Trends in Igbo names

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Of Saints & Names

When Maazi William Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell just the same, he reckoned without the Igbo people of Africa. Igbo names are not mere appellations; they are “capsules” of concepts, history, lineage, religion, expectations, philosophy, and the entire gamut of human existence. In Igboland, your name is you.


The stake in the depth of Igbo names rose more than a notch since the churches now use Igbo names in baptism. Ekene diri Chukwu! We now have such designer names as Oderaa, which is derived from Chi deraa [once God has written….]


On the other hand, the shortening of names are throwing meanings out of the window. Nkechi becomes Kechi or Nikki; Nnenna, Nina; Chukwuemeka goes from Emeka to Emmy; Ngozichukwuka moves from Ngozi to Ngo or Goozi; Ekwutosi becomes Ekwii if not Equy; Okechukwu, Okey; Chinyere or Chinwe to Chi Chi and on to Chi baby; Onuora to Onii, etc.


In a project for Igbo–net, Igbo Names: Forms and Foundations, I alerted Ndiigbo of the trendy preference for “K” names. In another piece “On Saints and Names, [African Market News, Nov. 1997], we read about recent steps to canonize the first Igbo Roman Catholic saint: Fada Michael Cyprain Iwene Tansi. If we should have “St. Iwene Tansi,” as we must, how many Ndiigbo know the meaning of Tansi?


The name is meaningful: “Have patience.” Hence Fada. Iwene Tansi could be the saint of ndi niile no n’ahuhu [all the suffering masses] and we would not know it. One could say, “Iwene iwe, taa nsi” [Do not be angry, endure patiently] or, as Ichie Osita Osadebe beautifully put it: “Taba nsi udene.” [“Have the patience of a vulture.”]


I rejoice with the Igbo Catholic communities, Christians everywhere, and the entire good people of Africa as we wait for Pope John Paul II to beautify our brother in our lifetime. We are proud that what Fada Tansi started has yielded fruits in so many good Igbo priests, starting from our own Francis Cardinal Arinze of the Vatican.


Craving “K” Names

It did ring a big bell when we went with Maazi Sonny Ajuluchukwu to the christening of Nwamaazi Nwaobi in Brooklyn, NY, on November 1, 1997. Request for “K” names had been coming to Igbo–net. There are pure “K” names and there are derivatives. Kalu or Kanu is a sacred name; every Igbo knows it is from Kamalu/Kamanu, the deity of thunder—as is Amadi, from Amadioha, in some area. Kameme, Kanayo, Kasie, Kaodilinye, Kasirimobi, Kelechi, etc., belong to the popular and established order. No one knows why folks now have a preference for “K” names, when there are few Igbo names beginning with “K” in Igbo. But trust Ndiigbo and their inventive ingenuity, they have designer “K” names, and more are coming.


Before this vogue, there was the removal of “N” in such names as Nkemdilim to form Kemdilim; Kemnagum from Nkemnaagum [I long for what is mine], Konyegwachie [whatever one tells his God].


Latest “K” names include Kachisike and Kamnolu. The young man named Kamnolu  was baptized Jason. Albeit English, it is not a common name among Africans, especially Igbo Christians. Herein lies the answer to the craze for some names: UNIQUENESS. Every child is unique.


Just when we thought it was over, another “K” came up from way back: Ichie M. C. K. Ajuluchukwu was in USA. We took an interest in the “K.” It was not easy finding out—no one walks up to an elder and asks what his name is; it is un-Igbo and rude. M.C.K., we later read, reportedly stands for Melie Chukelue Kafindu.


Who says we do not have a rich bank of meaningful names. With such beautiful names as Kamnolu and more to come, the power of Igbo names will endure. And Alaoma Alaigbo—Aladimma—shall be peopled by more saints of their time like soon-to-be Onyediaso Iwene Tansi.


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