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Aspects of traditional Tiv naming practices: A sociocultural account

Issue: Vol 13 No. 2-4 (2019) Special Issue: African anthroponyms: Sociolinguistic currents and anthropological reflections

Journal: Sociolinguistic Studies

Subject Areas: Gender Studies Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/sols.37820


Naming in the African cultural context serves both referential and connotative functions as a unique means of identity construction which contains important cultural meaning and metaphysical presuppositions. Among the Tiv people of Benue State, North-central Nigeria, personal names reflect social relations and reveal major insights into their history, philosophy, language, spirituality and worldview. Naming practices in Tiv are indicative of the community’s social existence and redefine the essence of its being. This article explores the interaction of the Tiv people naming system with their sociocultural experience and physical environment. We investigate how naming intersects with social class distinction (wealth vs. poverty), emotions, occupations and topography, and examine their sources, social categorization and socio-onomastic significance. This study is theoretically rooted in Goddard’s (2006) ethnopragmatic paradigm which examines the locally relevant construction of cultural and contextual meanings in the interpretation of language. Data for the study were sourced from two Tiv communities of Gboko and Makurdi in Benue State, Nigeria through participant observations, personal interviews and conversations with name-bearers, -givers and -users. We conclude that Tiv personal names reflect the sociocultural environment and provide prominent sites for the creative expression of the Tiv social universe and lived cultural experiences.

Author: Eyo Mensah, Kirsty Rowan, Akase Tiav, Jighjigh Ishima

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