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Re: Top 10 Yoruba Names You Never Guessed Were Arabic Names

I rarely publish reactions to articles in my grammar column except in the Q and A series. I am breaking that tradition this week for two r...

I rarely publish reactions to articles in my grammar column except in the Q and A series. I am breaking that tradition this week for two reasons. First, in the concluding thoughts of last week’s article I asked a couple of questions to which many readers provided answers. I have a responsibility to share the answers with my readers. Second, I received responses that not only broadened my own understanding of the issues I discussed but that I think will benefit most of my readers who enjoyed last week’s article. It’s obvious that I will have to write a sequel to the article at some point. Meanwhile enjoy some of the insights people shared with me.

Thanks for raising a topic that has not escaped my interest over these years. Will you be surprised to learn that 'Abdulaziz' has another, admittedly less common, yorubised, form like 'Laisi'? Have you also considered that 'Lam' is a further contraction of the short form 'Lamidi'? Do you know that the name Jinadu derives from the Arabic Junaid (dimunitive form of 'Jund')? Of course you must have noticed names like Amusa (Hamza) and Oseni (Husain) in which the 'h' is elided. Or Saka, which is shortened from Zakariya' and in which ‘s’ replaces 'z'.

Raji seems to be the Fulfulde version of al-Razee, the Persian mufassir (Qur'anic exegete) because the Fulbe tend to replace 'z' with 'j'. If so, it could have entered Yoruba usage like other Fulbe names e.g. Bello [and Gidado, Kuranga (Kwairanga) in Ilorin]. As for Badamasi, the fact that the Hausas also use it suggests it might be an Arabic or Arabised toponym like al-Basri (rendered in Yoruba as 'Busari' or 'Bisiriyu') or an occupation like al-Ghazzali (Yoruba: 'Kasali').

One of my mother's uncles was called 'Monmonu'. It took me ages to discover that it was actually Muhammad Nuhu!!! Similarly, the Arabic Ni'mah has morphed on the Yoruba tongue to Limota, or the more recognisable form Nimota! Of course 'Ramota' is Rahmah.

Finally, have you thought of the origin of the Yoruba Muslim female names like 'Simbiyat' or 'Simiyat'? The '-at' ending suggests an Arabic origin but I've not been able to decipher its Arabic roots.
Dr. Muhammad Shakir Balogun, Zaria

Thanks for an illuminating article, Prof. One of the references you made in the concluding part concerns me. LOL! Raji is listed by many websites as a Muslim name which means "hopeful" or "full of hope". Some sites say that it is of Arabic origin while others are silent on its origin. There are a few sites (Indian) which describe it as a Hindu name that means "one who shines". I think its usage among the Yoruba in an unmodified form could be due to the fact that there is little to modify in the name being a four-letter word and already ending with a vowel. These are just my thoughts as a non-expert. It is also possible that it actually has a longer form in Arabic like Al-Rajih. But one reason why I suspect that the Yoruba haven't modified it is because non-Yoruba like the Fulani in the northeast that you mentioned also use it in the same form. The usage among Fulani in the northeast is actually confined to Adamawa and even there, it is virtually restricted to the members of a single clan. It was the name of the founder of the clan, who is my great-grand-father, Modibbo Raji (1790-1866). An interesting fact is that he wasn't a native of Adamawa but settled there in the mid-19th Century. He was a native of Degel in the Sokoto area which means that the name was familiar to people in those parts for a long time. A summary of his life can be found in this Google book review on pages 434 and 435 where he is listed as Muhammad Raji b. Ali b. Abi Bakr.
Dr. Bello Raji, Abuja

As usual, your take on Yoruba domestication of Arabic names is informed and effectively educates us all. The question of bastardization or "destroying nice names" as some have articulated is uncalled for, and only betrays anti-Yoruba prejudice. Thanks for setting them straight. I once had a Turkish roommate whose daughter was named Zeynep. It took me some time before I realized that was Zainab or Senabu in Yoruba rendition. What about Turkish rendering of the Prophet's name as Mahomet, or Mehmet as the famous Dr. OZ is known. He is of Turkish origin.

To get back to Yoruba names, your observation that Yoruba insists on starting Arabic names with a consonant even when the original starts with a vowel is extremely interesting. This practice is in sharp contrast to indigenous Yoruba names of which 99% start with a vowel. The consonants in everyday Yoruba names only come up when we drop prefixes such as Ade, Ogun, Oye, Ibi, omo, Ifa and Ola.(You can see that the wonderful names of our deities all start with vowels and they use to prefix many names). As a student of Yoruba language and culture, I have been given one rule of thumb that is also applicable to personal names: 99% of indigenous Yoruba nouns start with a vowel. Names are proper nouns as we all know. So, dropping the initial vowel in Arabic names like Ibrahim (Buraimo/Buraima) and Idris (Disu) consistently is a very interesting finding, to say the least. I wonder what the explanation could be. It has set me thinking.

Finally the version of Yoruba Muslim names that you seem to prefer come from the more Southern reaches of Yorubaland--Lagos, Ijebu, Abeokuta, etc. Amongst Northern Yoruba like Ibadan, Ogbomoso, Iwo, etc. we do not drop the "a" sound and substitute it with "o" as you observed. For example, Muraina is Muraina, not Muraino. In fact, the most famous Yoruba Muraina is the fabulous artist Muraina Oyelami, of the Osogbo School of artists; one of his beautiful paintings presides over my home. Chief Muraina Oyelami is from Iragbiji in Osun state. One more thing: Sunmola is not a Muslim name; it is an indigenous Yoruba name which means move closer to honor.
Prof. Oyeronke Oyewumi, New York

This is very educative and enlightening, but I have a disagreement with the 10th name: Sunmola. Sunmola, I think, is a purely Yoruba name. The 'Yorubaized' Ismaeel is Sumoila. Like you rightly noted, the initial 'I' in Ismaeel or Ismail is omitted and the middle 'a' is replaced with 'o' then the ending vowel 'a' is added to make it 'Sumoila'. I have a Yoruba (Christian) friend that bears Sunmola. I may have to meet this friend again for more clarity about Sunmola.
Seko Jibril Gure, Abuja

Sunmola is definitely from Isma'eel. Listen to the popular Yoruba musician 'Barrister' who uses both 'Sunmola' and 'Sumoila' in the same tale, his own 'remix' of an ancient tale. It’s an interesting consequence of the tonal nature of Yoruba that Sunmonla (mi-mi-mi), a shortened form of Mosunmola, is being confused with Sunmonla (do-mi-do) a variant of d Yoruba domestication of Isma'eel!
Dr. Muhammad Shakir Balogu

Modu, Bukar, Dala, Darman, Bura, Masta, Aisa, Falta, Amodu and Laminu are the Kanuri versions of the following Arabic names: Mohammed,Abubakar, Abdullahi, AbdulRahman, Ibrahim, Mustapha, Aisha, Fatma, Ahmad and Amin. There are many more in Fulani and Shuwa (Shuwaia) Arabs. Your articles are always very interesting to digest. Keep it up!
Mohammed Khurso Zangeri, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Your article on top 10 Yorubaized Arabic names is very scintillating. It draws attention of many to some unique features of Yoruba language and how the Yorubas who adopted Islam adapted and domesticated most of the Arabic Muslim names. Shittu is a Yorubanized shiithu, which is the name of a prophet who was said to be among the children of Prophet Adam (A.S). The last syllable "thu." is the third letter of Arabic alphabet "tha," the equivalent of which the Yorubas do not have.
The second name Raji is an Arabic name which means "Hope" or "Hopeful," though it should be more appropriately spelt as "Raaji" because the first syllable"ra" in Arabic has a slight elongation.
Abdulkadir Salaudeen, Dutse, Jigawa State

On your article on Yoruba names, Shittu is derived from Seth or Seyth, the 3rd and righteous son of Adam and Eve.
Nura Bature, Abuja

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