African Baby Names
In ancient African cultures, names held a mesmerizing mystique. If you knew a name you had power. If you wanted a spell to harm or enchant someone, you’d start with a name and birth date. Some countries’ leaders had their names engraved on stone or gigantic monuments to ensure eternal life, while others depended on the spirit world to provide naming inspiration for their children.
Today, we find this same mystique has carried over to many contemporary traditions that surround the birth of African babies.
Although this rich continent yields tremendous diversity in the range of beliefs behind baby naming, the accompanying celebrations all share a common ingredient: they are the universal expression of joy that welcomes a newborn infant into a family and community.
Follwing are examples of baby-naming ceremonies in four African countries.
The custom for young Edo couples is to ask the grandfather or great-grandfather to send a name.
According to Dr. Nowa Omoigui, an American cardiologist whose ancestry is the Edo nationality of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Edos perform the traditional naming ceremony on the seventh day after a baby’s birth. Family elders and friends gather to pray for long life, health and prosperity, amid oracular consultations. Then the elders present the family name to the baby’s father.
It is customary that all those present place a gift or any amount of money in a bowl, then state the name they want to give the child. After each guest gives a name, the chorus responds: “Ogha gue dia. Ise,” meaning “May he or she live long, Amen.” Food and drinks follow.
Later in the evening, the main “naming” ceremony takes place. Prayers are accompanied by the consumption of exotic ingredients by family members and guests. These include alligator pepper (to energize the child’s speech); honey, sugar, and bitter kola nuts, which symbolize the duality of life’s sweet and sour experiences; native chalk and salt, to symbolize happiness; water, because it has no enemy; and palm oil, seen as an emollient to life’s problems.
During the ceremony, the eldest female member of the family repeatedly asks the mother what she calls the child. To the first six questions, the mother replies with an unthinkable name, which the women reject amid traditional songs and music. When the question is asked for the seventh time, the father of the child whispers the actual name to his wife, who then announces it publicly.
In his article, “Edo Naming Ceremony,” Dr. Omoigui lists examples of Edo names:
Onaiwu: This child will not die again.
Osamamianmianmwen: God did not forget me.
Ighiwiyisi: I shall not get lost in a foreign land.
Nowamagbe: He who is not harmed by members of his family cannot be harmed by outsiders.
Iyare: Safe journey.
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