The new nomenclature By Seyi Olanihun

Seyi Olanihun

For those that studied chemistry or the physical sciences, the Periodic Table is a crucial part of life. In fact, if your profession is in the sciences you cannot do without the Elements. You must live and breathe their names, chemical formula and properties. Furthermore, the naming of various compounds formed as a result of reactions and bonds formed during the process is dependent on the elements and their unique traits.

The simpler compounds (i.e. one or two elements involved) the easier it is to name the new compound. More elements results in a more complex outcome, thus the names sound more difficult (even in pronunciation) and the process of arriving there is also riddled with more pitfalls. Initially it’s pretty difficult but once you get familiar with all the steps involved you eventually get the hang of it. Often enough though you come across compounds that give you pause but after tasking the grey cells and burning the midnight oil you eventually arrive at your destination.

The institution of marriage has made the new surname for women something of a chemistry lesson. More elements are now involved in this reaction and the result is as varied as any chemical reaction in the laboratory. The times when they simply changed their surnames to their spouses’ have almost disappeared. Angel Ikom became Angel Obadare when she signed the dotted line. Our grandmothers, aunties and mothers did that without batting an eyelid. It was simply ‘the thing’ then. There are still women in this category although they seem to be few and far between.

This later moved to compounded surnames for some. Those that chose to retain their maiden names whilst taking on their husbands’ managed to eat their cake and have it simultaneously by using the hyphen. Thus, Angel Ikom became Angel Ikom-Obadare…longer but it still served its purpose. These women had their reasons for taking this route and were invariably supported by their spouses.

Sometimes families with only daughters chose this because of posterity. The family name continued and the legacy lived on. If both names were lengthy it became interesting and if the union was intertribal the new name often posed challenges with enunciation for those that cared and for those that didn’t, it simply became a mouthful!

We also have the category of professionals (actors, journalists etc) that were married but continued the use of their ‘maiden names’ professionally. Although this is very common in Hollywood (Meryl Streep, Kyra Sedgwick, Gwenyth Paltrow etc), it’s a recent trend (twenty years or so) here in Nigeria. The late May Ellen-Ezekiel was in this category. She simply shorted hers by using her initials i.e. MEE. On her union with RMD she simply became MEE Mofe-Damijo. By so doing she created a niche with her unique names and instant name recognition to boot. Joke Sylva is another renowned example, married to Olu Jacobs she is known professionally as Joke Sylva. We have more Nollywood actors continuing this tradition despite their nuptials. Although we have some that use the compound name option and fewer still that totally shed their maiden or professional names to take their husbands.

A more recent development trumps both practises and introduces a new dimension to this saga. Women of all tribes, creed and profession currently not only take on their husbands surnames but have also added his first name into the mix. Thus, if Angel is married to Abiodun, her new surname could look something like this, Angel Abiodn-Obadare. On the other hand if she still wants to retain her father’s name somewhere, it may look something like this, Angel Ikom Abiodun-Obadare.

At first I was highly puzzled by this until someone explained that in a family predominantly male (three or more) this evolved in order for people to know which wife belonged to which son. This makes it simpler for those concerned and any other person interested.

In a situation where the women happen to be married to the only male in the family, there’s no obvious explanation for this practise. Including his first name in the scheme of things, could easily mean they simply like the way it sounds or looks. On the other hand, it could be as a result of the prestige associated with the name that elicits this option.

The reasons for taking or discarding a name are myriad and marriage has further highlighted this trend. Ordinary folks now have more exotic names that were achieved either through addition or subtraction. Personal interviews may reveal deeper dimensions to this trend but it may just be a case of replication that has proliferated in society.

Hollywood stays ahead of ordinary people in different ways. It has once again shown us how evolved it is by introducing concepts like Brandgelina and the like. This has demonstrated that partners (substitutes for marriage) and marriages in Tinseltown are essentially a continuum that will endure.


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