The African Village

What’s in a Name?

We’re big on names from my part of the world and they are pretty significant too. Names are not just names…they tell stories! If you ask, you’ll be surprised at what they can tell you about that person, their birth, parents, family and even siblings. For instance, if you’re Yoruba and named Idowu, then you have twins as siblings. Not only that your name lets us know that you’re the child immediately after them. Ige tells the tale of how you came feet first into the world, Ojo that your umbilical cord was around your neck. Some tell about family origins, lineage occupation and more.

Children bring great joy to families and giving them appropriate names is a serious affair. This is because it is believed that names are auspicious and will affect their future and fortunes. The naming of children and the ceremony that surrounds it is very important in my tribe (Yoruba) and many other communities around the African continent. Every bonafide descendant of the Yoruba has multiple names. Immediate and extended family are accorded the privilege of bestowing a name on the new born.

Oriki is a special name given to each child, translated this term means praise. This praise name describes attributes of the person, their achievements, characteristics and more. It is an ancient cultural oral tradition that literally sings the praises of that individual. Through song or chant the laurels are reeled out and in the case of royalty, the Oriki maybe accompanied by instruments to herald their arrival into a place.

So, the answer to the original question is that there’s plenty in a name. Names are too important to be taken lightly and so they are not. Next time you meet someone or you’re introduced, ask them for the story behind their name.

Oluseyi Olanihun writes for The African Village


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