Growing up, whether in Kaduna, Ibadan, Evwreni or Ughelli, we were given indigenous names that reflected meaning and wisdom. Some of our names were influenced by cultural events and nuances. A mere mention of such names evoked memories, good or bad, of such events. The generations before me had even deeper and more significant names than ours. Parents, grandparents, or whoever gave the names did so after reflection before settling on what was deemed appropriate. The names were not simply given. The names were revealing and significant. As age and education endowed us with the ability to question things and infer meaning, we began to appreciate the depth, beauty, and philosophical character of indigenous names.
Many of us have come to see African names as part of the continent’s claim to cultural validation in the vortex of postcolonial politics. In literature, philosophy, politics, sociology, anthropology, religion, and other related fields, names have assumed a measure of philosophical elevation that foregrounds the African mind as rational and cultured. Philologists will do well to assess the etymology, meaning and relevance of African names as part of marking a point for the continent in the endless intellectual and cultural disputes for validation in human affairs between Africa and the West. It has become necessary to locate our indigenous names as cardinal of the varied indigenous epistemology of Africa.
Many African names are aesthetically wrapped in a poetic dignity. Not only are they imbued with a high dose of artistic integrity, but they also exhibit the workings of a conscious and deliberately cultivated mind. The practice of naming among the Urhobo people of the Delta state of Nigeria reflects the sublime trend in the cultural and artistic practice of Africans. Among the older people and, far and in between, the younger generation, there are names with meanings that are literal or metaphorical. Although the flavor of such names is lost in translation, their meaning, even in a foreign language like English, still points to the circumstances that allowed the names. Names like Adjarho (flee to survive), Omavuaye (they have been shamed), Diemiruaye (what did I do to them), Ukochovwera (may adversity pass us by), reflect existential circumstances that are mediated by the philosophical equanimity that the names evoke. . In a world torn by conflict and acute belief in human-induced spiritual catastrophes, urhobos, like other Africans, seek reprieve and relief in the practice of names as countermeasures. Names thus become loves against the ravages of life.
There are names that are a celebration that speak of ideals and approach the essence of the sunny side of life. The names Ukpegharovwe (the year favors me), Adarighofua (the path of wealth is clear), Ighofimoni (money/wealth befits relatives), reflect the feeling of joy that accompanies prosperity among people. Many of those names abound. However, it was very recently that I discovered a unique name that went against the practice of naming Urhobo. The name Omotetobore is literally interpreted as “now we have a girl”. The array of names in Urhobo does not overtly celebrate the feminine essence. A society that is anchored in patriarchal anchors, the Urhobo place a lot of importance on the male gender.
Only a few names, for example, such as the flattering Omotekoro (girl like gold) are given to the girl from time to time. The marginalization of the feminine essence in the appointment is based on the primary value given to work and war, two domains where men dominate. The trend is also enshrined in Urhobo spirituality. The gods and ancestors are largely depicted as men. The Urhobos when praying to their ancestors invoke Baba (father) and not Nene (mother). This then gives the impression that Erivwin (the abode of the dead) is populated only by men.
The name Omotetobore has excited everyone I’ve mentioned it to and they all said it was their first time hearing it. The names “Tobore” in Urhobo manifest as Efetobore (wealth has come) and Uvietobore (royalty has come). Omotetobore, therefore, positively violates and subverts a practice that denied the child. The dominant name that contrasts with Omotetobore is Omotejohwo (a girl is also someone). Omotejohwo is a name of consolation given by mothers to a daughter who was born after three or four or more daughters. In those days, many men and their families were anxious if the first two or three children were girls.
The extended family was obligated to encourage the man to “try another leg”, to sleep with another woman in order to have a male child. As the pressure on the man increases, the wife is verbally and psychologically assaulted by being reminded that she was an “ovwiemete”, the father of girls. So when the next child is a girl, she calls her Omotejohwo (a girl is also someone) as a consolation. This developed into my extended family with my uncle’s wife.
My mother experienced the opposite of Omotejohwo syndrome. She gave birth to four children that followed one another. She became the toast of the family as a mother of children. But that was not to last long. Shortly after the fourth boy was born, she was accused that giving birth to only boys was the reason my father was not wealthy. My mother cried.
She was told in no uncertain terms that she needed to give birth to a girl who would be Elohor (blessing/wealth/good things). My mother’s name is Etarheri (words of fate) and perhaps her fate heard those words and her next child was a girl. Whether she brought wealth or not is a topic for another day. The ordeal of my uncle’s wife and my mother’s experience speak to the duality of societal expectations. The Urhobos have a name to support this trend in Unuakpotovoo (the mouth of the world says nothing), which speaks to how uncomfortable it is to meet societal expectations.
will continue tomorrow