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So “Murtala” is actually “Murtadha”?

By Farooq Kperogi Twitter: @afarooqkperogi As people who read me know, I am passionate about the epistemology of personal names, which lingu...

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @afarooqkperogi

As people who read me know, I am passionate about the epistemology of personal names, which linguists call onomastics. This passion has driven me to wonder why only Nigerian Muslims (and perhaps a few other West African Muslims) bear Murtala as a personal name.

Although the late populist military Head of State Murtala Mohammed was the most prominent Nigerian bearer of “Murtala,” it appears to me that it is more common among Yoruba Muslims (who mostly call it “Muritala”) than it is among northern Muslims. I admit, though, that my observation may have no basis in reality since there are many “Murtalas” in Nigeria’s northwest. 

Above: Song in praise of Murtala Mohammed by Haruna Ishola

Anyway, I have wondered for years what Muslim/Arabic name Murtala approximates since no Arab/Middle Eastern Muslim bears that name. It turned out that it’s Murtadha, which I’ve never encountered among Nigerians. (With the new craze for bearing the most unfamiliar Arabic names in Muslim Nigeria, I won’t be surprised if there are now Murtadhas).

Murtadha is the nickname for Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet of Islam, who is regarded by Sunni Muslims as the fourth caliph and by Shias as the first Imam, and it means one who is pleasing to God.

Because the “dh” phoneme in Arabic doesn’t exist in most Nigerian languages, it was converted to an “l” to produce Murtala. Iranians, among whom the name is the most popular in the world because of their Shiism, often change the “dh” to a “z” to have some version of Murtaza, Mortaza, or Morteza. 

Some phonemic communities in the Muslim world render the name as Murtada, which is how I expected Nigerian languages to render it because "d" is the closest sound to "dh."

My next project is to find out the origin of Busari, a common name among Yoruba Muslims. Could it be a Yoruba domestication of Buhari, itself a domestication of the Uzbekistan Bukhari, which means a native of the Bukhara region of the west central Asian country of Uzbekistan?

How about Badamasi, which occurs in Yoruba as Gbadamosi (now often rendered as Badmus)? Which Arabic Muslim name is it derived from? 

In tomorrow’s column I’ll update and republish my article on northern Christian names. I am tired of Nigerian politics—for now😀.

Here are further thoughts by experts on this:

From Professor Ahmed Umar of the University of Maiduguri:

Prof! You never asked me about a possible link between the Hausa "MurtaLa" and its source in another language (here, in Arabic, "MurtaDHaa"). I would have informed you that, not only this instance of "L" (Hausa) = "DH" (Arabic), the Hausa tend to replace the Arabic "DH" in many other words with "L", precisely because the Hausa language does not have the consonant "DH". Other examples are:

AlwuDHuu - AlwaLa

WaDHuhaa - WaLhaa

MariiDHi - MariiLi

IrDHi - IriLi

AlkaaDHii - AlkaLi

DHamiir - Lamiri

RamaDHaan - RamaLan/Labaran

RiDHwaan - Rilwanu


From Professor Mahfouz Adedimeji, former University of Ilorin professor of linguistics who is now Vice Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University, Pategi, Kwara State:

You have actually provided the insight. Arabic is referred to as the language of 'dhad' (لغة الضاد) because of the uniqueness of the phoneme which has no exact equivalent in many languages. What is often done is to seek the approximate sound and the lateral /l/ is the sound for the Yoruba as 'dhad' is both alveolar and lateral too. Those who want to approximate the actual sound would definitely prefer 'Murtadha' to 'Murlala' as many people literate in Arabic would want to do.

Meanwhile, the attempt is often hypercorrect as another sound is actually transcribed as 'dha', the one that follows 'da' in Arabic alphabet as you have in 'Ustadh'.

When we were growing up, our Imams recited the last part of Fatiha as 'gayril magluubi alayhim wa la laaliina' replacing 'dh' with 'l'. It was the most equivalent sound to them, given their level of exposure.

Many names ending in suffix 'i' in Arabic indicate indigeneity. Busaira is a town in Jordan and Busairi is an indigene of the town; which becomes Busari to the Yoruba especially. Bukhara is the town of the famous Hadith collector, known as Bukhari, as you pointed out. It is rendered as Buhari and Buari by Nigerians. I am not sure but I won't be surprised that Badmas is also an Arab town, with its native being Badmasi the same way a person from Kenya is a Kenyan. At the level of borrowing, phonotactic constraints of our languages would make their speakers call it Badamasi and Gbadamosi. Badmus perhaps is a new attempt by the educated Nigerians to Anglicise it or an attempt to shift it away from the well-known mathematical formula/acronym, BODMAS.


  1. An interesting excursion into onomastics,an aspect of sociolinguistics

  2. Good day Prof. Your write ups are truly very informative. Please I will be very interested to know the meaning of Busari from your research. It was a given name to our grand father and it has been the family name for 3 generations now but we are bwatiye from Adamawa state. Thank you


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