Etymologie, Etimología, Étymologie, Etimologia, Etymology
@f Afrika, África, Afrique, Africa, Africa
Anthroponym, Anthropónimo, Anthroponyme, Anthroponimo, Anthroponym





















Alexandre, Pierre
Some problems of African onomastics: toponymy, anthroponymy and ethnonymy


Some problems of African onomastics: toponymy, anthroponymy and ethnonymy

Alexandre, Pierre

p. 51-67


"Anthroponymy" has some features in common with "toponymy", in particular the often archaic character of anthroponyms by comparison with words in the present-day language. But it is far more closely linked to cultural patterns and social structures, and consequently shows the most profuse diversity.

The problem of standardization of spelling is easily resolved for the simple reason that (at any rate in my opinion) it does not or should not arise. We do not compel all the "Smyths" and "Smythes" of this world to change their names to "Smith" (or "Blacksmith"); and equally we should not object if "Diawara" is also spelt "Jawara", "Djaouara" or "Dyawara". These variants could even be said to be useful, in that they make it easier to differentiate families and to look people up in telephone directories. The rule here is to respect the habits and wishes of the people concerned, and not lapse into the absurd and despicable, like the journalist who regularly writes "N'Krumah" instead of "Nkrumah" on the grounds that the latter spelling 'is not French' (this is not racialism: the same newspaper used to write "Kroutchev" instead of "Khrushtshov", on the same grounds — though not "Aisénoir" for "Eisenhower"). French colonial assimilationism reached one of its high points in Equatorial Africa with spellings like "Aubame" and "Opangault" (or, in the field of place-names, "Maumegnies" for the Fang "ma'an menyin" 'crossroads'. However, if the people thus named agree to it, it is above all their business or that of their fellow citizens, but it is certainly not that of foreigners, whether expert or not. We will therefore no longer dwell on it.

Moreover, the above statement covers only a small part of the field of anthroponymy. The prevailing ideas concerning personal names in Europe, even in their most complex forms (e.g. Hugues-Enguerrand Nompar de Caumont la Force, Ivan Ivanovitch Popov or Maria del Pilar Fernandez de Lopez) are of a childlike simplicity, compared to some African systems, which have to bring in not only "forenames", "patronyms", "clan names", "surnames", "pseudonyms" and "nicknames", but also ideas with no precise equivalent elsewhere such as 'praise names', 'drum names', 'day names', 'greeting names', 'rank names', 'secret names' and 'mottoes'. The inverted commas are quite necessary here, for these attempts at translations give only a very imperfect idea of the vernacular terms. Indeed, one of the first tasks to be undertaken is a descriptive census, as comprehensive as possible, of the various systems of giving, trans-mitting and using personal names. This would make it possible to classify these systems and perhaps mark them on the map so as to compare their distribution with that of other cultural features.

Some correlations seem self-evident and even trivial (in the logico-mathematical sense of the word). So it is with the spread of Arabic names, along with Islam. But after uttering this virtual truism, there remains the rest. How, for example, do these names combine with pre-Islamic systems if they do not exclude them? Why are they greatly distorted in West African but not in East African languages? Why is the name of a particular prophet common in one region and not in another? Is there a correlation on the one hand between certain categories, either social (lineages, castes, etc.) or family (eldest, twin, etc.), and on the other the bearing of certain Arabic names? Even the forms given to these names may in some cases give a clue to the linguistic (or ethnic) origin of the proselytizers and their level of Arabic culture: thus "Mamadu" for "Muhammad", "Birama" for "Ibrahim" and "Fusini" for "Husain" would seem to indicate diffusion among the uneducated, whereas the occurrence of little-distorted compounds such as "Saif'uddin" (pop.: "Sayfu"), "Abdurrahman" (pop.: "Ramani", "Derman") and "Abubakar" (pop.: "Bakari", "Bakaru") would be a sign of diffusion among the educated — as would the use of almost correct forms of titles such as "shaykh" {"shehu", "seku"), "khalifa" {"alfa"), "mu'allim" ("malam", "malum"), etc. It is worth mentioning in passing that there is very often no exact correspondence between the pronunciation of the local forms of these Arabic names and their spelling, the latter being simply the regular spelling in classical Arabic.

An equally fruitful field of investigation is royal names and titles. The name taken on accession in many societies alludes to the state of the realm at the time, to the circumstances of the succession, or else to what could be called the new sovereign's election manifesto. It is quite common for "honorific names" or "praise names" ("mottoes") alluding to later events to be added to this coronation name; more rarely a funeral name, summing up, as it were, the character of the reign. In several societies this nomenclature is symbolized by material objects (linguist staffs, sculptures and so on) preserved in the national treasury. Recitation of these names accompanied by exhibition of these emblems constitutes a sort of summary of the history of the dynasty; but the strictly allusive character of the symbols usually makes it very difficult for the uninitiated to understand, despite (or perhaps because of) its social importance. It is all the more difficult to study because the royal names include a high proportion of rare and/or archaic words, often also used in the form of double or triple puns.

Even ordinary proper names are very often archaic forms of modern ordinary names, and sometimes of more complex expressions. This means that they have a meaning, even if it is not always consciously perceived at once (any more than that of the English "Smith" or the French "Dupont"). This is not, however, necessarily true for all the proper names used in a given society. Alongside anthroponyms with obvious or easily discoverable meanings we find a stock of names which now have no discernible meaning. This situation is often a sign of a composite ethnic origin: the incomprehensible stock comes from the language originally spoken by the socio-historical category (whether invaders or invaded) that was linguistically assimilated during the formation of the social amalgam. It would be interesting to see whether the names that seem unrelated to the ordinary local lexicon turn up in identical or cognate forms in neighbouring societies. In this way we might discover historical situations comparable, for instance, to that of the Scottish clans of French or Anglo-Norman origin, distinguishable by their Romance names in a Celtic or Germanic linguistic milieu (e.g. "Campbell", "Fraser", "Taylor", etc.). One example among others is the Mandingo family or clan names ("Taraoré", "Fofana", "Konaté", etc.) found among "Gur-speaking" or "Kwa-speaking" peoples in Ghana, Togo and Benin. It was from this situation that I. Wilkes was able to discover the existence and reconstruct the distribution of the vast network of Wangara commercial guilds which has covered the greater part of West Africa for nearly ten centuries.

As regards anthroponymy's potential contribution to anthropological and historical research, we can only mention, albeit all too briefly, some other suggestions and some possibilities that have already been explored. In societies with long genealogies or with age-groups cyclical anthroponyms can be used to arrive at the dating of certain events. Discrepancies in titles and other anomalies of nomenclature can be used to detect dynastic accidents and incidents suppressed by the official history. Analysis of the nicknames and surnames given to some Europeans can throw light on various details of colonial history (the classic example is 'Mbula matadi' Stanley, but there are hundreds of others). An enormous amount remains to be done. The necessary pre-condition is the proliferation of monographs, and African researchers, starting with traditional scholars, are much better placed to write them than their foreign colleagues. Here, as unfortunately in so many areas of African studies, time is short. It is to be feared that laws and decrees about authenticity may not suffice to perpetuate the knowledge, or even the memory of systems whose traditional functional complexity does not fit in well with those arising from current socio-cultural and economic changes.

Erstellt: 2020-07

Uni Iowa
African Ethnonyms and Toponyms: An Annotated Bibliography



African Ethnonyms and Toponyms: An Annotated Bibliography

Atoma Batoma

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Erstellt: 2020-07