The Nigerian name Tokunbo

Tokunbo Kujore
2012 “Miss Nigeria in America” Tokunbo Kujore (b. 1988)

In the language of the Yoruba — an ethnic group that makes up about a quarter of the population of Nigeria — the word tokunbo means “from overseas.”

From the colonial period all the way up to the late 1980s, Yoruban parents who’d had babies outside of Nigeria (i.e., in the UK, in the United States) often opted for the baby name Tokunbo or something related, like Adetokunbo, Olatokunbo, or Oyetokunbo. One academic noted that these tokunbo children were “accorded elite status among their peers” because of the onomastic association with the West.

But when conditions changed in Nigeria, tokunbo‘s associations changed accordingly.

In the early 1990s, imported second-hand goods — particularly cars, car parts, electronics, and clothes — became very popular in Nigeria. Before long, the word tokunbo was repurposed to refer to these goods. A news article from mid-1996 mentioned this new usage:

The bustling Nigerian markets have become one-stop shops for extremely cheap, second-hand goods.


As the goods flow in mostly from Asia and Europe, poor Nigerians with weak buying power, welcome the trend with relief. They see the flourishing trade as the new employer in a country where more than 10 million are out of work.


“Tokunbo” in the Yoruba language means from abroad and until the advent of second-hand goods, it was used as the name for children born overseas or in a far away land.

There’s no baby name data that covers the Yoruban diaspora specifically, so I don’t know how this shift in usage affected the popularity of the baby name. I’d venture to guess, though, that “Tokunbo” is less fashionable these days. (Does anyone have any insight about this?)

The only thing I know for sure is that, earlier this year, tokunbo was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a Nigerian-English adjective “[d]enoting an imported second-hand product, esp. a car.”

Sources: Tokunbo – Oxford English Dictionary, The Dynamics of Tokunbo Phenomenon and Imported Second-Hand Economy in Southwestern Nigeria, Interview with Miss Nigeria in America 2012 Tokunbo Kujore, NIGERIA-ECONOMY: Flourishing Market For Second-Hand Goods, Release notes: Nigerian English

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