The name is more than just a tag or a convenient badge of identity and the naming of a child is considered very important in many Nigerian cultures.
Nigerian parents often give their children names with an interesting story behind them. Here’s a short guide to understanding the peculiar naming culture in various Nigerian tribes.
The name is more than just a tag or a convenient badge of identity. The cultural naming conventions in different tribes are usually deeper than the surface that one sees. For many Nigerian families, and in many parts of Africa, names have been used to drive home different messages — from emotional to generational to circumstantial — and have been used by generations before now.
Knowing the story behind the name of a child can grant you a glimpse into the family history and values. It is usually of some significance either to the family or to the child itself.
Let’s look at some of the popular naming patterns in some Nigerian cultures.
The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa as native speakers are estimated at 24 million. Their cultures are also very prehistoric and have evolved over time. In Igboland, the naming ceremony takes between the 7th and 12th day after the child is born and one or two names are chosen for the child. Names given to the child are either a reflection of circumstances surrounding birth, the day of the week the child is born, the order of birth, emotions of parents, observations about the child, or respect to ancestors. However, with the adoption of Christianity, many of the superstitious beliefs have been wiped out and new concepts added.
For example, names like Okonkwo, Okafor, Okeke, Okorie, Nwankwo, Nwafor, Mgbeke, Nweke and Nworie were names given to reflect the four Igbo market days, Orie, Nkwo, Afor and Eke. Now, these names are hardly given to children of these generation and are now dominantly surnames that have been passed down through generations.
Some other naming patterns in Igbo land:
- To reflect order of birth, the prefix ‘Ada’ is given to the first-born daughter of the family. The suffix reflect either royal heritage or family (e.g. Adaeze, Adaobi, Adanna, Adaora) or observations about the baby (e.g. Adamma) or hopes and promises towards the child (e.g. Adaku, Adaugo). Okpara/Okpala used to be given to the first-born son of the family but that has faded out.
- Names with Chi used to reflect the faith in the Chi concept of the Igbos which was more a personal god than a religious god. However, the Chi names, along with Chukwu names, are now given to reflect the belief and faith of the parents in God (e.g. Chisom, Chimamanda). They also reflect circumstances surrounding birth (e.g. Chiagoziem) and promises towards the child/God (e.g. Chizimuzor).
- Names such as Nnenna, Nnanna, Nnedi, Nnadi, are given to children to show respect to ancestors or parents. Nnenna and Nnanna are mostly given when the child is born close to when a parent of the father dies or exhibits characters that resemble a dead parent of the father. This reflects the deep belief in reincarnation that some Igbos have till this day.
Yoruba is one of the major ethnic groups and languages in Nigeria with rich culture and heritage. The naming of a child is a very special affair and takes place on the seventh day after birth for females and on the ninth day after birth for males. Among the Yoruba people, children might have as many as 13 names and these names can be a combination of three different concepts: the Amuntorunwa (the name the child brought from heaven); the Abiso (the christening name) including the Abiku names; and the Oriki (the attributive name).
When a child is born with a name, Amuntorunwa, it usually indicates the circumstances of his or her birth and the names are usually applicable to all children born under like circumstances. The Abiso names include fetish names, indicating the deity that is worshipped in the particular family. Abiku names are given to a certain class of children who are “born to die”, similar to the Ogbanje phenomenon of the Igbos.
Oriki names are given to male and female to express what the child is or is hoped to become, to stimulate the destiny of the child. They can be prayers which result in very long names.
Some naming patterns in Yoruba land include:
- The birth of twins are a very important phenomenon in Yoruba land. The first twin born is usually named Taiye or Taiwo, meaning the first child to taste the world, while the younger is called Kehinde, the one who lags behind. A child born after twins is called Idowu, which is unisex.
- Names like Ojo, Aina and Ige were given to children whose births were difficult. However, these names have been relegated to surnames. Dada is given to a child born with dreadlocks.
- A child born soon after the death of a grandparent is felt to be a reincarnation and so is named Babatunde if the deceased is the grandfather, Yetunde if the deceased is the grandmother.
- Names like Fadugba, Fafunke are given to reflect the deity worshipped in the family. These names are hardly given anymore due to the adoption of Christianity by the Yorubas.
- Abiku names, given when a woman has lost several children in infancy, especially after a short period of illness, are adopted to thwart the supposed plans of these children so that the children may stay in this world. These names include Durosinmi, Rotimi, etc
The Kalabari are a tribe of the Ijaw people living in the western Niger Delta region of Nigeria. These are also a people of rich culture and heritage, and the names they give their children are a reflection of that. Just like in many parts of the country, some of the names given are influenced by the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth while some reflect faith and express what the child is or is hoped to become.
However, due to early and prolonged interaction with the Europeans, European names are a common feature among the Kalabari and many Ijaw children. Ba and Ye suffixes are used to indicate family ties and differentiate between male and female names with traditional names. It is common, though, to see names such as Serenaba, meaning Serena’s daughter, or Serenaye, meaning Serena’s son.
The Hausa/Fulani people are one of the major tribes in Nigeria, predominantly in the Northern part of the country. Naming ceremonies are done on the seventh day after the child is born, just like in other cultures. Hausa names are derived primarily from the Muslim religion and so are very similar to Arabic names. However, there are also some similarities with other tribes in Nigeria as some names are derived from the day of the week the child was born. For example, Dantala is given to a boy who is born on a Tuesday.