Traditional African names often have unique stories behind them. From the day or time a baby is born to the circumstances surrounding the birth, several factors influence the names parents choose for their children.
Whichever way ethnic group you look at, these local names reveal a wealth of information about the bearer.
Some names, it reflects the mood or circumstance of the family at the time of birth. Some of them serve as warnings or rebukes.
Events surrounding birth –
Among several ethnic groups, picking out names can be influenced by positive or negative circumstances the family finds themselves in around the time a child is born.
Often, such names are complete sentences.
1). Ayodele (joy has come home) is a unisex name for a baby whose birth brought happiness to their Yoruba parents in Nigeria.
2). Yetunde or Yewande (mother has come back) is a Yoruba name given to a girl whose grandmother or other female relative died before she was born.
3). Adetokunbo (crown/wealth has come back home) is a unisex Yoruba name often given to a child born abroad.
4). Ajuji (born on a rubbish heap) is a Hausa name given to a baby after those born before it failed to survive. It is believed that giving the child a “terrible” name will deceive evil spirits into thinking the child is not loved and as a result, allow it to live.
Meet the ancestors –
Respected elders of the family may be dead but they continue to live on through their grandchildren.
Parents often name babies after senior members of the clan whether dead or alive.
But it is considered disrespectful to casually shout or call out the name of a senior family member that has been given to a child, so instead it is common to hear a child affectionately called Ouma (grandma) or Oupa (grandpa) in southern Africa.
Many people in Africa have several names – for example a name from their ethnic group, a Christian or Muslim name, as well as a name depending on the day, or time of day they were born.
In the Yoruba tradition, it is not uncommon for each parent and grandparent to contribute at least one name. The child ends up with several names – each telling its own special story.