NAMING IN ELEME CULTURE
High Chief Ollorwi Osaro
Name refers to a word or set of words by which a person or thing is known, addressed, or referred to. It distinguishes one person from another. The Eleme culture attached great importance to the words used to describe children. It places great premium on the name, who gives the baby name, the circumstances in which the baby derived the name and the witnesses at the naming ceremony. Each of this stage and persons present is significant to the legitimacy of the child especially in those days when babies were named after oracle consultation or as soon as the baby is born and wiped clean with sand (hence the expression, “Onwi Nsisã Eleme”), if previous consultations has been made.
Eleme have a system of folk believe that explains how everything in the world came into existence. It explains what functions the heavenly and earthly bodies have and offers guidance on how to behave towards the Almighty God the smaller gods, spirits, and one’s ancestors. The people of Eleme believe the world is peopled by invisible and visible forces: by the living, the dead, and those yet to be born. Reincarnation is seen as a bridge between the living and the dead. This belief is reinforced and plays out in everything around the people ranging from marriage to conception, to child birth, child naming, to child upbringing and training; movement through adulthood to death.
From time immemorial to about 1800 the source of a child’s name in Eleme was the oracle. As soon as the baby was born and wiped clean with sand, an old woman in that compound takes the baby to an oracle for determination of the name. Fathers didn’t just name their children as they wished. It was for the ancestors to decide. It is the priest that carries the baby, put his ear to the baby’s mouth, listens attentively then smiles as he announced the name that the child wants to answer. Such names usually relates to a living or dead member of the family, a close relation or friend.
By the mid-18th century, Aro business families have invaded Eleme with the help of their god Chukwu Abiam and their military prowess. The Aros formed a strong trading network and greatly influenced Eleme. The presence of the Aros and later Nkwere gradually reduced and finally dismantled the practise of an old woman in the compound consulting an oracle with the new born baby on behalf of the child’s father for a probable name.
However, the responsibility of consulting the oracle when a child was born shifted to the father until 1898 when the British came in to Eleme and entered into treaty with the people of Eleme. By 1900 the practice of consulting the oracle for a child’s name has been totally discarded due mainly to the advent of Christianity, Western civilization, and globalization.
In the present day Eleme, the father exercises exclusive right of naming his child without reference to any oracle. However, the traditional pattern of naming children after parents, brothers, sisters, friends and deities is still prevalent. The Eleme father pays attention to the family before naming a child. He considers the family tradition and history when choosing a name. Some family have long standing tradition for naming their children. Such customs are often derived from their profession or religion or office. As explained below, a family of hunters could name their child “Yorgba” to show their respect to the divinity who gave them tools for hunting and protects them against wide animals.
Eleme tradition vests the responsibility of naming a child on the father. Where the father is deceased, his next-of-kin takes over the responsibility. Eleme father don’t just get up one morning to name his child. He contemplates for months, trying on different names to see which one will suit the child’s purpose, bundle and dreams. This is because the Eleme father knows that in traditional Eleme culture names have real meaning and power. Eleme names are not mere tags to distinguished one person from another or labels to define, classify, or compare persons or things but an expression of the nature of what the entity represents or stands for. They tell the family stories and exhibit the hopes and expectations of the parents concerning their children’s future. Every child in Eleme has at least a native and a Christian name.
Because it is generally believed that names are like spirits which would like to live out their meanings, parents do a thorough search before giving names to their children. Naming ceremonies are performed with the same meticulous care, generally by the father. Symbolic of the hopes, expectations and prayers of the parents for the new baby, drink (mmi), food (nja), water (mmu), palm oil (nnɔɔ Eleme), salt (nlό) each have a place and special meaning in the world-view of the people of Eleme. For instance, drink (mmi) represents celebration, and the prayer of the parents is that their baby’s life will be celebrated in the world and beyond.
After the ritual, the child is named and members of the extended family eat, drink, rejoice, and have the honour of also giving a name to the child. The gift of a name to the child comes with gifts of money and clothing. In many cases, the relative will subsequently call the child the name they give to him or her, so a new baby may therefore have more than a dozen names excluding pet names that may be given now and then by relations, friends, etc.
Child Name Bearing (Okora Onwi)
The namesake system in Eleme doesn’t begin and end with a child being named after another person. The person for whom the child is named must accept certain responsibilities. It is a great honour in Eleme for a baby to be named after you. It shows that you have been adjudged mature and responsible. It signifies a rebirth and renewal of one’s existence.
In other words, namesake refers to a person that has the same name as another. It means one who is named after another or for whom another is named. In Eleme Culture a name is not just a label on a person. It is a whole "self". It is like throwing off an old self and forging a new one. Hence, such joyous exclamation as, “Mma tere m̀ásã̀ ɔbãtɔ̃e!” (I am born again the second time) in response to the news of having a child being named after you.
A day is usually set aside for the person that a child is named after to formally visit the child’s parents and their relatives to receive his namesake in his hands and officially accept his namesake (Kora Onwi).
Okora Onwi is not done in secret. It is a ceremony that brings the two families, their relatives, friends and well-wishers together to wine and welcome the new namesake (gὸό). The person that the child is being named after is customarily expected to present to his namesake clothes, toiletries, a big dried fish (ete ǹjira), four tubers of yam, a bottle of palm oil, a sachet of salt, pepper and other ingredients, wrappers for the mother, and assorted drinks among others. And the two families will drink and celebrate the Child’s Name Bearing signifying the completion of an emergence of a namesake.
However, the responsibility of the person that the child is being named after extends beyond the name bearing ceremony and presentation of gifts to the mother and child. He supports the parents in the upbringing of his/her namesake; he ensures that the child is properly provided for; he visits the child (Gὸό or “Dèé) from time to time during infancy to see how he/she is doing; and invites to his house from time to time during adolescent (and even adulthood) to advice and counsel him, etc. It is a thing of shame and disappointment to see one’s namesake tattered, uncared for and misbehaving in society. Beside your direct namesake anyone who bears your name is seen as your namesake (Gὸό or “Dèé). This bond and commitment beyond one’s immediate family helps in the past to produce discipline children and well groomed characters in Eleme. The namesake (gὸό) system unites two families and further enlarges the Eleme extended family structure.
Sources of Name
The following are some of the sources of names for children in Eleme:
Events or Occurrences
Events that occurred prior to or during the period that the child was born is prime consideration when naming a child in Eleme. That is, festival and occurrences forms the basis of child’s name in Eleme. Examples of such names include:
Obeta (Let War End). This name is giving to child born during a period of war.
Mmujieto (Tears). A child born during the death or burial of his father or a very important close relation of the father may be called Mmujieto.
Kate (Run). Means that the child was born during a state of emergency that necessitated the parents running from their home.
Obe (War). Means the child was born during war.
Agba (Festival). Means that the child was born in a period when the parents were involved in a major memorable festival or celebration.
Place of the Child’s Birth.
The traditional Eleme culture pays great importance to the place a child is born and can constitutes a major ingredient for child naming. Examples include:
Oluka, Laleoka, Yeeka (Born in the Farm). Oluka means a male child born in the farm while Laleoka and Yeeka refer to a female child born in the farm.
Echii (Market). Means a child born in the market.
Period of the Child’s Birth
Obo Means that the child (male or female) was born during or after the father has performed the Obo Yam Title Ceremony.
Katinya Means that the child (female) was born when her parents escaped from their home. Other examples include those recorded under events.
Office/Function/Family Profession or Tradition
The office or function held by the father at the time of the child’s birth also determines the name.
Emere (Chief). A traditional ruler may name his child Emere.
Nkporon (Spokesman). This name reflects the father’s love for his office as community spokesman.
Mkpaa (Music). A father gives this name to his son to commemorate his skill as a drummer.
Ogolo, Ekoro, Ogela, or Ekere (Local Xylophone, Talking Drum, Iron Gong, or Wooden Gong). A man skill in playing any of these instruments may name his son or daughter to confirm his love for the instrument he plays so well.
Okpao (Cradle). A man whose function in the service of a deity is to carry its ritualistic cradle may likely name his child “Okpao.”
Eson (Song). A man who is a well-known singer and composer may name his son or daughter Eson as reflection of his love for his singing profession or hobby.
Aken (Wrestle). A renowned wrestler may so name his son.
Nkani (Expertise). A man who is proficiency in carpentry, carving or any form of woodworks may name his son or daughter Nkani to serve as a reminder of his special talents.
Awala (kind of fish also known as Esuri), Omimor (Palm-frond), Okpao (Cradle), Ejila (Cupbearer), etc. These are Eleme names that a father gives to his son or daughter to actually reflect his pride in his duty as well as gratitude to the deity he serve.
A father may name his child to reflect his thinking, feelings or experiences at the material time. Parental hopes and expectations about the child’s future also influence the child’s name. Worthy of mention is the influence of the advent Christianity and education which brought about Christian and western names that are prevalent in Eleme today.
Veneration to Deity
Another source of names in Eleme is a father’s relationship to a deity which makes him believe that the child was given to him by that particular deity. Examples of such names include Ndorwa, Yorgba, Onura, Bajor, Okolaa, Kaliko, Tako, Nchoo, Owiri, Nnanii, and so on.
Arochukwu and Nkwere Influence
The presence and influence of people from Arochukwu and Nkwere was noticed in about 1850 in Eleme. The Aros were known in Eleme as “Enwinwi Echuu”. They introduced slave trade and their oracle known as Long Juju into Eleme. Their influence perverted every aspects of Eleme life. According to Chief O. O. Ngofa (2006) “Practically every major undertaking in Eleme such as establishment of new compound, installation into traditional offices, divination, decisions on suspected criminals, land dispute and mystical protection were routinely referred to the Long Juju for determination”.
On the other hand, the Nkweres were merely “blacksmiths and they made matchets, knives, spears, guns and different metal designs used as weapons for wars and ornaments for juju shrines decorations and women beautification.”
These Aro and Nkwere settlers also influenced children naming in Eleme. The origin of some names in Eleme can be traced to the Aro and Nkwere settlers who lived in several parts of Eleme; and for period virtually administered those areas. The arrival of the British to Eleme in 1898 wiped away the influence of these Aro and Nkwere settlers. But before then they left behind such names as Chu, Amadi, Nwafor, Nwakaji, Nwaji, Nwoke, Nnaji, Dibia, Dimkpa, Okpabi, Okori, Aforji, Oluji, Mgbafor, Nwosu, Oti, All these names are being used in various parts of Eleme today.
Preordained Name (Abee Re 'A Obari)
Apart from these specific names some children come with other predestined names. For example, the first son is generally called Osaro, Daa or Etenwi while the first daughter is similarly called Osila. The second son is Ollor while the second daughter is called Onua and so on. These names are natural and in accordance with birth positions. Twins in Eleme are generally called Ejima irrespective of sex or who comes first.
Day of Birth
A child born on Ɔbɔ (Obon – Eleme Weekday), the traditional resting day of the people of Eleme is named Ɔbɔ (Obon). Also a child believed to be reincarnating repeatedly and dying in infancy may be called Ogborun or Osioju (You Go and Come) in his or her surviving period.
Veneration to God
The influence of Christianity in Eleme culture was responsible for the eight day naming ceremony instead of on the hitherto day of birth or whenever the father returns from wherever he has been to. Today a tradition has emerged in Eleme whereby names are given to children to venerate the Almighty God thus discouraging people from ancestral worship and to separate them from the service of spirits and idols called Oku Ejin and deities, gods and juju collectively known as Oku Ejor. Such names include Obarineh (God Gives), Ododobari (Command of God), Amɛbeobari (Who Is God), Eleraobari (Praise God), Ntomaobari (God Is My Stay), Obaridomuru (God Is with Me) and so on.
Pet Names (Ɔlɛ Abee)
The people of Eleme cherish pet names. Pet names are names used instead of the child’s name to show fondness, affection, flattering or to suggest what the child’s family background is or to express one’s hope for the child. Examples are Ɛgbɛrɛ Ɔnɛ/Ɔwa (Great Man/Woman), Onwijimanfia (Child is Better than Beauty), Ekeeda (Smart and Intelligent Boy), Odubiri (Fatty), Nyimechi (Good Market), Gὸό or “Dèé” (Namesake), Obele (Right Hand), Bendo (He’s a Male), Buma (Pamper), Ngor (Wealth), Ɛmɛrɛ (Chief/Riches), Atɛ (Father), Nká (Mother), Ekooatɛ (Father’s Friend), Mgbɛɛwa (Female Potato – A pretty baby girl with thin yellowish and smooth skin), È'èrà (Light), Èjirà (Faith, Believe), Èpãrãrãonwi (Smart Boy/Girl), Maa (Laugh, Great Grandchild), Mbɛɛ (Gain/Profit/Benefit – of Marriage), Awiakele (Younger Brother), Nɛi (Give Us), Obui (Gossip/Taunt), Odo (Husband), Owa (Wife), M'i'oronɛ (Whitey), Ɔfɛɛji (Yellow(ish)), Ofĩma (Joy/Joyce), Tãmpioorũ (Hope For/On), Amarã (Clever), Mkpɛɛ Tiger/Leopard), Nna'oro (Lion), etc. Most of these pet names have graduated to real names with which new born babies are named these days in Eleme.
Namesake in Eleme Culture
Namesake refers to a name
Let it be pointed out here that the process of namesake that is prevalent in Eleme has extended all the names discussed herein, firstly to both sexes. Secondly, these names have been repeatedly replicated from generation to generation to the extent that some fathers don’t even know the origin of the name they give to their child. In other words, most bearers of these names are todays disconnected from the history behind the name or have no direct link with the origin of the names but as earlier pointed out, names is spirit and bearers knowingly or unknowingly are spiritually influenced and manipulated to live out their names.
Again, pursue of wealth and drive to “gain the whole world” has made many Eleme parents to pay little or no attention to events, place, day, period and circumstances of birth of their children. Therefor children are left at the mercy of forces higher than them; powers they know nothing about. Because whether you have a direct bearing to your name or you are a mere namesake to someone the truth is that the name you bear can bring you successes or failures.
Yes, these days, most of those bearing native names are mere beneficiaries of the long established Eleme tradition of naming children after dead or living parents, brothers, sisters, friends, deities, idols, jujus, etc. known as “Gὸό” (Namesake) or “Dèé” (Also Namesake). The practise of namesake as said earlier is still seriously in practice when naming a new born baby in Eleme. Have you checked out your native Eleme name? Can you say for sure that your native Eleme name has bearing to the events or circumstances of your birth, the place of your birth, the period of your birth, office/function held by your father at the time of your birth or it is a product of NAMESAKE? If your name is a product of namesake and it is veneration to a god, deity, idol, juju, or any such forces of darkness, my brother, my sister, consider severing yourself from the influences and manipulations of such powers by changing your name.
Although the influence of Christianity is actually strong in Eleme child naming, number of persons considering dropping their Christian name for pure Eleme names are increasing by the day.
High Chief Ollorwi Osaro