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The Paradox of African Writers and Their English Names -By Aliyu Idris


Writers from African continent have been fighting colonialism and its evil against the continent, the issue of using a unified language for African Literature which efforts was been made to addresssed in the 1962 conference at Makerere University. These has caused a lot of turmoil in the literary space of discussion and continues to be debating issues.

There are African writers who denounced their English names reclaiming their African identity, many African writers believe that their English names are a symbol of colonialism and Westernization. By changing their names, they are asserting their African identity and rejecting the colonial legacy. Few among them include Chinua Achebe (originally Albert Chinualumogu Achebe), Wole Soyinka (originally Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (originally James Ngugi), Ama Ata Aidoo (originally Christina Ama Ata Aidoo), Tsitsi Dangarembga (originally Tsitsi Margareth Dangarembga), Ben Okri (originally Alfred Obiora Uka), Binyavanga Wainaina (originally Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina) Bessie Head (originally Elizabeth Gertrude Makeba Mphahlele), Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie (originally Ngozi Grace Chimamanda Adichie) and Buchi Emecheta (originally Florence Onyebuchi Buchi Emecheta).

The reasons for name changing vary from writer to writer, but the decision to change one’s name is often a personal one that is motivated by a desire to reclaim one’s African identity like in the case of Emecheta and Chimamanda, Ngugi, Achebe and others not mentioned make one’s name more accessible to a wider audience, or create a more professional image.

Of course, not all African writers change their English names. Some writers choose to keep their original names like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ayi Kwei Armah, Femi Osofisan, Abubakar Gimba, Petina Gappah, Amma Darko, Mongo Beti, Niyi Osundare,while others use a combination of their tribal and English names writers like Helon Habila, Chris Abani, Amos Tutoula, Sarah Ladipo Manyinka, Gabriel Okara, Ferdinand Oyono, Oswald Mtshalis, Athol Fugard, Ousmane Sembène, Peter Abrahams etc. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to change a name is a personal one to some of them.

It’s paradoxical enough that the African writers that denounced their English names mostly lives in America or Europe as expatriates like Ngugi, Achebe who died in the USA and Emecheta in England, and Soyinka who spent years abroad but now lives in his Kongis Forest. Some of them died in the diaspora like Achebe who died 2013 at Massachusetts. The question is how can you denounce your English name and stay in English country? And how do you maintain your African identity?

The paradox is purely a neocolonialism and is perpetual to our identity if truly we are Africans.

Aliyu Idris is a final year student of English and Literary Studies at Bayero University Kano and can be reached at


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