What’s in a name? I’m told family name is important, not only because they tell important ancestral stories but also it makes tracing lineage a lot easier.

While it is common that many generations bear the same family name in Nigeria, it is also very common that many family do not have one singular surname, in many cases father chose their own name for their children.

My siblings and I have my father’s surname as handed to him by his father, he didn’t think it’s wise for us to have different surname from him, however, two out of his four brothers preferred their children to have their own name as the surname.

As it turned out, this is very common in Yorubaland where male children decided on the name they prefer their offspring to bear.

Having said that, royal families, chiefs and wealthy folks tend to stick to their family name for ease of recognition.

A few years ago, I decided to do my family tree. I knew I will not go very far given the collapse of Oyo Empire and the rest of fragmented history of people taking refuge in neighbouring towns. I wanted to give it a go anyway and thought the other half of the lineage would be followed up sometimes in the future if I’m so keen.

Mother’s side of the family was not too hard, she knew enough of her parents and a bit of grandparents – their surnames was very useful, could have been a lot easier if not for several surnames within one extended family, nonetheless was a fun exercise.

My father side was a bit more of eye-opening, he was able to recollect family names and villages in which many dispersed to in search for bigger farmland given growing family.

My paternal grandmother was from Ife. According to my father, shortly after his parents got together, there was another crisis between Modakeke and Ife, because of this the family lost contact and whenever his mother goes home to visit her family in Ife, she would leave her children behind for the fear they’d be hurt.

This is the first time my father ever mention his mother was from Ile Ife. I was surprised he had kept this to himself for so long. I was only thankful that he is here to share the story.

Needless to say, my family tree on my father’s side didn’t go very far, I had enough information nonetheless. The big K leg in the family tree has history behind it.

I’m sure I can’t be the only one interested in family tree. I wonder how far back one can go in a country like ours where central/regional database for births and deaths are not accurate.

Also is there any good enough reason for not taking on family name?  This is especially for men as most women take on their spouse’s name or hyphenated it to include their maiden name.

Categories: A Yoruba Monarch, Nigeria

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20 replies

  1. Hmmmm So you’re half Modakeke and half Ife. So Why do you always fight with ‘yourself’… LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d love to, but I can’t help you on this one. You know your Queen a bit. When I was in secondary school, I changed my surname or rather made an addition to my surname because I liked my uncle a lot and his name was a tad different from dad’s (he had the whole thing). so as not to upset dad, I hypenated it and added the Compound name! Plus my already 9-letter first name and an 8-letter hypenated name, my lecturers always wondered who had this very long name. Don’t tell them it was me *wink*

    Cut to when I was to get married, Dad felt I should include his name to my hubby’s name and that would have been 2 or more hypens, so I turned it down. It almost brought a quarrel, but I insisted. And made it clear I will always mention his name no matter the level I got to in life. 🙂

    I have discovered a lot of cousins and relatives on my own, but to know many generations like Leslie’s hubby, not yet.

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    The Ijesa ORIKI translates to something like “an Ijesa is so poor(!) thT he goes to the farm armed with a fire ember, perhaps on a wood, as he cannot afford to buy matches”! And the word for fire is “ina”, not “Ina” as the iPad is forever correcting me!


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  4. Dear Fola,

    Thanks for this very interesting and eye-opening essay.

    The practice of last names/surnames by brothers in Yorubaland in many families causes dislocation of history, especially when those concerned do not pass down the information. For example, none of my paternal uncles bear Adamolekun. Worse, or sadder, ALL had their own different last names which means a lot of first cousins with different last names.

    With dispersal of everybody around the world, many families may become strangers, especially if customs like ORIKI, which easily tell family histories are no longer used for children born abroad, are discarded.

    We can all work – at least a bit – by asking our parents their ancestries, et cetera. Two, this one is a bit difficult but try to use ORIKI for our children daily when they are young, and on phone when they leave home. I even use ORIKI for the grandchildren even though the mothers are OUR side, and they all know and tend to enjoy the chain by now.

    The Oyo, including Modakeke, Ife, and those who migrated to Abeokuta, et cetera all have ORIKI which aid in their root-tracing. For instance, Osogbo descendants can trace their roots either to Ijesa ancestry as those were the first settlers, and Oyo -Alaafin as those came in later. The Ijesa descendants have ORIKI that include “… Omo Ijesa ok ri idi isana, ile ni eru Owa ti nmu Ina r’oko …”. At least if you are greeted like that from an early age even though you consider yourself Oyo somehow, you would, when grown up, tend to ask the reason for the Ijesa ORIKI!

    Many things could also be done by individuals to achieve what each likes.

    Come to think of it, Folakemi, while Yoruba are not individualistic but a very communal people, women in my part of Yorubaland did not originally go by their spouses’ names but a recent introduction that came with “civilization” borne of Western education. How do I know? Church receipts for payments made by my mother and announcements of names of people at church in the 50s and even 60s were ALWAYS just the women’s given names, e.g. Folakemi (your other name/names); no spouse’s name. My mom was receipted as COMFORT FAMUSERE but she suddenly became COMFORT ADAMOLEKUN – like other women started carrying spouses’ names when announced in church later!

    I think we’ve taken the good and the bad of western education which cannot be reverted, anyway: record-keeping as well as sexism of the western variety.

    This is a very useful essay. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for the insights.

      Agree that women in the fifties being addressed by their surnames, my mother does that a lot which is why she remembers quite a bit of history. She would say ‘Iya mi Omo K’ulodo’ when she talks about her mother – this particular oriki is from Ode-Omu.

      However, my father knew precisely where his mother was from, the surname and the compound and the location. Not sure if he knew the oriki.

      I have also used tribal marks to draw connections in the past. For example my mother’s family all had Gombo. One thing that I have noticed was that most people with Gombo tend to have Sango worshiper ancestor so surname tend to be Sangotade/Sangobiyi etc however, my maternal grandfather did not use Sango as prefix instead many of his generation were called Ojetade/Ojetayo etc. So I learnt names with prefixes Sango or Ọ̀ jẹ̀ have Sango ancestor in common.

      Now, both tribal marks and oriki are becoming obsolete.

      I suppose each family would do what they can to keep alive their history but it is interesting how disconnected everyone has been.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We can go back many generations, Fola. My husband can go even farther to about the 15 century in Paris, France. I think it may be easier when family names are a constant.

    Liked by 1 person

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