Names in African cultures are pointers to their users' hopes, dreams and aspirations; they may reflect their users' geographical environments, their fears, their religious beliefs, and their philosophy of life and death. Children's names may even provide insights into important cultural or socio-political events at the time of their birth. The circumstances surrounding a childs birth may be considered when a name is being chosen.
Factors such as the day of the week of the birth, the time of day (dawn, morning, dusk, afternoon, evening, night), the season of the year, the order of birth, the location a person is born, the specific circumstances relating to the child and to the childs family, the attitude of the parents as well as the gender of the child all play significant roles in the overall naming process and in the actual name given. If one's parents suffer or suffered from child or infant mortality, one is likely to have a funny, survival or death-prevention name believed to be capable of preventing and/or eliminating totally such deaths since it has the power of preventing parents in the underworld from causing the death of such children. Names in African societies may even be important indicator(s) of the bearers behavior and as pointers to the name-bearers' past, present, and future accomplishments. Personal names in Sub-Saharan Africa are therefore not mere labels showing which person (particularly, which father) is responsible for a childs birth. There is also a close identity between the name and the name bearer such that the name links to the name-givers overall experiences. Structurally, African names range from single words, phrases, and sentences, to units larger than the sentence.
Ethnopragmatically, African personal names may involve indirectness and implicitness. They may thus be indirect reactions to problematic situations in the lives of the name-bearers, their parents or their communities at large. The greater the communicative difficulty involved in the circumstances surrounding the name-givers world, the more indirectness involved. The indirection and ambiguity involved in
African naming traditions may be due to the consequences of candor and hence the need to have an escape route should the name-givers be questioned by powerful elders or superiors.