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“Naming Ceremony,” “Turbaning,” “Disvirgin”: Q and A on Nigerian English Usage

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Question: I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for your essays. I personally have gai...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for your essays. I personally have gained a lot from them. I have a question for you. In one of your essays, you wrote that there is no such thing as naming ceremony in both American and British English. I googled "naming ceremony" and found that there is naming ceremony even in Wikipedia and BBC. There is an English course book (advanced) called Innovations by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley, and I found in one of the units the term “naming ceremony.” Could you help on this as I am a bit confused?

You are right that there is such a thing as “naming ceremony.” However, the expression has no currency in contemporary American English and means a slightly different thing in British English. Note that Americans and Britons don’t celebrate the christening (that’s the more usual word for “naming” in American and British English) of their children as elaborately as we do in Nigeria.

The fact that a word or an expression can be found on a website or in a book does not in and of itself provide evidence that its usage is universal. I have been living in America for quite some time now, but have never heard any native-born American refer to the christening of their children as a “naming ceremony.” My British friends also tell me they don’t use that expression now. They probably did in the dim past.

What I have learned, though, after writing the article you referred to, is that Orthodox Jews also call the christening of their children a “naming ceremony”—like we do in (Muslim) Nigeria. So, clearly, the expression is not uniquely Nigerian. It probably survived in Nigerian English from old-fashioned British English.

Interestingly, in recent time, British secular humanists have embraced and popularized what they call “naming ceremony.” It is a non-religious alternative to Christian “christening” or “baptism.” In fact, the Macmillan Dictionary now defines “naming ceremony” as “a non-religious ceremony for naming a child,” and adds that, “A religious ceremony for naming a child is a baptism or christening.” This is certainly not the case in Nigeria. In Nigeria, especially in Muslim Nigeria, naming ceremonies are decidedly religious, and are celebrated on the 7th day of a child’s birth.

My wife had a baby on February 25 this year. None of my American friends asked about my daughter’s “naming ceremony” because it’s not part of their cultural reality. In fact, they wanted to know her name months before she was born, which kind of jarred me. My Muslim cultural upbringing has habituated me to expect to know—or be asked— a child’s name only after it has been publicly announced during the “naming ceremony.”

I announced my daughter’s name to my Facebook friends and followers on the day she was born because that's the norm in America, and there would be no “naming ceremony.” There are no rams to slaughter and no “Malams” to invite. But my mom did a naming ceremony in absentia for my daughter in Nigeria.

 Is the expression 'Congratulations on your turbaning ceremony' correct? I ask because I searched for the word 'turbaning' and couldn't find it in any dictionary.

All English dictionaries recognize “turban” as a noun that meansa long piece of cloth wrapped around the head, worn especially by Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim men.” But it’s only Nigerian English that uses “turban” as a verb.

But I won't discourage you from using the verb form of “turban” (such as “turbaned,”  “turbaning,” etc.) just because it is nonstandard or exclusively Nigerian. It is understood in Nigeria and expresses our unique socio-cultural reality, and that is what matters.

I’ve read people suggest that “coronation” is the proper English word for what we call “turbaning” in Nigerian English. That’s inaccurate. Coronation only applies when someone is made a monarch, that is, a sovereign or quasi-sovereign king or queen.  But “turbaning” encapsulates more than that; it can also mean the conferment of traditional titles on individuals who may not be from the royal family, which would be equivalent to “knighthood” in British English.

So an approximate British equivalent to Nigerian “turbaning” (if it means to confer a title on an illustrious individual) would be “knighting.” So where Nigerian English speakers would say, “He was turbaned as the Waziri of Gwandu,” a British English speaker might say, “He was knighted as the Waziri of Gwandu.” But where Nigerian English speakers would say, “I attended the turbaning ceremony of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Emir of Kano,” British English speakers would say, “I attended the coronation of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Emir of Kano.”

In one of your columns you pointed out that “disvirgin” is a uniquely Nigerian English coinage. You said “deflower” is the word that native English speakers use. But "deflower" is labelled “old-fashioned” in some dictionaries. What is the replacement? Or does that mean it can no longer serve any semantic purpose in native-speaker areas?

"Deflower" is old-fashioned because it is no longer culturally acceptable among native English speakers, at least in the mainstream, to gaze at women’s sexuality from such a supercilious patriarchal prism. By today's standards, it’s considered insufferably sexist to think of a woman as a flower whose verdancy is invariably vitiated by sex with a man, especially because a man’s own loss of sexual innocence isn’t even lexicalized.

If a woman is considered “deflowered” for having sex with a man for the first time, what can be said to have happened to a man who has sex with a woman for the first time? Uprooted? You get the point? So it isn't the word “deflowered” that is old-fashioned in and of itself; it is the meaning it expresses. I would guess that because patriarchal arrogance is still countenanced in the Nigerian society, the word still has some currency and semantic utility in our everyday usage. Language always reflects people’s extant material and cultural realities.

Another example is the word “bastard,” which is a culturally loaded insult in Anglophone Africa and elsewhere, but which is now old-fashioned in the West because there is no longer any stigma attached to being born outside wedlock. Bastard now simply means a stupid, annoying person. The notion of a “bastard” as an illegitimate child is now dated in the West.

What is the correct way to answer a question that begins with, “Do you mind”? For instance, how do I respond to a question that says, “Do you mind a cup of tea?”

Let me start by saying this question confounds even native English speakers. But it helps to know that “do you mind” is simply a polite way to say “do you have a problem with….” To apply it to your question, it means, "Would you have a problem if I give you a cup of tea?"

If you don’t have a problem with being given a cup of tea, then your answer should correctly be, "No, I don't. Thank you." That means you would like to have a cup of tea. Note, however, that the negativity that “no” conveys can jar some people. So, although it’s the grammatically correct way to answer the question (since you want to communicate the fact that you don’t have a problem with the polite request), some people prefer affirmative responses like, “Sure. Thank you,” or, better still, “I’d like a cup of tea. Thank you.” The latter avoids the question, but it also avoids confusion and adds a dash of courtesy to clarity.

If you don't like the cup of tea offered to you, then you might say, "Yes, I do." But that would be impolite, even confusing, and most native English speakers don't say that. They rather say things like, "Thanks, but I'm OK." Or "I’ve just had some tea. Thanks.”

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