Southern African Onomastic Research
This paper looks briefly at the development of onomastic studies in the first three-quarters of the 20th century, touching lightly on the work of scholars like Charles Pettman, GS Nienaber (“Oom Gawie”), and Peter E. Raper. The paper then looks at the founding of the Names Society of Southern Africa (NSA) in 1981, and the start of the NSA journal <Nomina Africana> in 1987. Using material from the several NSA conferences held to date, the 21 volumes of <Nomina Africana> so far published, and post-graduate research in onomastics at southern African universities, the paper traces the development of onomastic research in southern Africa over the last thirty years. Specifically, the paper looks at (1) the distribution of research among the onomastic subcategories anthroponymy, toponymy, literary onomastics, onomastic theory, brand names, and “other names”, (2) the approach of the scholar (‘general descriptive’, focus on phonology, morphological analysis, historical/comparative approach, etymological, and so on), and (3) the source of data used, such as: names in a particular language (“Anthroponyms in Venda”, “Xhosa toponyms”); one single name; names from a particular region, town or village; names from a particular literary source (the Bible, the novels of X). The paper ends with a review of the sudden and spectacular rise of research into names in African languages in the late 1980s, and a summary of the challenges facing African onomastic research today.