Your name is probably the first form of recognition you receive as an individual. Asides the tags and other umbrellas such as gender, race, class, nationality, colour, and other forms of pigeonholing that a child later gets sucks into; his or her name is the only thing that tells him or her apart from anybody else. Parents, as they welcome their bundles of joy to the world, coin words (or random sounds) and basically impose them on the child. Note that ‘impose’, there, is used lightly. It’s not like the child has the power to name him or herself anyway. It’s no big deal.
Afterall, parents are just giving their kids the names they would be forever known as – no big deal at all. For the sakes of having nomenclatures placed on fresh babies, numerous methods have flown. Some people think about it a little too much, while others seem not to think about it at all. In the western world, this might not be such a big deal; but, because everything is a big deal in Africa, you either go big or go home. The theories about how Africans name their kids are impeccable, believe me.
Just last week, I went for a naming ceremony and I was left spellbound. Without mentioning the particular African or Nigerian tribe, just for the fun of it, I’ll simply explain. First, some of the names given to this bouncing baby girl, who was oblivious of the trap that is life she had walked into, were as long as complex sentences. Next, I watched the pastor who was given the task of naming this child, skim through a long list of names. Believe me when I say that the names given to this child were at least 15, maybe more. While I had met friends who coined acronyms as a means to memorize their many names, I had never actually witnessed it before.
If you are not around this part of the world, you would probably assume that the parents got really excited with naming their baby that they came up with numerous samples. On the account that one would eventually stick to the child. But the theory is quite simple. For that tribe, and many others within Africa, the child is a wonderful gift to a family. As such, everybody wants to name the child. It’s more like ‘our child’ around here. So, the mother comes up with one or two, the father does same, the mother in-laws come up with theirs, the godfather or godmother does same, elders in the family do same, and the list literally goes on and on and on.
This doesn’t even include the nicknames the child would eventually have to be called. While there are more stories about what names the child eventually gets called, a more interesting subject is how African names come about. In truth, most parents give a level of thought about the names they intend to give their children – even though it just happens to be map coordinates or directions. In this part of the world, however, maybe they tend to think it through a little too much.
Faith-based names are probably the commonest kinds around here. Parents either see it as an avenue to glorify their maker on behalf of the child, thank God for the child, or protect the child from possible issues in the future. I heard somewhere that some added the name of their gods to the child’s names, so when the name of the child is called, two names are called. Asides faith-based names, some parents name their children based on the circumstances of their birth. This is probably where those that come off as sentences come in – because they are usually really sentences. “The child that made me suffer during his birth”; “So, I gave birth to another girl”; “Time and tide waits for no man”. Some are just mean, others are hilarious, and the rest just leave you confused.
Then there are the others that are easy. The days of the week, the month the child was born, the season the child was born into, and so on. Days of the week are some of the commonest in Africa, however. For twins, you also have similar names or names lined up in one order or the other.
This is probably why some African names sound like tongue twisters and others sound like book titles. The great part is that no matter how long and complicated it sounds, people still get to pronounce it right and call it every day. You just have to love them. I’ve completely avoided mentioning any name here, again, for the fun of it. But for the most of you that spend time around this part of the world, you already have examples in your minds on all the forms. Of course, thanks to the move to the western side, many families have named their kids Anglo names.
Still, Africans have been known to possess so much uniqueness. It is no wonder, how we make everything come off as Art – including giving out names.