How Nigerian states got their names.
Nigerian states

There’s a rich history as to how Nigerian states got their names. For instance, its sources varies from rivers to past heroes. Firstly, Nigeria is a sovereign country in West Africa. The Federal Republic comprises of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Also, this is where the capital, Abuja is located. Historically, Nigeria had only three regions. That is between 1960 and 1963. These regions were Eastern, Western, and Northern region. However, from 1963 to 1967 the country had 4 regions instead. This is because of the carving out of the midwestern region out of the old western region.

How Nigerian states got their names
States of Nigeria

After that, General Yakubu Gowon created the first 12 states between 1967 and 1975. From the old Eastern states were Rivers, Cross Rivers, and East-central State. While Bendel, Western, and Lagos states are from the old western states. Lastly, the old northern region includes; Kano, Kaduna, Kwara, Plateau, Benue, Northwestern, and Northeastern state. On the other hand, Abuja was created from the old Niger state. This happened between 1976 and 1987. Afterwards, the list of states in Nigeria increased to 19. Then, it became 21 in 1991. Finally, by 1996 there were 36 states in Nigeria. And the Federal Capital Territory of course.

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 How the Nigerian states got their Names

  • Abia

Unknown to many, Abia is an acronym from four main groups of people in the state. That is at the time in 1991. These names are; Aba Bende Isuikwuato Afikpo.

  • Adamawa

The state has a name after a warrior, Modibbo Adama Bin Ardo Hassan. He conquered the region at the beginning of the 19th century.

  • Akwa-Ibom

It takes its name after the Qua Iboe or Kwa Iboe river.

  • Anambra

Anambra got its name from a popular river in the area. It is a corrupted version of the Oma Mbala. To clarify, the Ànyịm Ọma Mbala.

  • Bauchi

The state has three versions of how it got its name;

Bauchi is a Hausa word that means southern flanks of Hausaland. The tribes living there were called “Hasashen Bauchi”. Soon after, they gave the area they lived the name Bauchi. Another version says it was named after a famous hunter. According to tales, he settled there before the 19th century. Lastly, the third version says ‘Bauchi’ is a Hausa word for slavery. It use to be a centre for slave raiders.

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  • Bayelsa

This state is a combination of the acronyms of three local government areas. They were pulled out of old Rivers state. The first is Brass LGA a.k.a BALGA. Another is Yenogoa LGA a.k.a YELGA. And the last is SAGBAMA a.k.a SALGA. Therefore, the formation gives BA + YEL + SA = BAYELSA.

  • Benue

The state had its name after the ‘Europeanised corrupted ‘Binuwe‘. This Batta word means ‘Mother of waters‘. This is typical of how Nigerian states got their names.

  • Borno

This is an alternative name for the Kanuris. It is also the most common ethnic group in the state. And it is what inspired the naming of the state.

 Other states

  • Cross River

The state took its name from a river with the name ‘Oyono‘ or Cross River.

  • Delta

This state is where the River Niger forms a delta. This is as a result of its flow into the Atlantic Ocean.

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  • Ebonyi

There is a river that cuts through Abakaliki, the state capital. Ebonyi is the anglicised version of the river ‘Aboine‘.

  • Edo

The people of Bini use to refer themselves as ‘Edo’ or ‘Iduu’. That is those that reside in the area. And that is how the name came about.

  • Ekiti

Ekiti was once called ‘Okiti’. It is a term that is used to describe a settlement of hills.

  • Enugu

Enugu is a formation from the name “Enu Ugwu”. The people of the land gave it the name in Igbo. This is however due to the many hills and rocky terrain in the vicinity.

  • Gombe

This is the dialect of the Fulani language. The Fulfude language is what’s spoken in the area.

  • Imo

Just like many other states, the Imo state got its name from a popular river. The name of the river is Imo Mmri.

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  • Jigawa

It takes its name from the golden-coloured soil.

  • Kaduna

The state gets its name from the many crocodiles in Kaduna River. This is because ‘Kadunas’ is the plural of crocodile in Hausa.

  • Kano

This state is named after a blacksmith from the Gaya tribe.

 Further list of states

  • Katsina

Katsina is the name of a popular local ruler at the time. His name was Janzama. And they named the state after her.

  • Kebbi

According to history, Kebbi is named after Ka’abba in Mecca. It is a place in Saudi Arabia.

  • Kogi

The popular confluence has its location in the state. So, Kogi comes from ‘Kogin‘, the Hausa word for river.

  • Kwara

Once upon a time, the Nupes used to call River Niger River Kwara. And so, they named the state after this.

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  • Lagos

Firstly, the name came from the Portuguese. The name Lagos exists due to the several lakes and rivers in the state. And because it means Lake in Portuguese language, hence the name Lagos. Interestingly, the Portuguese were the first set of Europeans in Lagos. That is in 1472.

  • Nasarawa

Makama Dogo is the name of the founder of the Nasarawa Kingdom. So, the state had its name after him. Besides, Nasarawa means ‘victorious’.

  • Niger

A name after the River Niger.

  • Ogun

Just like other states, its name comes from a river – Ogun River.

  • Ondo

The settlers of the old Ondo kingdom brought about this name. Ondo is a word used to describe settlers.

  • Osun

Its origin comes from the Osun River.

  • Oyo

A name after the old Oyo Empire.

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  • Plateau

The name has its existence from the picturesque Jos Plateau. By the way, Jos has its name from the mispronunciation of the town ‘Gwosh‘.

  • Rivers

There are several water bodies in the state. So, it was easy to give it the name “Rivers”.

 Final set of states

  • Sokoto

This state is named after the non-operational Sokoto caliphate. The name is also an Anglicised version of the Arabic word ‘Suk‘. It means ‘market‘ or ‘place of commerce‘.

  • Taraba

This is another state that gets its name from a river.  The Taraba River to be exact.

  • Yobe

Inspirations of the name; Komadugu Yobe (Waube or Ouobe Yobe) or River Yobe (or River of Yo)

  • Zamfara

This comes from the subdialects of the Eastern Hausa group. The name is Zamfarawa.

This is a complete list of how Nigerian states got their names.

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