Naming and Identity in Achebe’s and Senghor’s Works Essay

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer

One of the themes that can be emphasized in the literature is related to the importance of naming. For instance, names may serve as a link between an individual and their identity, be it a national, cultural, family, or another type of identity. This can be illustrated by using Chinua Achebe’s and Leopold Sedar Senghor’s literary works.

For example, in Achebe’s Chike’s School Days, one can discover that the main character had three names: John, Chike, and Obiajulu, the last name meaning “the mind, at last, is at rest” (Achebe, 1960, p. 827). Thus, the first name, John, denotes the relation of the family to the European tradition; the second name, Chike, identifies him as an African person; and the third name, Obiajulu, shows his position in the family, namely, that he is either the only son or the only child (Achebe, 1960).

In Senghor’s poem Prayer to Masks, on the other hand, no names are given. However, it might be possible to state that the metaphor of masks is used to refer to identities that are changing due to cultural merging: “The Africa of the empires is dying, see the agony of a pitiful princess / And Europe too where we are joined by the navel” (Sells, 2013, para. 3). Thus, “masks” are used, denoting the changes in identity, rather than names, which would refer to particular identities.

This theme can be used to teach the topic of identity to high school students by elaborating that names often have origins that are deeply rooted in a particular culture and that a name can often be used to identify one’s origins (Gallagher & Chen, 2008). To engage the students in this theme, it is possible to use such elements of popular culture as e.g. some elements of rap music of the 1970s, in which African Americans often strongly identified themselves with their Black community.

On the whole, it should be stressed that one’s name plays a critical role in their lives, and may often establish a strong link between a person and their identity. This can be seen from some literary works, such as C. Achebe’s Chike’s School Days or L. S. Senghor’s Prayer to Masks.


Achebe, C. (1960). Chike’s school days. Web.

Gallagher, A. C., & Chen, T. (2008). Estimating age, gender, and identity using first name priors. Web.

Sells, A. (2013). Prayer to masks. Web.

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