Spaniards have this unusual method of naming their children with a compound name of both the mother and father. The example given by Encarta Encyclopedia is this: Kayode the son of Babatunde Ishola and Bola Adegbite would be named Kayode Ishola (y) Adegbite. A section of the Ghanaian people, the Ashanti, say that some of their children ‘belong’ to the mother and see nothing wrong if the kids are named after their maternal ancestors because of a historical precedence where the king’s sister offered her son for sacrifice in place of their captured king. The practice has since been discontinued because of the problems associated with inheritance between uncles and nephews. It is said that most Puerto Ricans have two surnames in addition to one or two given names. The family name is the father’s surname, but this appears as the penultimate name while the mother’s surname comes last. Encarta Encyclopedia also has it that a person named Victor Arocho Ramos would be called Señor Arocho because Ramos is his mother’s surname. Puerto Rican and Dutch women do not change their surnames when they get married.
But this hardly is the thing with us Nigerians. A man pays a bride-price on the ‘head’ of the woman and they technically become one and the same person. The first step in the realization of this oneness is that the woman drops her maiden name and assumes her husband’s father’s name only to be referred to when the woman dies as ‘nee so and so’. From that point on the children ‘belong’ to the man and they immediately as a matter of course begin to bear the surname of the man in that union. In fact a lot of our women look forward to the day they would stop bearing daddy’s name and become Mrs. so and so, and begin to build a home of their own and to rear their own kids. They say it gives the woman a toga of responsibility and respect to live under a man’s roof as a wife. I remember then as children that we used to tease our sisters that they were tenants in our house, that they would sooner or later move to their real homes. It was an unkind, un-nice thing to do then but these ladies took it all in their stride. Sometime later, the un-nice thing was turned on us by our sisters who claimed that they were told by their Indian teacher that it was the woman who married the man in India and paid a handsome bride price on the ‘head’ of the man. From that point on, they always encouraged our daddy to ship his boys off to India for some good money!
Names are very important titles. I remember the chaps, Abram and Jacob, in the Bible whose names were changed to Abraham and Israel respectively to reflect the spiritual covenant that they had with God. Their lives changed with the change in their names. I don’t know whether there is any connection between the marital name-changing and the changes that are expected to come when one gets married. What I do know however is that some names are a reflection of deep ancestral, spiritual and socio-political something. For instance, my name ‘MajiriOghene’ among the Delta people of Nigeria is an invitation to come celebrate and give praise to God on account of some difficulties that were surmounted followed my birth. I insist that the ‘O’ in that name be capitalized because it stands for God. For me to change that name is an impossible thing because I realize the deep meanings attached to that name.
And this is what brings us to the topic at hand, the tendency these days for some women in Nigeria to still hold on to their maiden names in an Okonjo-Iweala style. I used to think about it as some selfish and an arrogant thing for a woman to do, to still hold on to her daddy’s name when she got married. My argument was based on two factors: the one I mentioned above and the Judeo-Christian approach that stipulates that a man and his wife would leave their parents and become one. If my wife will be holding on to her daddy’s name and attaching it to mine in a kind of hyphen, like Mrs. Elizabeth Umar-MajiriOghene (Chineke!), does that really make us one? Some say it does because despite the fact that the two are married, they still possess certain unique individual characteristics that being married cannot just wish away – that that kind of grafting, perfectly shows that the two are in a union and have some kind of mutual respect for one another’s antecedents. So, if we were to name my (or our) daughter after the Scandinavian style as ‘Bobditir’ (Bob’s daughter), and she wants to retain her surname after marriage to Akomolafe, shebi that automatically means she would be ‘Bobditir Umar-MajiriOghene-Akomolafe or Bobditir Akomolafe-MajiriOghene?
The need for a woman to retain a family name after marriage is not an ordinary need. I have just been reminded by some of my students that some names open doors. That is, even after marriage a woman’s maiden name still commands the kind of respect and creates the kind of opportunity that a husband’s cannot. Some names too have more than the ability to open doors: they have been there for as long as one can remember. There was this arrogant Duke we read about in Browning’s poem, ‘My Last Duchess’, who saw his marriage to the Duchess as a favour he bestowed on her. One of the reasons he killed his wife, the Duchess, was that he alleged that she had no respect for the power his name commanded: she was often to be seen being nice to everyone around her, even with the servants, exuding such humanity that was alien to the stiffness that that royal name demanded. Such brought to memory the travails of the people’s princess, Lady Diana, who was formerly a Lady Spencer. But in this case, should the woman just abandon her family name for love or for marriage or for her man? I honestly don’t know now because it just dawned on me that apart from the need to protect daddy’s surname from extinction probably because he was the one that brought you to life, there should be more to a name than just a name. It must be love.
Love my foot, says my colleague Deji Makinde. He thinks that no matter the political and historical and economic value that his sweetheart’s name may bring to his life, he would not allow his wife to keep her daddy’s name. Makinde believes he is an African-Nigerian and not a Puerto Rican-Nigerian or Dutch-Nigerian. He believes that if a woman uses her father’s name to advance her husband’s position or station in life she would brag about it whenever there is a minor disagreement between the couple. And Mr. Adetoro, the Marxist-cum- Babalawo in my school would not even hear of it. Allow his wife double-barrel in his house? Did she want to anger the gods and incur the wrath of the ancestors of his village? Mr. Adetoro. We had to appeal to him to take it easy because the veins in his neck were beginning to get bigger and bigger as he discussed the devaluation of the man’s chauvinist ego if a wife insists on holding on to her father’s name.