Like those who understand the politics and theatrics of identity in human life, I’ve always known, since my adulthood, that human names are very important and much more powerful than most people think on the surface (especially in the African context); that there is always a trail of historical indignity behind an African answering foreign names derived from foreign (European/Arabic) languages. All being part of the mental colonization program that has successfully trapped and crushed only Africans for about 500 years now without much hope of true liberation in sight.
I was a victim – a latecomer who could do little. Christian religion — a foreign matrix for conceiving the Supreme Being — had forced my parents to give me a foreign name from a foreign (English) language, when they dedicated me to God at baptism.“Kedụ afa oyibo gị?” was often the question among us growing up as children whenever nominal identity was the focus. It manipulated our minds to assess how ‘saintly’, tickling or posh those foreign names sounded.
The rule: You must have an English name aside Igbo name. The Igbo identifies your local humanity while the English is for your divine/sophisticated reach. Thus, the orthodox churches (especially Catholic) in Igboland, for many years before the advent of Pentecostalism, raised generations of Igbo people whose first names were foreign and their middle names Igbo or vice versa. Myself, my father, my mother, my grandfather, my grandmother (paternal, maternal) — all generations of double identity. Surname: Igbo. First and Middle names: either Igbo & English or English & Igbo, respectively. Foreign — (mostly English) — was and is still the only way to identify with the divinity in most of the existing churches today.
It was/is either Jane, Jude, Emmanuel, Francis, Patrick, John, Ella, Cynthia, Promise, Grace, Christiana, or Favour for linking the divine. It could not be local. It could hardly be Ikechukwu, Chigozie, Nnabuike, Ngozichukwu, Afomachi, Nneoma or Amalachukwu. None of those native names would make God notice you, as we were brainwashed to hold. Plus other details for another day. And so, we grew up with the foolishness! Never mind that somewhere in Port-Harcourt then, a White priest—from the foreign culture we’re so obsessed to adopt—was encouraging Igbo parents to baptize their infants with names from their own local languages! Pitifully, many of our clergymen and women who are our own sons and daughters would frown at you when you ask them to baptize your child with a native name!
Personally, I couldn’t continue with such a mental slavery after a journey of liberation. I’ve been unable to understand why the creator would endow a people with a language for thought and expressions in human names/naming, only for them to choose to do so in a foreign one that had contact with them via the intimidation’s of Trans-Atlantic Slavery and Colonialism. The issue now isn’t the contact that dominated our culture but the weakness to elevate our own cultural identity in some areas where there are no domination’s and at a time when none can be intimidated for that elevation.
Will a dominated culture remain repressed too in such easiest expression forms as human names? Will God cease to be with us if we don’t connect with him in foreign names at baptism/confirmation and use our own names as we were brainwashed? No! Why can’t we make a mark somewhere that shows we did rise from the ashes of intimidation and choose to be who God created us to be before the domination’s? Isn’t that the cases of India, China, UAE, etc today who conceive their human progress and essence from their own cultural appurtenances while using foreign cultural imports as vehicles? Why not us in such simplest demonstrations as human names?
I have tenaciously held, taught, expressed, argued and defended this for some time now with results in certain persons who confessed to have been liberated following my words on it. While some of our people have known and applied this long before now without making it a case, many more are immersed in the sea of ignorance fed from the waters of obsession with Western culture, social pressure and inferiority complex. Such people make the reason why I write posts as this and make this kind of “noise”.
I try to live by example. Recently, Kalịsịa and I had our child baptized and in keeping to my message: No foreign names should be given to our Igbo children unlike my own parents and grandparents who gave English names to their children!
They were 8 infants brought for baptism. When the parents were asked the names they wanted for their kids’ baptism, they mentioned “Harmony”, “Princess”, “Christabel”, etc. Our child was the only infant whose baptismal name was from her indigenous language—Igbo. The other 7 were baptized with strange names from English language. That was an evidence of how deeply unconscious our people have grown over the years about the ‘little’ things that greatly matter—an evidence of the 400-year old slavery chains hanging on our necks without us trying as much as to disengage a ring out of the numerous rings that made up the long chains.
At the end of the exercise, I approached 2 of the mothers and educated them. I encouraged them to baptize their next children with names from our own Igbo language. One told me she never imagined it is possible until she heard what was to be my daughter’s baptismal name during the exercise. We have a lot to do, really!
KAMBILINUDO MỤNACHIMSO NGOBILI
All Igbo! No double identity. No replies for such questions as“kedụ afa oyibo gị?” makana nwa m abụrọ onye ọcha ma ọ bụ onye oyibo. No representation of what generations before were or are. I had given the first name even before her birth. Mother gave the name at baptism (middle name). Surname still follows our 150 year old ancestry. Helpfully, there’s the clergyman who’s mentally liberated and who reasons beyond a foreign matrix of indoctrination to facilitate this process smoothly. I am glad a word was made flesh. I now have the serious task to teach Kambili early enough to hold on to this and never deviate, and to also pass it across to the next generation she would beget. I’m optimistic the effort will succeed for generations to come, with the consistency of message.
On a deeper note, human names, in African Thought, go beyond nominal appellation; they are supremely summarized values, summarized memories and summarized histories, like I do say. So, let me explain the thoughts behind my daughter’s names:
KAMBILINUDO (May I live in peace) is a “summarized value” of the importance of PEACE as the first capital for any success in human endeavour. Peace is not merely an afterthought to conflict; it is nature’s first condition for order and motion. Peace predates love for there may not be love between persons but they’d be in peace. It is not the absence of disagreements but the voice of order within each human which says “you cannot achieve any progress from destruction; let’s find a common ground instead, even if we don’t love ourselves”. Peace equally represents the Igbo philosophy of living which is “I bili, ka m bili” (live and let live). Summoning it in a name every day of one’s life, I’m deeply convinced, would spiritually concatenate, preserve and guide the human machinations and divine designs in one’s life immensely to success.
MỤNACHIMSO (Always in company with my Chi/God), on the other hand, acknowledges the indispensability of the Divine’s company as the best guide in the journey of life and living. Life is a serious spiritual journey that needs the company of a Supernatural Force. Keeping it in mind everyday of life in one’s name would help a lot spiritually, for those who believe.
By the way, our daughter’s name has a rhyme: Kambili Ngobili!
I know some other conscious Igbo persons or Africans have walked this path and it’s not new to them. But, many more need to be delivered. They’re the ones I have in mind with this. Even if one soul is converted from this, nothing would be more fulfilling.
Featured Image: Bradley Basso