Call me Goodluck: Nigerian names and the stories they tell - Life and Style - The Independent

Call me Goodluck: Nigerian names and the stories they tell

So what do you get in Nigeria when you take Sunday, God's Gift, Whoknows, Noisy Place and, of course, Goodluck? Could be a family gathering.

This Sunday's inauguration of President Goodluck Jonathan will do more than officially bring an end to a landmark election period in Nigeria.

It will also highlight what is perhaps a little known feature of the country's culture: names with a story behind them. Whether in local dialect or in English, many Nigerian names hold meaning as subtle as a whack on the head.

Children in many parts of Nigeria are given names at elaborately arranged ceremonies, replete with food, drink and celebration. They range from the religious - Godswill, Godspower or God's Gift - to the downright curious, such as Brown Question.

"People don't just give names - names tell a lot," said Austin Nwagbara, a lecturer at the University of Lagos.

He points out that many African cultures believe that "your name follows you, like Goodluck."

Easy to dismiss such nonsense, right? Well, not so fast.

Consider the president, whose name many say has matched the trajectory of his life.

"I called him Goodluck because although life was hard for me when he was born, I had this feeling that this boy would bring me good luck," his late father Lawrence Jonathan was quoted as saying in a recent biography of the president.

His mother Eunice said although she had a history of lengthy labour in childbirth stretching for several days, Goodluck was born in record time - the very day she went into labour.

But the plot thickens.

Some argue that Jonathan, a zoologist from a family of canoe makers, owes his entire political leader to ... yep, you got it. The 53-year-old leader has benefited from a series of events that have advanced his career by default.

He became governor of his native Bayelsa state in 2005. He had been deputy governor and took over the office after his predecessor was impeached on money laundering charges.

A couple years later, he was selected to run as vice president under Umaru Yar'Adua, a northerner who needed to balance his ticket.

Jonathan himself, in one of the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, purportedly acknowledged he was not the most experienced candidate for the vice presidential job and was selected to represent the oil-producing Niger Delta.

Flash forward to 2010. Yar'Adua dies in office after months of illness, and Jonathan is sworn in to replace him.

And then April 2011: The power of incumbency behind him, Jonathan easily wins the presidential election.

One of his friends, Amalate Johnny Turner, told AFP that Jonathan "never dreamt becoming what he is today."

But enough about Goodluck and his fortune. The phenomenon goes far beyond the president in Africa's most populous nation.

A child's name can be influenced by circumstances of birth, cultural or religious beliefs, expectations and philosophy.

Some of the other interesting birth certificates include native names that translate roughly to phrases like "noisy place" for a child born in a noisy environment and "along the road" if a baby comes out before the mother makes it to a hospital. A child born of parents embroiled in a feud with another family, can go by a name meaning "cannot buy your family's love".

English versions of names with a story are also abundant.

One government worker answers to the name Brown Question. His grandfather, then a traditional adjudicator settling land disputes, named his son Question simply because his work involved asking lots of them.

Believe it or not, he says he was made fun of because of it once or twice growing up.

Naming a child is an elaborate, ritualistic affair in Nigeria.

On a recent working day, guests filed into a white marquee pitched in the middle of a street in Lagos' ghetto of Mushin for a child-naming party. Smoke wafted from a cooking fire where food for the guests was being prepared.

According to the tradition of Yorubas, the ethnic group dominant in Nigeria's southwest, naming rites have to be conducted exactly eight days after birth.

In the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria, most names are culled from the Koran, but some carry surnames denoting their home towns, such as ex-president Shehu Shagari, from the town of Shagari.

Some names among the Igbo ethnic group, predominate in the southeast, indicate days of the week a child was born. The same is sometimes true for Yorubas.

So you could find yourself on a Saturday night hanging out with Sunday and Monday, planning to visit Mr. Gusau from Gusau and hoping to find Goodluck and Godswill.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Energy Markets Analyst

    £400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

    Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Nursery Manager

    £22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

    Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week