"A man' s name is not like a mantle, which merely hangs on him, and which one per-chance safely twitch and pull, but a perfectly fitting garment, which, like the skin, has grown over him, at which one cannot rake and scrape without injuring the man himself." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
When as was growing up as a child, one major question that most of the elders and seniors who came across would ask is "What is your name." I grew up only to find myself asking the same question of little children. The routine response is always, "My name is…." It was indeed a thing of joy whenever the response is echoed. Whatever the joy meant I couldn't figure out. I couldn't have understood the significance and importance of names at that tender age of mine but I think I do presently. there is hardly a person in the whole world without a name. A name can also be said to be a kind of face whereby one is known. Apart from identifying the individual, names also have significant traditional and historical meanings.
In Igbo land, child-naming is regarded as very important, and it is always marked by a naming ceremony otherwise known as "child naming ceremony. The name given is not randomly selected or done through some guesswork or through some research work carried out on names. Moreover the high esteem, which Igbo names command is fast deteriorating. It is indeed shameful that Ndiigbo no longer find it a necessity to answer or be proud of answering Igbo names: in schools, business sectors and in the public places, the Igbo man prefers foreign names especially English names for identification and other related purposes is what this work will critically find out. It will also examine what may be the likely cause of the abandonment and to suggest a possible way forward.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF (IGBO) NAMES
Igbo names are complete expression, which are not only meaningful but reflect on certain experiences and circumstances that occurred during childbirth, human sojourn on earth, and also on social expectations. Ogechukwukamma (God's time is the best) for instance, is a good expression of someone who is patiently expecting something or a child. And when the child is eventually born, the child answers the name, to serve as a lasting memory to the family on the circumstances prior to its birth.
Igbo names also reflect joy, sorrow, death, prospects, potentials to mention but a few. For instance, Onwudiwe (Death hurts), Ozoemena (May it never happen again) may have been as a result of an unexpected death in the family prior to the birth of a child; Toochukwu (praise God) is an expresbsion of joy, and so on. So, why would a people who are called by the name of God so prefer meaningless and strange names as against their traditional and meaningful names? Let us now examine some of the likely reasons.
THE SEED OF IMPERIALISM
Going by my findings, which are drawn from personal interviews in places like Onitsha, Nnewi, Enugu, some students of Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, and my experience in Igbo sociology, I discovered that this trend is very pronounced among the generation born from the late 70s. It is true that the damage may have started at the time of the arrival of the colonial masters, but the same cannot be said of the amount of influence it had on the people as at that time because to change from one cultural milieu to the other within a short time frame has always proved complex. Thus, the seed of the colonial masters happens to have geminated in the present generation and unfortunately enough, Igbo youths of the present seem to prefer the western style of life to what they call "archaic practices of our forefathers."
This ideology has also been integrated in Igbo names, which are regarded as "afa mmuo" (spirit names). A Pentecostal pastor changed his name from Nweke to Nwachukwu, citing a reason that Nwaeke (a child born on Eke market day) is of the spirits and that Nwachukwu (son of God) reflects his true profession. I wonder when names became a reflector of ones professional ability! About 60% of the people interviewed are of the opinion that it is their Christian background that made them to change their names, while 25% strongly believe that we are in a civilized world and we must definitely follow the " train of civilization" and, if answering foreign names is "what the society wants" (take note of the phrase), then let it be; 10% had just nothing to add or remove.
WHAT THE SOCIETY WANTS
It was indeed in the course of my findings that I discovered that "what the society wants" has also contributed immensely in ensuring that answering of Igbo names be fizzled out. The society in this picture is the Igbo society and the focus of this perspective has to do with the socialization of Ndiigbo, which starts from the amount of western influence on our youths and knowing what the people believe, all in respect to answering Igbo names. These three points are being impounded to favor the western society in the social stream of Ndiigbo. This is largely as a result of the adoption of Christianity as a means of social control, which has its background and foundation in Europe. I was thrilled one day in cyber café when some of the staff not only looked at me with 'round eyes' but also went on to say that I am "Ogommuo" just because I no longer make use of my English name. One of the staff came out bold and said, "Your portion is hell," — just because I am very proud to say I do not make use of my English name.
These things may sound funny and meaningless but the impact, which Christianity has created in the minds of the individuals in Igboland, will require a lot of work and most importantly, divine intervention to be corrected.
THE IMPACT OF CHRISTIANITY
Of all the reasons that one can imagine, one area that has so negatively contributed to the sustenance of Igbo culture as a whole is Christianity. The area of answering Igbo names is just one of its so many 'captives.' Thus, the purpose of this uncompromising article is to seek to restore and reconcile Ndiigbo wherever they are with their culture. Christianity is one area that must seriously be dealt with if there is any hope for any restoration.
The others are Capitalism and Democracy of the western brand, which I will rather spare you the details.
One of the major identities of a Christian in Igboland is his name, which must be a Christian name of the western brand. If it is not English, it is Greek — such as Agatha, Polycarp, Ambrose, Ignatius, Cecilia, to mention but a few. It is called 'baptism name.' That is to say, ones name at the time of ones oath and initiation to defend and uphold the teachings and doctrines of Christianity even if it means selling your birth name or mother name. Christianity does not encourage Igbo names into Christian sainthood. I almost landed myself in trouble one day, when I called myself St. Chinedu. A Christian fundamentalist, so to say, made it clear to me that "it is a sin" for me to associate my Igbo names with saintly order. No wonder up till date, there is yet to be an Igbo saint from the Roman Catholic domain. Who knows where the dead ones will be presently, since it is a biblical fact that without holiness, no eye shall see God.
As I was putting up this paper, a visitor came looking for someone, a Pentecostal pastor as he made me to understanding. I had to include this account because when I asked him of his name, he proudly said John-Peter; and, when I inquired why he preferred his foreign names to Igbo names based on our earlier discussion in respect to the question, he did not hesitate in telling me that it was his father's name. Every effort to make him see with me that his father was an Igbo, therefore he ought to have an Igbo name at least, fell on deaf ears. The conclusion of our discussion as he put it was "my children will answer John-Peter." You can imagine how Christianity has transformed this Igboman from his root to an imaginary aspiration. May God help us.
The problem involved with making Ndiigbo see themselves the way they are is a very complex one – no thanks to western pollution on our society. But in every situation there is bound to be a solution. It may take days, months, or even years but the most important step to take is the first step. The question is whether Ndiigbo are ready to take that first step. Wherever you are or live, one thing must always ring in your mind and I mean always that you are Onyeigbo and you cannot run away from it, just as you cannot run away from your shadow. I have written about the importance of speaking Igbo language and this time around, it is the Igbo name.
It is always said that there is time for everything: Time to die and time to bare, time of ignorance and time of awareness. This time is the time of awareness of who you are. A time when Ndiigbo at home and in Diaspora shall begin to return and realizing in the process that they have been chosen to be at the head and not the tail. It is time for Ndiigbo to understand that they are a living testimony and empirical fulfillment of biblical prophesies as regards the end of the gentile period. Thus, the bible remains the first ever written history of the Igbo people.
When Dr. Amaechi Chizota was commenting about the relation of Igbo culture and the bible in one of his outings in Agu-Ukwu Nri (the religious home town of Ndiigbo) he state; "It baffles me how Ndiigbo have abandoned their customs and culture, which is biblically acknowledged, in preference for the western brand that is not biblically traceable: yet the bible remains the major reference point of moral control of Christianity." I have closely examined the statement and it is indeed a fact. There is just no aspect of the Igbo socioeconomic, sociocultural, and sociopolitical life that is not biblically backed. Be it of the negative (from the critics point of view) or positive.
Whatsoever that happens to Ndiigbo an entity has its root in the bible and serves as a pattern. This pattern can only be seen and retrieve by a prophet appointed by God. I had in one of my articles stated how the Jews sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt only to end up as slaves to the Egyptians for 400 years. Similarly, Ndiigbo sold their brothers into Europe only to end up seeking visa into Europe to serve as slaves under a European capitalist society.
It will thrill you to decipher that even the preference for foreign names as against Igbo names is biblically backed. When the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, they had already assumed foreign names. For instance, the name Menachem was replaced by a Greek equivalent of Menalem, and so there was a group of Hebrews known as Hellenic Jews. The situation presently is not different. For so many decades, we have been living as captives in Babylon (European system) but for as long as the hand of a prophet liberated the Jews, so also I stand on the mount of Most High trumpeting the song of liberation because I can bear witness of He who is to liberate Ndiigbo: no, not after the order of Christianity, which preaches of a historical Christ two thousand years ago, which of course none of them saw. Rather, this present liberation shall be after the order of Mashianism (A movement for the liberation, restoration, and reconciliation of Ndiigbo with consciousness in the context of redemption work of the Messiah.
I cannot bear witness of that which I have not seen or heard, touch and feel lest I be a false witness. I can only write of things I have seen come to pass and for this one, I enjoin you to join me in saying let the revolution begin.
The revolution to transform a people out of the dungeon of ignorance to a state of proper awareness does not requires the entire people. It is a biblical fact that the revolution for the restoration of Israel started with one man – Moses and there have been people in contemporary times that have lead great revolutionary trend. So also was the fact that the revolution for the breaking away from Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century started with one man – Martin Luther.
Many people wants this revolution but very few are willing to sacrifice. Why? The answer is simple, everybody seem contented with the life s/he is living. Of course, it was the same position the Jews found themselves when Moses came calling and their thought was not far from yours even after several hundreds of years. That is, the effect of getting used to slavery (European bondage). Rather than hoping on a promise that no one is sure there is every tendency to cling to the status quo. No one is blaming you for thinking that way but the fact remains that that which must happen must happen irrespective of the amount of people that are available for the accomplishment. It happened with David: he had just 400 men who were third class citizens by today's interpretation; Gideon had just 300 to mention but a few. Yet God used them and transformed a seemingly difficult situation to their favor. How many do you think you we are today? All we need is faith.
There are diverse cultures in the world so also are names both in meaning and expression. But Igbo name is unique and cannot be compared with names of any other culture. It is unique in its form and expression. It is something that one needs to be proud of. Names like Ambrose, Paullina, Cynthia, Angelina, and the rest cannot by any means be compared names like Ngozi (blessing), Afamefuna (let my name not disappear) — a situation that is seriously rocking Ndiigbo. How can you compare names like Elvis, Apollo, Savage, Ball, etc. with names like Chizota (savior), Chukwudi (God exist), Chinedu (God is leading) and Chukwunonso (God is near). It is even stated in the bible (Christianity's proof of God) that God identifies his people by their names: "My people who are called by my name." How then can the name of the Lord be any thing near Savage, Apollo, and the likes. I believe God will be vexed if He is called by those names. Rather, He will be more comfortable to hear names like Ekenedilichukwu (Thanks be to God).
It is time we started correcting this wrong impression about Ndiigbo as a whole. I always tell people who care that I do not regard it a necessity answering foreign names. I rather stick with the one that was given to me at birth and not baptism for the former is historically oriented. Let me ask: "Kedu ihe kpatara na Ndibeeke anaghi aza afa Igbo?" [Why are the Europeans not answering Igbo names?] One problem I have identified about Ndiigbo is the fact that whenever we copy other people's culture, we tend to over-exaggerate it to the detriment of our culture. We are not inferior people and our names are not inferior. Our names are the best you can think of in the whole world. Let us then be proud of it because it is our identity and a perfectly fitting garment.
BE PROUD OF YOUR NAME