This essay is a report of the negative attitudes of the Yoruba towards Muslim names and their holders. In spite of the seriousness and sacredness attached to names by Islam, some uncultured individuals among the Yoruba have resorted to using them in vilifying people and the bearers of those names. It is observed that this negative attitude may have stemmed from the hatred for certain traits found in the person so vilified. In view of this, this essay seeks to examine the various manners of abuse of Muslim names and the negative effects of this practice on the psyche of Muslims, especially bearers of such names. It also provides the Sharīʻah stance on this practice and the danger it portends for the ummah.
The Typology of Abused Muslim Names among the Yoruba
There are scores of Muslim names that are abused in one way or the other by the Yoruba. In this essay we have categorized such abuses into four: Muslim names used in reviling people; negative portrayal of Muslim names in Yoruba movies; corruption of Muslim names and Muslim names rendered as nicknames.
1. Reviling with Muslim Name.
Among some sets of the Yoruba people, particularly the non-elites, Muslim names are often used to revile people with a view to drawing a conclusion about them. This practice is prevalent among the uncultured and undisciplined individuals, most especially the Muslim women folk. The behaviour or attitude a person displays at any given time suggests the right derogation by a Muslim name.
A number of such names used do not in any way represent the true meaning or attributes ascribed to people by way of rebuking them. Instances abound, but in this study, we shall examine a few of them.
i. When a person is inordinately desirous or excessively eager to obtain and possess everything, especially money, such a person is derogated as “Waidi Alawamaya”. Waidi in this expression is a corruption of one of the magnificent names of Allāh Al-Wāḥid (the One) and the bearer is ʻAbdul Wāḥid (the servant of the One God).
ii. Someone who usually calls at an occasion without an invitation, or a child who enters into a house without permission is rebuked as “Tojubole Eran Nuru or Nusi”. In this derogatory expression, the name Nūrud-Dīn (The light of Islām) has been corrupted to Nuru while Nusi is a corruption of Nuṣrah (help).
iii. An outspoken person (most often a younger person) who freely, openly and boldly contributes to any discussion is maligned as “Saliu Eleenu Gboro”. In this derogation, Ṣāliḥ (name of a prophet of Allāh) is used.
iv. When doing something lately, most especially as it relates to education and marriage, he/she is derogated as “Adagba je Raufu”. ʻAbdur Ra’ūf (the servant of the Benevolent God) is rendered into Raufu in this derogatory expression.
v. Someone who is fond of food is rebuked in this manner “Wakilu Waki and die”. In this expression, the name ʻAbdul Wakīl (Servant of the Reliable God) is used.
vi. When somebody, especially a woman exhibits the trait of stubbornness, she is often reproached as “Jemila Ori e ti dide”. Jamīlah (Beautiful, Elegant) is the correct spelling of the name used in this expression.
It is interesting to note that even without exhibiting any of the above traits or characters, some uncultured and uncivilized individuals, sometimes based on ignorance still ascribe such derogatory expressions to those who bear such names. This practice has indeed caused negative effects on the bearers of such names, turning them into subjects of derision.
2. Corruption of Muslim Names
There is a long list of Muslim names that have been corrupted by the Yoruba people into different pronunciations, which of course, render them meaningless or connote different meanings. This trend, to our knowledge, is not new as it is traceable to the early Yoruba Muslims who, being unable to break away from the structural features of the Yoruba language, domesticated Islamic names to the point of making them sound like Yoruba names.
This is partly informed, due to the fact that virtually all Yoruba names end with a vowel and in order to be comfortable with pronunciation of foreign names (Arabic inclusive) which do not end with a vowel, a terminal vowel is added. That is why, for instance, Muslim names like Ḥusayn is often rendered as Oseni, Zubayr as Suberu, Idrīs as Disu, Zaynab as Senabu etc
Scholars of onomastics or onomathology have been able to come up with morphological rules and principles guiding domestication of Muslim names. Onomastics or onomatology is the scientific study of the origins, forms, conventions, history and uses of proper names. They observed that when proper names leave their primordial shores to other climes, they in time are often liable to local adaptation.
It is a principle that when a Muslim name starts with a vowel, the Yoruba morphological domestication process dispenses with the initial vowels and start pronouncing the name from the next consonant after the vowel. In some cases, intermediate and terminal vowels are added. For example, in Ibrāhīm, the initial (I) which is a vowel is dispensed with, and intermediate and terminal vowels are added to produce Buraimo; the same rule goes for Idrīs being rendered as Disu, Imrān as Muraino, ʻUthmān as Sunmonu, Ismāʻīl as Sunmola and Abū Bakr as Bakare. In the case of Abū Bakr, the word Abu is eliminated and “Bakr” is fitted with intermediate and terminal vowel to produce Bakare.
Another principle arises from the Yoruba fondness for the short forms of names whereby names that are regarded as too long are often shortened. In this case, the prefix Abdul in Muslim names that are derived from the 99 names of Allāh is dispensed with, and the consonant (l) in Abdul is added to begin the other part of the name and a terminal vowel to produce a pronounceable word. Take for instance, Lasisi, a Yoruba corruption of ʻAbdul-ʻAzīz (the servant of the Mighty God), the prefix Abdul is dispensed with, leaving only Azīz. The consonant (l) in Abdul is added to Azīz to produce Lasisi or Laisi. The same principle also goes for such names that have Muḥammad as prefix, like Muḥammad Al-Amīn rendered as Lamina.
The above linguistic analysis, notwithstanding, does not provide enough excuse or encourage Muslims to corrupt Muslim names. Names according to Islām convey cherished meanings which would not be achieved if they are not properly spelt and pronounced. Reference is here made to the importance the Prophet attached to the meaning of names; hence he changed some people’s names from Hazan (Sadness) to Sahl (Ease), from Āṣiyah (Disobedience) to Jamīlah (Magnificent) etc.
By Raji Mubin Olatoye