1/31/2012

Igbo name-giving ceremonies

In Igbo society, naming ceremony may take place four days after a child’s birth, but more often, the naming ceremonies take place on the eighth day, depending on the health of the mother and child.
Paternal grandparents officiate Igbo ceremonies. The ceremony begins with ancestor recognition and divination, followed by the name giving and planting of a live plant to represent life and survival. Next, a participant pours a wine libation to share the child’s name with the ancestors. After the usual breaking of kola nuts and prayers, the ceremony, which traditionally lasts an entire day, ends with a family procession.
The Igbo tend to name based on observation, birthmarks, or some other remarkable characteristic—for example, Ogbonna (“image of his father”). Igbo also commonly name children for the market day on which they were born—Nweke, Adafo, or Okorie. Of the names the Igbo give to a child, the father or a family elder gives the child the name the community will use most often.

In traditional Igbo life, there is a lot in a name. The name is more than just a tag or a convenient badge of identity.  Igbo names always bear a message, a meaning, a history, a record or a prayer. This is also to say that they embody a rich mine of information on the people's reflection and considered comment on life and reality. They provide a window into the Igbo world of values as well as their peculiar conceptual apparatus for dealing with life. Their range of application spans the whole of life itself.

One of the earliest written comments on the peculiarity and deep philosophical import of Igbo names was made by the British colonial officer, Major Arthur Glynn Leonards in his "The Lower Niger and its Tribes". He notes that:
In nothing, not even in their customs, can we grasp the natural and ancestral conception so plainly as in these names which invoke, promise, threaten, praise, revile, satirize and sympathize, that in fact express and demonstrate all that is human, that is, all that is best and worst in them.
In this society name-giving is a significant ceremony performed on the occasion of circumcision or when the mother officially ends the post-natal period of enclosure (omugwo). The privilege of name-giving is generally reserved to the parents and grandparents whom it gives an opportunity to express the importance of the child in their lives or in general, to make a significant statement on their life experience, and to express deep-felt wishes or their future hopes and expectations for the child.


LIFE AND DEATH, GOD AND DESTINY
History
But there are categories of name. One frequently used category is simply to name the child after the day that it was born. Thus from the four-day Igbo week made up of Orie, Afor, Nkwo and Eke, we have such names as Okere, Okorie, Okoye, Okafor, Okorafor, Nwafor, Nwankwo Okonkwo, Okereke, Okeke and Nweke for males. The corresponding female names would be Mgbere, Mgbafor, Mgbakwo and Mgbeke. In modern times this has spilled into names like Sunday, Monday, Friday apparently only reserved for males.
Names also make historical statements. Nwaorgu--Son of War--designates some one born in wartime; Nwigwe, Nwachukwu are names of boys whose conception and birth are attributed to the intervention of the great oracles Igwekala of Umunoha and Chukwuabiam of Arochukwu.
Another category of names is the group designating the order of primogeniture in both the male and female lines in the family. Opara is the first born male whereas in the female line the first is Ada, the second Ulu and the third is Ibari.
Girls' Names
A good proportion of the names given to girls is usually metaphorical, in praise and appreciation of their beauty. Parents would want the world to know that their baby girl is the paragon of beauty and, accordingly, may name her after one of the best known symbols of beauty in nature and art:
Osamma--The beautiful squirrel
Akwugo--The eagle's egg
Oduenyi--The elephant's tusk or ivory
Nwugbala--The baby egret
Nwugo--The baby eagle
Nwuhie--The calmwood baby
Ugomma--The eagle of beauty
Nwulari--The baby in silk
Nwogazi--The baby guinea-fowl
Nwancha--The soap girl (washed clean)
Udara--The peach (udara) fruit.
Others may choose to celebrate in more poetic language the impact of their little girl's beauty:
NwaekurueleBeauty that compels moping
OlujieigboThe Igbo will strain their necks staring at your beauty
MbelugboDestined for the glories of the motor car
NgwanzeThe adornment of the noble
NwuloakuChild of the house of goods
NwigbeChild worthy of a boxfull of goods
NwobiarangadiyammaOne who has come into the home she loves.
Statement of Life Experience
But the vast majority of names given to babies are really abbreviated statements of meaning and significance, interpretations of life's experience or of events in the history of the family. At times the name indicates that the birth of the child is a welcome landmark in the parents' lives especially after a long wait for a baby:
Iheanacho--What we have been looking for
Ihentuge--What I have been searching for
Akujuobi--something to sooth the mind
Nwaruoulo--May a child at last reach this house
Nwagugbulam--May I not die of child-hunger
In other instances the child's arrival is used as an occasion to boast and make statements of triumph over misfortune or of vindication over gossiping neighbors:
Egejuru--I have heard enough
Ikegwuonu--Let the mouth get tired and quit talking
Onyekwere--Who would have believed it?
Ndukagba--Let the detractors at last leave me in peace
Onukwugha and Akagha--The mouth that spoke ill should now recant
Or it may be cast in the form of a prayer to indicate that the child's birth is an answer to such prayer against odds:
Ahamefula--May my name not be lost
Ugwuagbanwa--Hatred and ill-will cannot prevent my getting a child
Chiekwelaibekam--May God forbid that my peers surpass me
Amarachi--God's favor
Chinyere--God has given
Names indicate when the family has had a rough past experience:
Soronnadi--Beware of relations
Soribe--Beware of your peers
Onuegbu and Akwukwaegbu--The mouth i.e. detraction and insult cannot kill me
Ugwuanya--Only eye hatred i.e. merely envious and sour looks of hatred cannot harm me
Ugwushie--I am now used to and immune to hatred
A family with a background of conflict with others pleads its innocence and good faith using the arrival of the new child as vindication:
Oguwunka--Good faith is, i.e. guarantees old age
Oguledo--It is good faith that keeps me alive
Ejiogu--Having good faith
Emenogu--Acting in good faith
Ogugbuaja--Good faith defeats, i.e. is superior to sacrifice
Ejimofor--I have truth and honesty on my side
Nwaofor--Son of, i.e. born under the aegis of, truth and honesty
The Kwe Names
A group of names also reflecting a background of past opposition and animosity voices a promise of greater achievement if only the enemy would give the family a chance:
Igbokwe--If only the Igbo, i.e. humanity would let me
Ulokwe--If only my kin would let me
Ibekwe--If only my peers would let me
Uwakwe--If only the world would let me
Nnoriekwe--If Nnorie people would let me
Ohakwe--If the majority would let me
One can see depicted in these names a social atmosphere of distrust and intrigue where people feel frustrated and threatened by others, but also a sense of self-confidence that one can take care of one's life if obstacles are removed.
Pro-Child
Igbo culture is unabashed in its pro-life and pro-child bias as is wellknown to anyone who has studied the issue of polygamy, celibacy, or even illegitimacy in this culture. In appreciation of the blessing or gift of the child (nwa) as greater than any other that one could ever wish, we have such names as:
Ifeyinwa--There's nothing like a child
Nwakaego--The child is more than money
Ginikanwa--What is greater than a child?
Nwakibu--The child is more than a load of property
Nwakuba--The child is more than riches
NwakunaThe child is more than fame
There are names which show some of the motivation for having children. In guaranteeing posterity and inheritance by one's kin, in perpetuating one's name and in thereby conferring quasi-immortality, offspring acquire a religious and almost divine function. Having children seems to become both a right and a duty. Some such names are:
Ahamefula--May my name not be lost
Nwaneri--Only my son will inherit me
Nwawulo--A child guarantees that the home continues (lit. The child is the house)
Nwariaku--May my child inherit my property
Nwokokorom--I lack male children
Amaechi--May the road (house) not be closed (go extinct)
Okeahialam--May I not be deprived of my share or portion
An almost desperate longing for offspring finds a pathetic expression in the name:
Nwagugbulam--May I not die of sheer longing (lit. hunger) for a child.
On the other hand, nothing could better expose the Zeitgeist of male chauvinism than that a grandfather would give his granddaughter the uncomplimentary name:
NwanyimoleWhat good is a woman?
Pro-Life
Life and death are a privileged pair of concepts in which the Igbo seem to have invested a lot of emotion, convictions, meaning and value. Life (ndu) is acclaimed the greatest of all values:
Ndukaku--Life is higher than riches
Ndukuba--Life is worth more than wealth
Nduwuisi--Life is supreme
Nduawuike--Being alive is not due to one's strength
Chijindu--It is God who holds (sustains) life
Chikwendu--May God just let live
Uzuakpundu--Life cannot be manufactured by a blacksmith, i.e. is not manmade
Ndubuizu--Living or surviving is wisdom
Ndulaka--Life will determine, i.e. the future
Ndukwe--If life would let me
Uchendu--The life-giving thought
Nnorom ele uwa--Staying alive and observing the world is better than being dead
DeathOnwu Names
On the other side of the spectrum, death (onwu) evokes a yet wider range of emotions and thoughts:
Onwudinjo--Death is evil
Onwujialiri--Death brings dishonor
Onwuliri--Death devalues
Onwugbaramuko--Death robbed me of pride
Onwuamaegbu--Death is a senseless (indiscriminate) killer
Onwuemelie--Death has triumphed
Onwumere--It is death that has brought me to this
Onwumelu--It is death that mars.
Onwubiko--Please death! Spare
Onwuagalaegbula--Please death! don't kill yet
Onwuzurike--Take your time or take a rest death!
Onwuchekwa--Death! Just wait a little
Imaginatively envisaging the circumstance in which this name might be appropriately conferred, Leonard writes:
Face to face with the painful and disheartening fact that all the children who were born previous to the arrival of this one had been snatched away from them, and apart from the inevitable sacrifice and offerings which are duly offered, there is addressed in this name a petition to the spirit of death, which not only begs him to desist, but which implores him to stay his dread hand and spare this offspring, so that it may live and perpetuate the name and substance of the house.
Onwuha--Please death! Let go
Onwualaezi--There is no getting death out of the household
Onwuzuruigbo--Death reaches all over Igboland (is universal)
Onwuamaenyi--Death knows no friends
Onwuanibe--Death accepts no pledge, is implacable
Onwuameze--Death knows no king
Onyekonwu--Who is greater than death?
Onwukamuche--Death is more than I can grasp
Ikerionwu--No strength can overcome death
Belonwu--But for death
Ebereonwu--Can one move death by tears?
The number and rich variety of names based on death, by no means here adequately represented, yield a complex harvest of attitudes and reflections. We should point out that these reflections are demonstrably of a philosophical rather than of a purely religious nature. Death and eschatology are notoriously fluid twilight zones where philosophical and religious thought often become indistinguishable. But in these names the religious perspective seems to recede to the background. Religion covers death with a cloak of optimism and so, in a way, denies death. Because the agenda of religion is necessarily otherworldly in the sense that it deals with relations with beings of a different world than the human one, it looks beyond the event of death. In that way the crushing finality of death for human beings in this world is not fully acknowledged and, to that extent, death is not taken seriously.
The elaborate religious rituals that solemnize funeral ceremonies are all apparently calculated to enhance a belief in a survival that is no longer evident in the mortal remains of a dead relative. These rituals look beyond the corpse; they prepare the dead for the journey to the next life. This next life may be realized in the form of the status of ancestor where the deceased joins the glorious company of the former ancestors of the village, sharing with them a keen interest in the affairs of the living, protecting them, interceding for them and procuring them all sorts of good things, but especially assisting the earth goddess in maintaining peace and justice and the purity of the land. But the next life may also take the form of a return to the present life as a reincarnate to repeat or to amend or else continue one's life here on earth. In either case the fact of death itself is overlooked and attention is diverted to an after death hope of ancestor-ship or reincarnation.
By contrast, Igbo names based on the concept of death take death very seriously. It is seen as crushingly real and final. These names show a hardheaded assessment and recognition of death in all its cruelty and there is no effort to argue it away, to explain it, to ignore it, much less to look beyond it. There is no protest or questioning of human mortality as such, but death is seen as it really is experienced: it dishonors and robs of security and pride; it frustrates and threatens; it is indiscriminate and implacable. Death is ubiquitous, insuperable and omnipotent, so that before its supreme force man, in desperate and total resignation, is reduced to only a meek and futile pleading for a temporary reprieve. Thus, while Igbo religion, like most other religions, seems to go into death denial by means of its elaborate funeral rituals affirming and assuming continued life after death against the teeth of the evidence, the names of the Igbo bear and affirm death and proclaim purely human and rational, i.e., philosophical rather than theological, reflections and attitudes in the face of this phenomenon.
GOD
The Chi Names
Another significant area covered by Igbo names is religion as represented by the God or chi concept. The name of God in Igbo is chi: the supreme God is Chiukwu or Chukwu, the great God, or Chineke, the creator God. Chi is also the name of the personal god or double of God within the individual (chi m, my own or personal God as it is often referred to), guiding him through life as he works out his destiny. C. K. Meek writes:
One of the most striking doctrines of the Ibo is that every human being has, associated with his personality, a genius or spiritual double known as his chi. This conception of a transcendent self is not confined to the Ibo. . . . A man's abilities, faults, and good and bad fortune are ascribed to his chi.
But chi is not a generic name for gods. It applies only in the two cases just mentioned. The other citizens of the Igbo pantheon are generically known as muo or agbara or arusi--spirits. Even so, there is a long recognized ambiguity in the use of Chi. It is not always easy to decide whether in a particular case we are dealing, on the one hand, with the created, personal god and guardian and cooperator in the individual's successes and failures and in working out his destiny, or, on the other hand, whether it refers to Chukwu/Chineke, the supreme but distant creator of all, the famous, withdrawn High God of African anthropological literature. What is clear however is that the two are not identical but similar, coexisting but distinct and with the small chi somehow emanating from or participating in the Great Chi.
Some have suggested that Igbo culture knew only the personal chi before the concept of Chineke/Chukwu was appropriated and popularized by the Christian missionaries. In The Supreme God as Stranger in Igbo Religious Thought, Nwoga suggests that Chukwu was the name for the God of the Arochukwu oracle, Chukwu Abiama, and was later promoted by the missionaries to translate their own imported Christian God. But an early missionary, the Portuguese priest J. Alves Correia C.S.Sp who was probably the first to speculate in writing on the possibility that the idea of God was imported into Igboland, only concluded that the Igbo had the same name for God Almighty as the Aros, a small but influential Igbo subgroup--(Chuku était d'ailleurs, aussi le nom donné par la tribu Umuchukwu à leur grande idole.--Furthermore, Chuku was also the name given by the Umuchukwu tribe to their great god.) The idea of God he testifies as obviously indigenous:
"Each time I wanted to inquire from a pure pagan from the bush about who Chuku or Chineke was, I met with a fierce Amam: I don't know. But those pagans who were familiar with white people were very annoyed if it was ever insinuated that they might be ignorant of God's existence, while reserving the right not to be bothered about it.
The evidence of those Igbo names based on chi/Chukwu/Chineke indeed supports the view that both idea and name are indigenous. A propos of the missionaries, we should note that their coming is relatively recent and some of these names were evidently already in circulation before their arrival and have continued to be till today. In fact, the only noticeable impact of Christianity on names is the systematic imposition of the names of foreign saints at baptism. But the baptismal name was always an additional name, coming some time later, at times years after the naming ceremony. Moreover, this ceremony was an out-of-church affair of the extended family, well beyond the influence of the missionary church.
As to the adoption of Chukwu into Igbo parlance, it is gratuitous to suggest that it was the Aro who lent or imposed the name of their God on Igbo theology and not the other way round, or that they necessarily had to have a different supreme God from the rest of the Igbos of which they formed an integral, though admittedly privileged, part. It is rather likely that the concept has its origin in Igbo religious development. From Chi the personal god and guardian, it is but a short and natural step to Chi-ukwu (or vice-versa), the great Chi, the God creator of all. Not being muo or agbara and not having altars like the other deities, this god generally is detached and withdrawn from human affairs. The Aro may have, for their own purposes specially appropriated him, given him a cult, a shrine and an oracle that became a Delphi and a Mecca for the Igbo; but they did not create him. The concept and name seem to have been thoroughly, universally and primordially Igbo.
Today there are several names for God the supreme creator, some commonly used all over Igboland, some more commonly used in some parts than in others. In central and eastern Igboland (Delta, Anambra and Abia states), Chukwu is perhaps the most commonly used designation. In Southern Igboland (Imo and Rivers States), Chineke is more typical though Chukwu is nearly as common. Chineke is not a simple concept, but rather a combination of Chi (god) and Eke (the creator principle), though the mode of combination is not unambiguous. Chi means god, as earlier explained, while Eke means the principle of creation. In parts of Owerri Eke is venerated with his own distinct shrine and worship. Eke, while meaning creation etymologically, also suggests division and sharing and the idea of portion, destiny or lot. In that context Chineke could be seen as a combination of the two concepts of god and creator.
The etymology of his name writes Cole, suggests that he is both a deity and a concept, for "Chineke" is a contraction of chi, na ("and"), eke: chi apparently meaning "god" or "soul," with eke approximating "creation" or "division". Some would prefer to read and interpret Chi-na-eke participially as the God that is creating, though this is less plausible even if grammatically not impossible. H. M. Cole aptly observes in a perceptive summary of Igbo pneumatology or theory of the spirit world that:
Beyond this second level of reality, "the land of the spirits" inhabited principally by ancestors, cult deities and other spirits, is a third, more abstract level, that of chi and eke, which may be thought of as the animating forces of each human being and which combine to form his personal world or destiny. The fourth level, more impersonal yet, is of chi and eke combined and unified in a single word/concept, Chineke which stands for the creator god, the original anima mundi.
In the same area of southern Igboland the designation Obasi di n'elu--the Obasi living on highis also common. The term Obasi is a borrowed corruption of Abasi, the designation for God among Igboland's southern neighbors, the Anang--Ibibio--Efik. In this appellation God's abode is indicated as on high.
In Northern Igboland, especially in the Nsukka area of Enugu state, the most common designation is Ezechitoke, or Eze Chukwu Okike, lit. the king, the god, the creator--a triple combination synthesizing together the concepts of Eze--king or Lord, Chigod, and Oke--creator principle. A typical exclamation in Nsukka would run the full gamut of: Eze Chitoke Ezechi Abiama, meaning O God! or literally Lord god creator, Lord god of Abiama.
The wide geographical spread of these terms for God and their commonly agreed connotation and denotation show that the Igbo have used them to designate the supreme God and creator of life and the universe from time immemorial. Some names of God certainly show evidence of external influence (cf. Abasi) but the names also show greater evidence of internal adjustment of basic terms of the language in order to come to grips with a complex concept (cf. chi, Chukwu, Eke, Chineke, Chi Okike Chitoke). The complex etymology of both Chineke and Ezechitoke suggests an honest attempt to deal with the complexity of the idea of the supreme God, never known to be easy or simple in any theology. One need only think of the so-called polytheistic theories of the Greeks and the Romans or even the Trinitarian creed of Christianity where the tension remains unresolved between the unity and uniqueness of the one supreme Being, on the one hand, and, on the other, the plurality of the various and multitudinous attributes/persons which his power and perfection and status as creator seem to suggest, if not demand. In their formulation of terms for the Godhead, the Igbo seem also to have worked out their theology or theory of God on something like the principle of e pluribus unum.
One final comment is still in order. The shared community of the name Chi in Chi, Chukwu, Chineke and Ezechitoke or Chukwu Okike, which links the personal god of the individual with the supreme God to the exclusion of all other so-called gods, seems to point to a very special and exclusive relationship between the individual and his creator. The divine in man is hinted at, as is a certain indwelling of God in the individual. The transcendent in man is also suggested, as is his subordination to his divine guardian. At any rate, there is, if not a certain sameness, at least a reduction of distance between man and his God, mediated by the chi. The other spirits (agbara, muo, arusi), on the other hand, are really and significantly other than and quite stranger to man and, therefore, by the same token radically different from the supreme God. They do not share the same nature and do not relate to man in the same way, nor are they apprehended by man in the same way. This should issue a serious caveat to all who talk and write glibly about polytheism in the present case. If Chukwu is theos, then the so-called gods are not; if they are theoi, then He is something different.
This background helps us better to understand and appreciate the meaning of the God-related names the Igbo bear. The first set of names evokes Chi as the personal god, that is, as the protective companion, the guardian and bringer of good omen, responsible for the individual's security and helping to manipulate his destiny:
Chinonso--God is close
Chioma--Good God, good luck or fortune
Chikadibia--God is greater than the doctor
Onyewuchi--Who is his neighbor's god?
Chiaka--It is up to God to decide
Chiedu--God leads my way
Chintua--When God plans
Chiadighkobi--The wishes of the heart are different from God's design
Chiawuotu--Different people different gods, i.e., destinies
Chiadighkwe--My God has not permitted it yet (relative to a close brush with misfortune)
Onyeberechiya--Let each one complain to his personal god
Ibeawuchi--One's neighbors are not one's god
OderaaOnce he has written it down, meaning that no one can thwart God's good plans such as the baby represents
A few names refer to Chukwu Abiam of the Aro Oracle. These names are given to children whose conception and birth have been attributed to the special intervention of Chukwu. It is well-known that childless couples often referred their case to Chukwu and the children born thereafter would carry the name Nwachukwu--Child of Chukwu. People would normally say of the child: Ekutara ya na Chukwu--He was brought as a baby from Chukwu.
But clearly many chi names refer to Chi or Chukwu only, that is, primarily in the sense of the supreme God, creator of all:
Amarachi--God's favor
Arinzechukwu--But for God's favor
Chinua--May God fight for me
Chigere--Let God listen
Chimaroke--May God know my share
Chidube--May God lead me
Chikwendu--May God allow me to live
Chigozie--May God give blessing
Chigboo--May God prevent, intervene
Chijioke--God is in charge of creation/lot
Chikere--God has created
Chieke--It is God who creates
Chinwendu--It is God who owns life
ChijinduGod holds/upholds life
Chinyere--God's gift
Chiekezi--It is God who creates well
Chidi--God exists
Chukwudi--God exists
Chukwudifu--God yet exists
Chukwuemeka--God has been so good
Chukwukere--It is God who created
Chukwueke--It is God who creates
Ekechi--God's creation
Ekechukwu--God's creation
Ikechukwu--By the power of God
Ohochukwu--God's principle of truth
UgochukwuHonor or favor from God
Iheanyichukwu--Nothing is impossible with God.
The Eke Names: Destiny
Eke, as earlier explained, is the principle of creation and apportionment of lot and destiny within the God concept. A few names refer to God from that aspect:
Ekennia--The Eke of his father
Ekejiuba--Eke holds the key to wealth
Ekechi--The Eke of god
Ekeneme--It is Eke that makes
Amuneke--Born according to Eke
Okpalaeke--First son of Eke
Ekejindu--Eke holds the key to life
Ekechukwu--The Eke of God.
The Uwa Names: World as Destiny
The Chi and Eke names naturally suggest the introduction of the concept of Uwa-world to round up the cluster of ideas where God, man and destiny are entwined. Chi in the sense of God within the individual, presides over one's destiny and eke as creator principle gives him his lot or portion. This destiny or lot is called Uwa, literally, the world. It is the result of the work of Chi and Eke. The phrases Umu ihe uwa, meaning things of the world, life's vagaries and distractions, and Uwa m na chi m, meaning my lot, portion, destiny, fate and heritage, are frequently heard combinations. Uwa oma means good luck. Onye Uwa ojoo means someone that is ill-fated, doomed. Uwa ojoo na ndu aliili is a common phrase linking bad luck and a life of drudgery.
Because Chi and Eke are active, Uwa, even though fixed, is not unalterable fate: there is room for negotiation, adjustment and manipulation. It is within this interplay of semi-fixed fate and the individual actively struggling to better his lot that the Igbo have been able to build up their success-oriented ethic, where success depends on some one's "saying yes when his chi says yes" (Onye kwe chi ya ekwe). Names invoking the concept of Uwa are:
Uwadiegwu--The world/destiny is mysterious, awesome
Ahuwaanya--Can destiny be seen?
Uwaezuoke--No one's destiny/lot is perfect
Uwaanuakwa--Bad fortune heeds no pleas
Emereuwaonu--No one boasts about fortune
Eluwa--Shall one rely on destiny/fortune?
Lekwuwa/Nebuwa--Behold the world/Wait and see what destiny brings
Uwazie--May destiny be good to me
Uwakwe--May destiny let me!
OFOR/OGU NAMES
One final pair of concepts needs to be mentioned to complete the picture of the core area where Igbo conception of God, man, life, death and destiny touch each other and at the same time touch the philosophical in man. In the concepts of Ofor and Ogu, often joined together as Ofornaogu, we come to the area of conscience and guilt, of vindication and punishment, of good and bad faith. Ofor is a physical object made of the stem of a special tree, the Detarium Senegalense, supposed to grow in God's compound. What it symbolizes is the authority of the ancestors. It also especially symbolizes the truth and obliges all who swear by it to speak the truth and thus to show innocence or be ruthlessly punished. Ofor is not a god, but the power of the truth, or the power of God for eliciting the truth. Some of the Ofor names are:
Nwofor--Son of Ofor
Oforkansi--Ofor is more than poison
Oforkaja--Ofor is greater than sacrifice
Oforegbu--Ofor will not kill me
Jideofor--Hold on to your Ofor, i.e. keep your hands clean
Ofordile--Ofor is potent
Oforjebe--Ofor goes in front
Oguejiofor--A war justified by Ofor
Ohochukwu--God's Ofor
Ogu is the principle of good faith innocence and guilt, and of ultimate vindication. The Igbo have a strong belief in the principle of vindication. The innocent is always ultimately right: the good will triumph; the clear conscience will be vindicated whereas one who is guilty will be exposed and will loose in the end. Ogu is again a quasi-personification, an abstract principle, not a god, and not even a symbol. Nwoga points out that Ogu is "a concept, an abstract idea. . . . Ogu is . . . an example of an abstract reality, a concept with agency and therefore with the status of independent existence conferred on it by the Igbo." The Ogu names include:
Oguamanam--May Ogu not indict me
Nwogu--Son of Ogu
Ogugbuaja--Innocence is stronger than sacrifice
Oguwunka--Innocence is the key to long life
Oguledo--It is innocence that keeps alive
Emenogu--Acting only in innocence and good conscience
Ejiogu--Having innocence and good conscience
Oguwuire--Having innocence guarantees potency
Oguwuike/Ogike--Innocence is strength.

The categories of names which we have studied here briefly are by no means exhaustive. But they are typical enough and show clearly that in this culture, to name is to make a statement of meaning, ranging from the most simple and matter of fact to the deepest thoughts that probe the mystery of reality. From names that use markets to register birthdays and others used to recall historic events and landmarks, we encounter names showing the order of primogeniture and girls' beauty names captured in bold metaphors. There are child-welcoming names, names celebrating triumph over misfortune and detractors, the triumph of prayers and the vindication of the innocent. The pleading-kwe names ask for a fair and just chance in life. The pro-child, that is, child-appreciating names affirm the pricelessness of offspring. The pro-life names affirm and glorify life as the ultimate good. The death-names reflect man's anxiety, abhorrence and helplessness before the mystery of human mortality.
In the chi/eke or God names, whether in the meaning of man's spiritual double or of the supreme God himself, there is affirmation of God's existence and of his attributes as the allpowerful and wise creator and dispenser of fortune, the provident and generous source of life and all its blessings, and the vindicator of the truth. The various prayer-names pay him worshipful homage.
In the Uwa names, man reflects on the ambiguities of his destiny, generally in resignation before this mystery. The Ofor/Ogu names underpin human morality by affirming a strong faith in the final vindication of the good conscience.
This sample of names serves to give an idea of the potentially vast area and the wide variety of subjects which Igbo names cover: life and death; God, creation and destiny; conscience and guilt; and the great questions and mysteries of life no less than the banalities of daily living. But the names themselves demonstrate the power of the special technique devised by an illiterate culture to put into record some of the best thoughts and ideas of its heritage. Igbo people had no common writing and Nsibidi, the pictorial hieroglyphics did not evolve into a commonly accessible means of recording and communication. Names were then ingeniously pressed into service and became the most effective way of conferring immortality to thoughts that would otherwise not outlive the very breath by which they were uttered. A. G. Leonards has rightly observed that "the conferring of a name upon a child is in no sense a mere social or religious formality, nor is it only an ordinary petition, but an act which, from every native point of view, is a perpetual landmark in the history of the house."
The technique also provides lifesaving security for historical events for whom these names serve as lasting memorials. As the name of the person is called and invoked daily, the event it commemorates is daily recalled and relived for the family, while the bearer feels himself inserted and his roots re-inforced in the immemorial history of which he is now a part. The Igbo name system is a living and self-renewing magisterium, not a depositum of dead clichés buried in obscure letters needing some abstruse exegesis. It is a living continuity, creatively ongoing as individuals transmute their experience into immortality, cumulatively linking the past and the present in a tradition virtually unaltered even by the most powerful agents of change and modernity.
Above all, some names attempt to make statements of meaning, and have turned out to be records of deep reflection on reality and the human condition, expressions of the hopes, the anguish and the mystery of man's existence. Thus, far from being mere identification tags, names in Igbo culture form a great reservoir of sentiments, ideas and values, immortal gems of meaning encapsulating reflective thought that has been distilled out of the lived experience of individual Igbos of all ages.

4 comments:

  1. Wow! thanks so much for this.

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  2. Love these names soooo beautiful...I admire it even more being a black person, its nice to see the beauty of African names.

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