What's In A Name?

What is really in a name? This question has been asked as frequently as possible and answers to it bear some significance and import. At birth we were baptised and given names according to our parents’ fantasies or wishes. Some, however, after attaining adulthood have sought to change their names to reflect more of their beliefs or whims. Dropping one name for another is no big deal. Girls upon marriage drop their parents’ name and switch over to surnames of those of their husbands.

Every living and non-living thing crafted and created by the Most High has a name given to it; it may differ because of language varieties in the world. God Himself is known by His true Hebrew name as Jehovah. His Son Jesus is called Emmanuel, God With Us. Satan also is called Devil or Lucifer. It is to underscore the hatred mankind place on this name that very few answer the name that signifies evil and betrayal; I have never seen nor heard of anyone giving his child ‘Lucifer’ as name but we hear Emmanuel, Jesus everywhere beyond our immediate environments. In French language God is called ‘Dieu’ and the devil ‘Diable’.

In Igboland names reflect and mean a lot. For example, Okenwa, my late father’s name means Great One or Great Man. God is Chukwu or Chineke or Osebuluwa. Jesus is called Nwa Nke Chukwu. Akuluouno simply means ‘When riches reach home’. Ngozi, blessing; Akuehute (my mother’s name) wealth has come; Chukwuemeka, Kenechukwu, ThankGod; Chukwu Ka Dibia, God is greater than doctors; Chinonso, God is near; Chukwuebuka, God is great, Ozoemena, never again. Ada, daughter, Okpara, first son.

Like some of us born on Sundays, Mondays, Fridays we were automatically called those days as names. One great thinker bears Tuesday, Lopsam Rampa. Again market days in Igboland like eke, orie, afor and nkwo have people bearing them as names as Mgbeke, Mgborie, Mgbafor and Mgbokwa as to women while men have Okonkwo, Okorie, Okafor and Okeke. Nnadiugwu, father’s gracious, Nneka, mother’s supreme, Ije-uwa, life’s journey, Uwadiegwu, life’s mysterious are some other names Igbos bear.

In this modern era in Nigeria where morality has taken a backstage for ostentatious lifestyles, we hear people giving themselves names like Eze-ego, king of money; Eze-udo, Peace king; Aku-atuegwu, unafraid of wealth; Esele-n’enu-ego, overflowing wealth; Onwa, moon; Udu-ego, keg of money etc. With sycophancy developed to heroic lengths in a clime of abject poverty and social dislocations these elements with money to throw about assume unbefitting titles and influential lifestyles. Among them one finds succesful 419ers, drug barons, armed robbery syndicate bosses and political wheeler dealers and contractors.

In Yorubaland great names are available which show the war exploits or daring courage of the men of yore. In the north names exist that portray the bearer as coming or belonging to a certain kindred. Men make names and names make men. When we hear names like Soyinka, Achebe, Abacha, Babangida, Obasanjo, Ekwueme, Ojukwu, Abiola, Anini, Etteh we are reminded of one thing or the other for good or bad reasons. While some names ring a bell for good reasons others are household names for bad reasons. The saying that good name is better than riches stands to reason here.

For instance the “Oyinbos” Africans fleece from 419 are generally called “Mugus” but the name goes beyond victims of advance fee fraud to include those JJC’s who do not belong to these smart internet or fax criminals. Some Northerners call the ‘infidels’ from the South ‘Inyamiri’ while the Igbos call Yorubas ‘ndi ofe mmanu’ (oil soup people) and Yorubas in turn call us ‘Omo ibo’. The area boys in Lagos Island are known as ‘Alayes’ while their counterparts in the north are called ‘talakawas’. AIDS in Igbo language is commonly referred to as ‘Obiri na aja ocha’ and in French it is known as ‘Sida’.

In the Bible we are taught of how a certain man was fed up with his name that meant everything hardship to him. When he eventually discovered that he was bearing a false name he mastered enough courage to change it and prosperity became his lot. Emeka Ezeugo refused to acknowledge his name in court during his murder trial; he preferred being addressed as ‘Reverend King’. Some people have different names others just prefer one like the great author, Chinweizu (dialogue belongs to God).

The Niger Deltans in general and Ijaws in particular have a way of giving ‘wonderful’ names to their children, names like: Spanner, Wonder, Sunshine, Revolution, Goodluck, Lucky and what have you. Sometimes names are given to serve as memorable reminder of good or bad fortune during incubation or ‘harvest’ seasons. Grandy, Big Daddy, Marvellous are others and I have friends who bear them.

In the West we have names like Grant, Gore, Gold, Bill, Hill, Bush, Brown, Gret, Great. Great names in history like Luther King, Dalai Lama, Mandela, Roosevelt, Washington, Shakespeare, Pope John Paul, Mother Theresa, Michael Jackson, Lady Diana, Rosa Park make one remember how they changed history. And names like Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, Hitler, Mussolini, Bismarck remind one of how bestial man could be. These historic animals in human flesh directly or indirectly were responsible for the death of millions. Remember the holocaust? The Gulf war?

Powerful names like Bill Gates and Paul Allen remind us all of the internet revolution. And Biblically Abraham, David and Jacob among others remind us of piety and the human relationship of yore with divinity. And Bill Clinton in spite of Monika Lewinsky of the post-modern presidency of the free world. And Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of how to break gender dichotomy to reach political pinnacle of power. And Barrack Obama of the ‘audacity of hope’ and possibility of a Black residing in White House as American leader. Yet filthy names like Patricia Etteh the beautician cum Speaker remind Nigerians of how a woman could do worse sleaze-wise than men. And Olusegun Obasanjo of how not to be a godfather with morality as virtue.

What’s in a name? The answer is arguably found in the steady craving of man for identification. Yet identity theft is one of the 21st century plaques threatening the global tranquility. While suicide bombers in Iraq or Afghanistan or terrorists in Pakistan or Palestine do not care about names but ‘Allahu Akbar’ and indoctrinated sense of matrydom the world has since 9/11 been confronted with Islamic fundamentalism that targets civilisation and all it stands for. But in all these circumstances that call our decency and sense of communism into question we dare say the dark angels have infiltrated our socio-political space. And they bear nothing but destruction and blood! Yes blood and destruction are their names!

While in this IT era anonymity is generously tolerated in the internet we sometimes ask whether the evolution of information superhighway has not made the world a worse place. Someone somewhere could decide to damage a man’s integrity or character which his name represents hiding under a moniker or pseudonym. That then means that mechanisms for character assassination are not in short supply yet it challenges us all to be upright and above board in our dealings with fellow men.

Again I ask conclusively: What’s in a name? Some people may argue for purposes of expression of opinion that there’s not much

in it or unto it. The obvious truth, however, is that there’s about everything in a name. An individual’s name defines his character and comportment in a larger relation with society.

Written by
SOC Okenwa
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2 comments
  • When certain names are common in a culture, it tells you where the collective mind of a people is. The Nigerian collective mind is currently saturated with ways to find money, to hoard money or to splatter/flaunt money. Does it not aptly speak to the poverty of the masses of our people and the greed of the few who oppress the masses?

  • well a name is symbolic of what a parent is thinking as far as the unique qualites that a child may have. but the name can aslo tell you about the error that a child was born. The name could reflect if a parent is religious or if he names the child a biblical name you can see the parents observe the bible. but if the child has a ridiculous name like the king of money then you know that the person are to to materialistic. think about how JEHOVAH WOULD VIEW THE MATTER.!!!!!!!!