What teachers should teach students about their names


Azuka Onwuka

There is something strange about the way many people who are below 30 years introduce themselves in speech and in writing these days. During an interview for a job or other issues, if you ask the interviewees to introduce themselves, you would most likely hear something like: “My names are Balogun John.”

The first strange issue is that of one person saying “my names are”, implying that the person has many personalities or identities. Only people with a shady character have many identities. The second issue is that of saying the surname first and saying the first name last, thereby confusing the listener.

The challenge these days is that when one hears or sees a name, one cannot easily know which is the first name or surname. For those whose names contain names that are regarded as traditional surnames, it may be easier to decipher which is the surname, but for some other people, it may not be easy. Imagine a young man whose name is Ikenna Chukwuemeka or Ayodele Olayinka or Hassan Musa or John Emmanuel introducing himself this way. For you to ascertain which is his first name or surname, you have to ask him to clarify that. But it is not all the time that someone has the opportunity to ask the owner of a name to make this type of distinction. That is why a standard way of writing one’s name was developed a long time.

When you write your name, which should come first: Surname or first name? The answer is evident. Your given name is called your first name. It should always come first.

Question: “What is your name?”

Answer: “My name is Azuka Onwuka,” not “My name is Onwuka Azuka.”

Your surname or family name is also called “last name,” because it is meant to come last. If you write a book or publish an article in a newspaper, your first name or initials come first while your surname or last name comes last.

Remember that you grew up hearing of William Shakespeare (not Shakespeare William), Chinua Achebe (not Achebe Chinua), Wole Soyinka (not Soyinka Wole), Nnamdi Azikiwe (not Azikiwe Nnamdi), Florence Nightingale (not Nightingale Florence) Abraham Lincoln (not Lincoln Abraham), Dele Giwa (not Giwa Dele), Diego Maradona (not Maradona Diego), Michael Jackson (not Jackson Michael), James Bond (not Bond James), etc.

However, when names are written alphabetically on a school list, bibliography, voter register, recruitment list, etc, the surname may be written first by those compiling the list, to make it easy to locate people’s names. But note that whenever the surname comes first, something MUST happen: a comma must come after the surname, or the surname must be in uppercase.


Abdulsalam, Ahmed Sanni

Balogun, Temitope Yinka

Onwuka, Azuka P. I.

Osagie, Aifuwa Omoh

Yala, Pam Dalong


ADAM John Thomas

BENSON Jane Mary

CLINTON Robert Peter

The trend among those who are under 30 to always introduce themselves or write their names with the surname first is queer. First name is called first name because it is meant to come first.

Based on which is your surname, someone will know how to address you officially. If you introduce yourself as Rashidi Yekini, the person can then address you as Mr. Yekini, not Mr. Rashidi. When only one name is used with your title, it has to be with your surname, not your first name: Mr Onwuka, Miss Akpabio, Mrs. Jonathan, Alhaji Jakande, Professor Usman, Chief Lar, etc.

Furthermore, on the issue of whether to say: “My name is Azuka Onwuka” or “My names are Azuka Onwuka”, let it be reiterated that each human being has only ONE name.

Please take a look at these two expressions:

Edson Arantes do Nascimento

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga

The first is the real name of the great footballer Pele of Brazil. The second is the full name of the former president of Congo when it was known as Zaire. However, in spite of the length of the names, each of them is ONE name. Pele has ONE name and Mobutu has ONE name.

You should never ask someone: “What are your names?” And you should never tell someone: “My names are….” You are one person, not two or more people.

Yes, like most people, you may have a number of identifiers under your name, but they all form a unit known as your name. You can break them down into first name (or given name), middle name (second name), third name, fourth name, and surname (or family name or last name). But you only have ONE name and nothing more.

Some factors have made this issue of writing the surname first prevalent now. The first reason is the practice of emphasising the surname in schools. It has always been the practice that teachers address their students by their surname: “Onwuka, come here. Where is Akpabio?” But based on the feedback I have received from my probe into the matter, many teachers these names specifically teach their students to introduce themselves with their surname first.

The second reason is that even when teachers have not expressly told their students to always write their surname first, they have not clearly made the students to understand that outside the school environment, they should introduce themselves first with their first name. There is no distinction made about how one should write one’s name when filling a form and when introducing oneself.

There is also the factor of the rise of the Internet. There is a rise in the number of places where one can fill one’s details online. There are email accounts to create, social media accounts to create, and different websites to register with for one thing or the other. In addition, the banks also lay emphasis on surnames in the opening of accounts and issuing of the ATM cards. Agencies that provide identification documents like the passport, driving licence, voter card, national identity card and company’s identification cards lay emphasis on the surname too.

However, in spite of all the challenges in the environment on the issue of the order of names, the first name still remains the first name, while the surname still remains the surname. If any institution requires the surname to be written first while filling a form, give it to them in that format. But do not let that confuse you to introduce yourself or have your name displayed on your social media platforms with your surname before your first name, unless you clearly mark the surname off with a comma. That is the standard way. In addition, even though you may have a first name, a middle name and surname, you have only one name. Therefore, you should not ask someone: “What are your names?” or introduce yourself with: “My names are ….”

 These issues should be taken seriously by teachers from the primary school to the university, because when it comes to learning, teachers wield the biggest influence on children. To most children, whatever their teachers say is right is what is right.

Excerpt from English Incorporated by Azuka Onwuka


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