Emerging Principles Guiding Personal Naming Practices in Sukuma Language

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Peter Shigini


This study explores the intricate principles governing personal naming practices in the Sukuma language, a prominent linguistic community in Tanzania, mainly concentrated in five administrative regions, including Shinyanga. It contends that personal names, as linguistically infused entities, intricately reflect various sociocultural aspects of human existence. The process of selecting these names is not random but guided by discernible principles, often subtly ingrained within linguistic systems. Utilising a case study approach, a sample of twelve native Sukuma speakers was selected through purposive sampling methods. Data collection involved focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. Data analysis adopted an interpretative paradigm, subjecting the collected data to thorough scrutiny and categorising it into thematic clusters that resonate with various factors influencing individual naming. These factors include birth timing, geographical location of birth, infantile features and behaviour at birth, ecological elements, and birth circumstances. Collectively, these factors form the foundation of the principled framework that shapes personal naming conventions in the Sukuma context. Findings emphasise the multiplicity of principles underlying the intricate process of personal naming among the Sukuma people. While some principles align with cross-linguistic patterns for instance the salience principle, others exhibit uniqueness to this linguistic milieu like the iconicity principle. These findings highlight that personal naming is a systematic, methodical endeavour guided by well-defined principles in the Sukuma culture. The conclusion made is that this study underscores the meticulous and principled nature of personal naming customs among the Sukuma. The study proposed that further investigation is essential to elucidate, validate, and extend these principles to diverse linguistic paradigms. This endeavour promises a comprehensive exploration of the systematic foundations that characterise naming conventions.


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Shigini, P. (2023). Emerging Principles Guiding Personal Naming Practices in Sukuma Language. East Africa Journal of Social and Applied Sciences (EAJ-SAS), 5(1). https://doi.org/10.2022/eaj-sas.v5i1.179