Seereer Names

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This article is about Seereer first names. The Seereer people resides within the Senegambia Region (Senegal and Gambia) and in Mauritania. These areas are predominantly influenced by the Abrahamic religions e.g. Islam and Christianity, but more so  Islam. As such, many people (irrespective of tribe) who reside within these areas have taken Arab/Muslim and Christian first names especially if they are Muslims or Christians. There are also others who adhere to Traditional African religions like the Seereer and Jola religions but have been named after a Muslim or Christian friend of the family. The reverse is also true. For example there are Senegambian Muslims or Christians who are not ethnically Seereers at all but bore Seereer first names. Although in many cases a person's first name may determined their religious beliefs, this is not always the case. Some Arabic/Muslim names like Ibrahima are also localised into Ebrima, Ebou, Biram and Ibra. These are not authentic local names, meaning they are not native or indigenous to the region, but are inherited through religious conversion. This article deals only with authentic or traditional Seereer first names. For the meaning of Seereer surnames, please see that article.  


Seereer naming culture is very rich, yet complex.  A person can have several names during their life time. For example: the secret name given to them the moment they came through the birth canal; the official name given to them  eight days after they were born during a naming ceremony called "bat"; a name called "lastanqol"  given on special occasions during the person's life such as their circumcision or initiation ceremony, marriage, etc. Although these names are still widely used in Seereer culture, the scope of this article only deals with Seereer first names in their generic sense.

Choosing the child's name

The early Seereers

The early Seereers' naming ceremony is very similar to the naming ceremony of modern Seereers (see below). However, there are two major differences. The first major difference is that, among the early Seereers, the naming  ceremony takes place on the forth day after the child has come out of the birth canal. Number 4 is the symbol of the masculine world in Seereer numerology. It is an earthly number. The second major difference is that, these early Seereers would decide upon four possible names by digging four holes and filling each with water. Each hole will be given a name. The last hole left standing with water still in it after all the remaining three holes' water has been absorbed by the soil becomes the child's name. This is how the early Seereers used to name their children.[1a]

English

This article is part of the Seereer culture series. For other cultural related articles, click on the category button below:

Please cite this work as:


The Seereer Resource Centre, "Seereer names and naming convention" (2015) [in] The Seereer Resource Centre, 

URL: https://www.seereer.com/seereer-names

Modern day Seereers


In Seereer culture, the new baby's name is given on the eight day after the child is born.[1] This name is the child's official name and is given at a naming ceremony called bat by the child's paternal aunt (faap-o-tew).[1][2] It is the father who chooses this name in advance and pronounces it on the day of the bat. However, a secret name called "gon le na inteel" or "gon gisir" (name at birth or name at delivery) is always given at the time the baby has been delivered from the mother's womb.[1][2] This secret name is given by the oldest midwife, and is generally drawn from the paternal family. It is a name which should be very common in the child's kurcula (paternal lineage or paternal clan).[1] Therefore, the old midwife, in many cases the child's paternal aunt or relative, should  be well familiar with the child's paternal genealogy and family history. The name must be "chosen from the names carried by an ancestor who lived long or was famous for his military exploits."[2] Since custom dictates that the official name should be given on the eight day in front of family and friends, it is quite possible that the child could die before the eight day. This is why this secret name is particularly important to help the parents have a temporary relationship with the child before the child dies. This special name is a highly guarded secret and most people are unaware of its existence.[1] In some cases, even after the child has grown to adolescence, they would still be unaware of their secret name until one or both of their parents decides to tell them.


Types 


Seereer names have meaning and each name usually falls under one of the following categories:


  1. Names which are spiritual and falls within the ambit of Seereer religion 
  2. Names which are historical and falls within the ambit of Seereer history
  3. Names which are rooted in nature e.g. animals and plants. These names have parallels with the Seereer creation narrative and Seereer totemism and are also linked to Seereer religion.
  4. Names where the parents wishes that the child posses certain unique qualities or physical attributes such as honour, self respect, dignity, pride, beauty and elegance. These names share parallels with the Seereer philosophy of Jom (honour) and beauty.
  5. Names which are to do with the desire to escape bad luck or death.
  6. Female names
  7. Male names
  8. Unisex names - including male or female names feminised or masculinised for a female or male respectively. Usually, such naming practices occur when the mother dies during child birth or when the father dies during or just before the child's naming ceremony. When this happens, the child is given the name of the mother or father even if the child is a boy or girl respectively. If it is a baby boy and the mother dies during child birth, he gets his mother's first name followed by the masculine suffix "koor" or "kor" (man), then followed by his father's surname. For example if his late mother was named Kumba, a typical Seereer woman's name, then the child would become Kumba Koor. The same holds true where it is a baby girl and the father dies just before the naming ceremony. In that case, the baby girl is given the father's first name followed by a feminine suffix e.g. tew (woman).[2]
  9. Agricultural names - names which are to do with fishing, farming and cattle herding. 
  10. Names which are geographically based.
  11. Names of the week or seasons.
  12. Names which stems from social status or prestige e.g. Seereer royal titles, titles of nobility  or the priestly class, etc.
  13. Name twins.

Spiritual Names

Spiritual names are rooted in Seereer religion and include renowned figures in Seereer religion and its creation narrative (i.e. Seereer creation mythology). They also include sacred places and Pangool (ancestral spirits or saints). 


The following table shows examples of Seereer spiritual names

First name

* Seereer or Cangin spelling
 Meaning of name 
 Some historical people bearing this name
 Male 

Female

or 

Unisex

*Selbe


*Selbeh 


Selbé

Selbe is a Seereer term meaning "master" or "supevisor of the njuli."[3] The njuli are circumcised boys.  The holder of this title is always male. He is the leader, mentor or teacher of the circumcised boys. However, when Selbe becomes a given name, it is usually a female first name.
Selbe Ndoofeen Juuf - daughter of Maad a Sinig Kumba Ndoofeen famak Juuf, king of Siin, reign: 1853 – 23 August 1871.[a][4]
F


 
 
 

Historical Names

Historical names are inherited from an ancestor and passed down through the ages. They also include known events in Seereer history. Certain historical events for example the founding of Seereer towns or villages by certain Seereer families also form part of Seereer historical and place names. For example the names of certain Seereer towns or villages bearing a repetition of certain Seereer surnames tells you which family founded that town or village. Examples of these towns or villages include: Seeseen (founded by the Seen family), Njuujuuf (founded by the Juuf family), Mbaafay (founded by the Fay family), Ngoogom (founded by the Ngoom family), Nduunduur (founded by the Nduur fami) etc.[2] For more on this, see Seereer surnames and Seereer paternal clans and their totems.


The following table shows examples of historical Seereer names

First name

* Seereer or Cangin spelling
 Meaning of name
 Some historical people bearing this name
 Male 

Female

or

Unisex
xxxxxxx
 
 
 

Names Rooted In Nature

There are certain Seereer names which are rooted in nature. These include names which stems from animals or plants as well as the bush itself. In many cases, such animals or plants holds great significance in the Seereer creation narrative and totemism. In the Seereer creation narrative, animals and plants where the first living things to be created by the Supreme Being. Such animals and plants are well respected in Seereer culture. Certain animals or plants are affiliated to certain Seereer families and are regarded as totems of the family. Some plants are highly valued in Seereer culture and are used in Seereer medicine


The following table shows examples of Seereer names rooted in nature

First name

* Seereer or Cangin spelling
  Meaning of name
 Some historical people bearing 
this name
 Male

 Female

or 

Unisex
*Njogoye[5] 

*Jogoye

*Jogoy[6]

Diogoye

Njogoye (French: Diogoye) means lion in Seereer.[5][7]
Maad a Sinig Jogoy Gnilane Juuf (or Diogoye Gnilane Diouf) - king of Siin.[8][9]
M

Names Derived From Desired Character Or Physical Attribute

In Seereer naming tradition, some names are based on desirable human character such as honour and bravery - usually reserved for men; and desirable physical qualities or attributes such as beauty and elegance - usually reserved for women.  Where the parents choose to name their child from this category, it will of course be determined by the child's sex (male or female) and the parents' own likes and dislikes.

These names share parallels with the Seereer philosophy of Jom (honour) and the Seereer philosophy of beauty.

xxxxxxx
xxxxxxx

Geographical Names

Some Seereer names derives from the geography of inhabited places in Seereer country e.g. north, south or centre.


The following table shows examples of geographically based Seereer names

First name
 
  Meaning of name
 
 Some historical people bearing this name
 Male 

Female

or 

Unisex
Saaluum, Saluum, Saloum
 
 
 

Prestigious Names

There are Seereer names which derives from Seereer titles of nobility or profession. Examples of these include titles of Seereer kings, griots, notable people like Jaraaf (equivalent of Prime Minister), the land owning aristocracy -  formerly the Seereer kings (Laman) and military generals.

First name
 
  Meaning of name
 
 Some historical people bearing this name
  Male 

Female

or 

Unisex
Ngawleem

Nqulanqeem

Maad


Ngaraaf (district Jaraaf),







Laman (or Lamane)













Farha




Saltigi, Saltigue, Saltik


Griot

Area dependent

It means "king" in Seereer-Siin as in Maad a Sinig (King of Siin) and Maad a Saluum (King of Saluum)

Ngaaraaf comes from "Jaraaf" which is a Seereer title of nobility equivalent to Prime Minister. The word Jaraaf means _________. In precolonial times, the Jaraaf was the most important person after the king.



Laman or Lamane means "master of the land" in Seereer-Siin. They were the land owning aristocracy in Seereer history. Historically, the lamans were also Seereer kings. By the 14th century, the Lamans were relegated to the land owning class and district chiefs as the title Maad became more common to refer to Seereer kings. Somestimes Maad and Laman are used interchangeably to refer to the old Seereer kings. The Lamans also had a religous role and precided over religous affairs. They were and still are one of the most important people in Seex (the Seereer-Siin people)  social stratification. They also holds great significance in Saafi history.

In precolonial times, Farha was the title of the military general in Seereer country. He headed the army of the Seereer kings. Farha means__________.


The Saltigue are the Seereer high priests and priestesses. They form the Priestly Class. 


Laman Saar 
Laman Jaw
M

M

M


M






M













M








Notes

[a]  French spelling: Coumba N'Doffène Diouf. Source: Klein, Martin A. Islam and Imperialism in Senegal, Sine-Saloum 1847–1914,  Edinburgh University Press (1968), p. xv, 106,  ISBN 0-85224-029-5. See also the footnote on page 106 : A letter from the Commandant of Gorée to the Governor of Senegal dated Thursday 24 August 1871, Archives de la République du Sénégal, Dakar (formerly the archives of the French West African Federation). In that letter, the French commandant relays that the King of Siin was shot and fatally wounded by a French man called Becaria resulting in the King's death on that same day. That was the day when the Maad a Sinig (King of Siin) went to Joal to exercise his sovereignty over Joal, a province he has had a lot of disagreements with the French. According to the letter, the King entered Joal with a large entourage. A small garrison was powerless to act against the King and his cheddo (or tyeddo : "animist") entourage when they started demanding "gifts", and was accordingly shot by this French trader called Becaria. The King would have been killed on a Wednesday as alluded to by the letter written and dated a day after the King's - 24 August 1871, which was on a Thursday. In those days, Wednesday was when personal taxes were collected in Seereer country and in many parts of the Senegambia region. Travelling is also permissible on this day in accordance with Seereer religion and culture. What the French might have regarded as "tyeddo thievery", might actually have been the King exercising his power and sovereignty by demanding that the French traders pay their personal taxes on the same day just like everybody else.  As Seereer religion and culture forbids travelling on a Thursday, this means the King was killed on the previous day when he visited Joal to resolve the Joal crises with the French. This is also alluded to by the letter. The Maad a Sinig therefore died on Wednesday the 23rd of August 1871. 
For Seereer religious doctrines / culture regarding days forbidden to travel, days of rest, etc., see:


References

[1a] The Seereer Resource Centre's interview with Professor Issa Laye Thiaw. Interviewers: Tamsier Joof and Demba Sene. Medium: Audio recording. Date of recording: Thursday 8th January 2015. Place: Diamaguène, Diack Sao, Senegal. 
[1]  Faye, Louis Diène, "Mort et Naissance, le monde sereer", Le Nouvelles Éditions Africaines (1983), p. 90,  ISBN 2-7236-0868-9
[3] Dione, Salif, "L’appel du Ndut ou l’initiation des garçons seereer", Dakar, Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire / Enda-Editions (2004), p. 150, ISBN 92 9130 047 0
[4] Klein, Martin A. "Islam and Imperialism in Senegal, Sine-Saloum 1847–1914",  Edinburgh University Press (1968), p. xv, 106,  ISBN 0-85224-029-5. 
[5]  Crétois, Léonce;  Becker, Charles, "Le vocabulaire sereer de la faune", (edited by: Charles Becker),  Centre de Linguistique Appliquée de Dakar (1983), p. iv, 31, 35.
[6]  Crétois and  Becker (1983), p. 95
[9] Diouf, Niokhobaye, "Chronique du royaume du Sine." Suivie de notes sur les traditions orales et les sources écrites concernant le royaume du Sine par Charles Becker et Victor Martin. (1972). Bulletin de l'Ifan, Tome 34, Série B, n° 4, (1972), (PDF pages: 23, 24, 28, 36, 41)

Bibliography