individuals”. Hence we’ve known people named Success, Marvellous, Blessing and so on. The aim is for these things to be manifest in the lives of those so named. But from empirical accounts this has not always been the case, not every Success has gone on to be a success. Not every Blessing has been a blessing on his/her people.

We apply these naming trends even in the practice of our religion. A boy is named Muhammed or John, both names of prophets in Islam and Christianity respectively. The hope and prayer of these parents I’m sure is that the lives of these great men of God be reincarnated in their children. That these children will be exemplary religious  leaders of their time. Yet it is not strange in today’s society to find a Muhammed that is a corrupt politician or to find a notorious armed robber named John.

Although one doesn’t need to be a zoologist to observe that nurture plays a huge role and most times than not overshadows nature in the life of an individual. Being a zoologist means I can authoritatively show how even amongst lower animals who most times rely on pure instincts (nature) can be nurtured into being different from the course of their natural life paths. Animals raised in the zoo do not possess the same level of instincts as animals raised in the wild. A lion raised by its parents in the wild has been trained to hunt, kill, fight for territory and activate other wild instincts. A lion raised by human parents, however is used to being handed cleanly cut meat and learns to subdue it’s instincts instead. We have seen several amazing documentaries of wild animals tamed and kept as pets successfully without incident.

So, if our African proverbs and reasoning have failed us, what then is the diagnosis. What is the way forward.

The way I see it, they all point to one major mistake. We are giving the Shark a vegetarian’s name and expecting it to become one. We are neglecting the crux of the matter and spending time on the trivialities. Just like Cyril Northcote Parkinson postulated, we deliberate less on the more important aspects and spend more time on trivial issues (See Parkinson’s law of triviality).

The renowned missionary and writer of the daily devotional “Everyday With Jesus” Selwyn Hughes has touched many lives, so has Benson Idahosa. They are respected leaders and propagators of the word of God yet they do not bear biblical names. Clearly, raising them using biblical teachings was more important than giving them Christian names.

Like a clean slate, our lives start from the fusion of just two cells, we multiply into an embryo and into a being which at that stage is much like an empty computer hard drive without an operating system. The bulk of what we become is dependent on what manner of OS (i.e. examples from parents and guardians, societal opinions, peer pressure/direction, religion etc.) we imprint on our slate.

Parents often send their children to churches and mosques, but afterwards ask them not to be kind to that poor neighbour who lives next door. We send our kids to the best schools, asking them to craft disruptive ideas, then reject their over the top dreams for our “saner” ones. We send them to boarding schools but refuse to give them any independence there after. In some instances parents subject their children to regular rote learning yet expect of them world shattering ideas.

Selwyn Hughes was brought up as a Christian, he was taught how to read the bible and follow Jesus, a tamed lion is taught how to eat meat handed out to it and not hunt on its own. A monkey is just a monkey till it’s taught how to perform acrobatic challenges through hoops of fire. Then it becomes “the amazing monkey”.

Muhammed and John must be taught precepts of their respective religions if they are to become worthy ambassadors of said religion. So must our children, they must be brought up as civil citizens. Who know to obey traffic rules, join queues, respect civilians, treat members of opposite sex with equity, report suspicious cases to the police even when it involves family members or friends, refuse bribes, keep to time etc. Simply naming them Respect or Obedience or Equality or Democracy will not suffice. It never has.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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