Opinion: Contemporary Significance of Igbo names

Obinwannem News Opinion: Contemporary Significance of Igbo names

Till date, the Igbos attach importance to the kind of name they give their children. Most of them believe that names remind them of past experiences. Communities in Igboland derive their names from their forefathers, rivers, stream, hills, markets, deities and landmarks.

In the olden days, Igbo people named their children after the four market days of Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo. That is why there are such names as Mgboafo, Mgborie, Nwanyinkwo, Mgbeke, Nkwomma, for women, while the men were named Okonkwo, Okoli, Okeke, Okafor Nwafor, Nweke, among others. In addition, families name their children to symbolise their experiences in life or circumstances surrounding the birth of such children, deceased family members, time or place of birth.

For instance, families that experience many deaths before the birth of a particular child might decide to name him Onwubiko, Ozoemena, Onwuteaka, Afamefuna, etc, while those who experienced difficulty having children gave such names as Oluchi, Tabugbo. If families had issues with other families in their localities, they often named their children Onyebuchi, Maduabuchukwu, Asikabulu, among others. In some communities, some families give their great grandfather’s name to their children to differentiate them from others.

It is petinent to note, those who are not wise enough to read meaning into the unusual behaviour of their children fail to find out that it was the name of the child that was responsible for his or her problem. Once they come to me and I change the name, which might be one of their ancestors demanding that the child should bear his name, the person’s problem would vanish and the person begins to make progress in life.

Sometimes each family will call the child by the name which the eldest member of the family chose. In some cases, an influential uncle of the child, for instance, may have his own suggestion for a name which although not acceptable to the other family members, will nevertheless be added since the uncle’s social prestige cannot be ignored.

If the mother’s relatives are better placed in the society than those of the father, their choice will be given preference; conversely if the father belongs to a large and powerful clan, the paternal family’s choice is accepted with little or no dispute.

Certain names are common in many communities in Igboland, adding that such names showed their link with those communities. For instance, many communities in Anambra State with names that begin with Ndi shows that they originated from Arochukwu. He named some of them to include Ndikelionwu, Ndiowu, Ndiukwuenu, Ndiakwu, Ndiokpaleke.

According to research people or communities who were given names that reflect idols like Amadioha or Kamalu could go for a change of name. In Ibeku, there is this community formerly known as Apu Agwu  where Ogurube Ibeku came from, but they now answer Okwoyi because they felt the former name sounded fetish.”

Hiwever, most names have significant meanings in Igboland and such names could have ancestral meanings pertaining to every family or community. He also explained that such names continue to revolve from history to history as families uphold it from their ancestors as their heritage.
“In every ancestral home, there are ancestral heritages that can’t be taken away. Some people bear names after their deity. The deities may be what protected them during the war. Others bear names of trees, snakes, mountains, animals, etc. There is no amount of religion that can stop the people from bearing these names. It is their history, it is their heritage.

Some people bear names after warriors who annexed their communities or villages during wars. Others bear names of their ancestors that did exploits during important events in history. When you see people bearing names like Ndi Okereke, Ndi Obasi, Ndi Nkume,  among others, such names have histories associated with them. It has ancestral meanings.

Many Igbos bear names of rivers; the history is that such rivers saved or served them during wars or other crisis situations. During wars, the rivers prevented the enemies from passing while it protected the indigenous community from destruction. You can’t stop them from answering names of such rivers.

In Igboland, names have serious significance associated with families, communities and places. Names help to recognise the attitude of forces external to the people and explain their relationship with their deities. Names also tell seasons.

On why an attempt to change a community name usually generates crisis ,the people may not always feel comfortable if the desire to change their names runs contrary to the reasons the name was given in the first instance. There is usually crisis if there is no general acceptance of the need for the change being proposed.

The community of Uburu Ahiara, the name is derived from that tree; they eat fruit from the tree. They have plenty of that tree in the village and they do not play with it because it is a tree we value so much, and there is no family that does not have the tree.

For the oldest man in Amufie autonomous community, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, elder Ogbonna Idoko, Igbo names remind them of the memories of past events in their lives. They are at times associated with emotional issues of a parent or incident in one’s life; they are intimately associated with various events in the life of the individual as well as those of the family and the larger social groups.

The social significance of Igbo names clearly indicates how intimately they are connected with events which have either direct or indirect bearing upon the birth of the child. Once the circumstance or life history connected with the individual or his parents is known, the name, which may contain a  whole story in itself, becomes meaningful.

Similarly, several Igbo names express circumstances related to the birth of the child such as his place of birth, his appearance, the financial status of his parents at the time of birth, etc. Other names connote a certain concern for the child’s future and express the hope that the child may live and thrive.”
For Chief Ignatius Amadi, a resident of Owerri, Imo State, Igbo attach importance to names to remind them of their past experience in life.

The kind of name you give to your children is very important in Igboland. They mean a lot. Some people give names because of the pains they went through during pregnancy. In giving such name, they use it in praising God for a successful child delivery. Some named their children to immortalise their late parent; that is for those who believe in reincarnation.

In Igboland a woman who had difficulty in getting a child gives birth through a deity, she could name the child after the god as a way to commemorate the phenomenom, some names are replicated throughout Igbo societies because the Igbos moved round for trade before the coming of the Europeans.

Lolo Ijeoma Njoku Obinwannem News writer / Oct 21, 2021