ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)

Google
 

Okonkwo chose to disobey the gods and risk a life of exile,

rather than be called a weakling like Unoka, his father.

 

 

The Mythology of Igbo names

 By Uche Nworah

 

I am now used to getting quaint reactions from people, whenever I tell them my name, it does not matter if they are Igbo or not, their typical reaction is usually some kind of contorted facial exclamation, indicating surprise that even a man will bear the name, Uche. Their surprise may be as a result of their previous encounters with females who also bear the name. The issue for me has now become more interesting, especially with my partner’s name also being Uche, such that people (non-Igbo, mostly) do think we are joking when we both announce our names and introduce ourselves to them. 

My interest and curiosity in the name (Uche) led me to probe deeper and, in the process, I discovered other variations. There is Uchenna, Uchechukwu, and Uchechi -- which a man or woman can bear.

Igbo names like most other names (non-Igbo) have symbolic meanings. These different versions of Uche all mean the wishes or heart of God.  As some people may think, Uchenna does not mean the wishes or heart of the father of the child; Nna, in this sense, means God Almighty. If it meant "the father of the child," then feminists would argue and demand for the naming of children "Uchenne" (the wishes of the mother). While there is no reason not to, I am yet to encounter or hear of anybody bearing the name "Uchenne," a task for modernists and feminists then, you may say.

My little investigation also indicates that in Igboland, certain names appear to be reserved only for males or females, while some others can be given to both a male or female child. Considering the chauvinistic nature of the Igbo society in pre-colonial times, at a time that manhood was usually associated with the detest for feminine characteristics in a man, such detestation I presume may also have been directed at men bearing women’s name (assumed female only names).

To understand the strength and magnitude of such detestation, recall Okonkwo’s character in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, how Okonkwo drew his machete and cut off the head of Ikemefuna, a boy that calls him father. This was despite the warnings of the oracle.  Okonkwo chose to disobey the gods and risk a life of exile, rather than be called a weakling like Unoka, his father.

So it may be quite interesting to know how such males who shared similar names with females fared at the time. Although the Igbo society is still predominantly chauvinistic, the correctness of giving males assumed female names and vice versa may not so much be a big issue in modern times. This is because any such demeaning distinctions and name calling will be against the spirit of current global clamour for equal opportunities between men and women, and the desire to protect both human and gender rights, including the freedom and right to be given (by parents) or called by whichever name one pleases, wishes, or inherits at birth at naming ceremonies.

In pre-colonial times, these names were favourites amongst the fathers and heads of clans: Igwe (sky, heaven, or steel -- as the case may be), Igwekaala (the sky that is greater than the earth), Okonkwo (male born on Nkwo, one of the four market days) Okoro (signifying a male), Okafor (male born on Afo market day), Okorie or Okoye (male born on Orie or Oye market day) Oye and Orie are the same market days but are dialectic variations of the same word for one of the four days in an Igbo native week. 

At the time, Christianity -- which was later introduced by the European missionaries -- hadn’t yet gained currency, and so the practice was to eulogize the Maker (Chukwu or Chi) by praising his works and creations through names.

It may be, therefore, as a result of the fear that the Igbo have of their maker or the awesomeness of his creations that informed their need for an intermediary through which they could reach out in thanks, praise, and worship of the Maker. They therefore carved representative wood figures (okpesi, alusi, ogwugwu), to which they poured libations and also sprinkled animal blood before consuming the slain animals.

The Igbo did also name their children after these wooden figures, deities and gods.  In today’s Igbo society, some people still bear names such as Nwaogwugwu (son of Ogwugwu, Ogwugwu signifying a god or deity); Nwaalusi (son of Alusi, alusi meaning shrine a la Alusi Okija), etc.

I do wonder, however, if present-day events, knowledge, and religious beliefs (the Igbo are largely and predominantly Christians) have not put into question the continued usage and bearing of such names, even with their un-Christian denotations.

On their part, women at the time bore names such as Agbomma (epitome of beauty), Adaaku (a daughter born into wealth), Obiagaeli (she or he who has come to enjoy), Ugboaku (source or vehicle of wealth), etc. It may seem these names are also feminine verbs and should rightly be borne only by females. This is true to some extent especially as regards the other names I mentioned, with the exception of Obiagaeli.

In the Igbo language, o bia ga-eli could mean "he or she who has come to enjoy"; but, surprisingly the name appears to be exclusive to females, and so are the other later-day favourites amongst women; such  names as Ifeoma (good omen), Chinyere (God’s gift), Ngozi (blessing) and Amarachukwu (God’s grace). With these latter names, there are still lots of controversies over who should or who should not bear them. Current preference and practice are for women to bear them although there are few males who bear the names; but, rightly, there is no reason why males should not bear such names.

There seems therefore to be lots of unresolved discrepancies and controversies surrounding Igbo names. These issues border heavily on gender rights, masculinity, and femininity. At the moment, there is no serious or concerted effort at a resolution by Igbo scholars. This, I think, is sad as the apparent confusion on the rightness or wrongness in a child’s name could be carried into the next generation.

Uche Nworah is freelance writer, lecturer and brand strategist. He studied communications arts at the University of Uyo, Nigeria and graduated with a second class honours degree (upper division). He also holds an M.Sc degree in marketing from the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus and obtained his PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education) from the University of Greenwich where he is currently enrolled as a doctoral candidate. His articles have been published by several websites and leading Nigerian newspapers. He received the ChickenBones Journalist of the Year award in 2006.

 

posted 15 January 2005 / uchenworah@yahoo.com 

*   *   *   *   *

AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

 

Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their countrythe teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin 

*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues


1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        

Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)

 

 

 

 

 

update 23 April 2012

 

 

 

Home Uche Nworah Table  Mau Mau Aesthetics

Related files:  Okonkwo's Curse