What is in a name?
This question can be asked in millions of times and in different ways, but the truth is that,we are bound to arrive at the same answer, directly or indirectly. Africans are people known for their strong belief in religion-this is clear in all her philosophy. As a result of our religious belief,we always believe that everything that happens to us (good or bad) is never ordinary. That’s, it is either caused by God or by man. And as a result of this, to keep memories evergreen, Africans use names. Prior to the coming of the Colonialists, Africans use names to remember events of the past because there was no means of writing and this made name a significant thing in Africa. Little have you wondered why a Yoruba couple could spend their last kobo just to name a child? This is to make you understand how joyful it is to family and tribe. ‘Nnaaju! I regret that I gave birth to you’,this was what a woman said amidst cry after her child was caught stealing. From her story,we learnt that ‘Nnaaju’ which is an Igbo name means ‘father’s reject’. She gave her child the name because the child’s father rejected them after the birth of the child and this made it unique and significant to this woman that when this child was caught in an evil act of stealing, the fading memory came alive.
There are countless whats in a name. Seeking more and more for what’s in a name will look like searching for a needle thrown in a deep sea. In Nigeria where we have many tribes,names are the easiest ways we can identify a particular tribe one comes from. In this situation, we can rightly say that name becomes the identity card that you wear like a passbook to travel to any part of the country and still be known. Every tribe in Nigeria has their state or tribal meetings when they are in another state or tribe and name is one of the things that will help you identify easily with them. For instance, when you come to any Igbo,Hausa,Yoruba etc gathering, the first question they will ask you is:what is your name? Before asking you the state you are from.
Why do we name?
Different people have different reason why they give a particular name to their children. This is because our experience differs but in all,names are significant. To discuss this proper, let’s look at some the reasons why Igbo children answer some of the names they bear today.
Before the coming of Christianity, many people who maybe because they are poor and a rich man takes their lands forcefully, always run to a shrine for protection. This brought about ‘OSU’ which is called outcaste. Some of them end up bearing the name of the shrine or attaching’nwa’ to the shrine’s name. While in some cases they don’t bear the name but once you mention their family’s name everyone that knows them will tell you that they are dedicated to a shrine. And this is pertinent when you are looking for a wife to marry because it’s only Osu that can marry Osu.
Secondly, Igbo names come also from the four Igbo market days: Eke,Orie,A for,and Nkwo. These names are still significant in the present time as many of us still bear such names as our surnames. These names are specially unique to the Igbos in such a way that other tribes are already familiar with them. Some of those names are Nweke,Nworie,Nwafor and Nwankwo for males while females bear names like Ekemma,Mgbogoye,Mgbafor and Nwaudunkwo.
Thirdly,parents name their children based on the circumstances surrounding the birth of their children. Many women were close to death, some even saw death but didn’t die just to be delivered of a baby. These experiences of mothers shape the kind of names they give to their children. That’s why you see names like Ebubechukwu,Ifeanyichukwu etc. In addition, some parents married and after many years,no issue. When God finally blesses them with a child or children, their names will bear testimony to the circumstances surrounding their births. And such names like Tukwasichukwuobi,Mmasichukwu will be heard.
There is something very significant about the names used as examples in the above, they are all Igbo names written in Igbo language and this should open your mind clearer to understand tracing the tribe of such an individual will be very easy just because of his or her name. But the big question is;do Igbo people still bear Igbo names?
Lost Names,Lost Glories.
The unity of tribes tied in names
Travelled alongside the colonialists
Leaving the tribes to mourn in shame
Her lost glories left in watery muds
‘Adaora ‘ is no more sweet in pronunciation
Let’s embrace the sweetness of ‘Jennifer’
But if I may ask you gently and kindly,
Are you ‘Black’ or ‘White’?Or what?
Your names have confused your tribes.
Nwokeabia, Ifeanyi John is a teacher and poet who hails from Awka, Anambra State.