Culture, Ethnicity, Lifestyle, Religion

Nigerians and foreign first names – something dey worry una!

Usually, I do not care about whatever name a father decides to christen his child. He can name the child Hitler, Pol Pot, Anini or Ivan The Terrible; I don’t care. It’s none of my business. But when a loi-loi-eating Nigerian father looks down joyously upon his chortling newborn and decides to name him ‘Heineken’, then I’ve got to weigh in. 

Heineken. Really, daddy? A beer? Nine months in your tummy, mummy, and you allow him name me after a beer? You guys might as well have named me 33. 

This Heineken chap; that is not his nickname or a term of endearment. No. It is the name on his birth certificate. Curiously, neither he nor his parents are German or Dutch. They are all proud Izon, or as popularly known, Ijaw.

By the way, I looked up the meaning of Heineken. It means “son of little Hein” (Henry). But I don’t think Heineken’s dad was named Hein. Nein. The man wasn’t little.

You see, in Africa, people’s names are not whimsical blasé appellations. We don’t wake up and name a child Hooty McOwlface. In Africa, people’s names have weight and depth, even a metaphysical import to them. Our names tell stories. They signal the culture, beliefs, circumstances of birth and hope for the future.

Now, there is also this bloke in another clan. His name is Pentecost. Like “the-day-of- Pentecost” Pentecost. His parents are devout. But not Pentecost. If he is spirit-filled, it is often with kai-kai. This bloke knows all the brothels and watering holes between Warri and Diobu Water Side. 

I love Ijaw people. I did my NYSC in riverine Bayelsa and it was one of the best times of my life. But there must be something evil in the water they drink. For why will proud tribespeople like the Ijaw rise and give their children such fiendishly hilarious names?  

Government. Advantage. Suffernomore. Thywillbedone, Election. Colonel. Consider. Inspector. Appearance. Boysdaddy. UpJesus. 

UpJesus. I bet you were expecting to see ‘DownSatan’. I haven’t heard that one yet.

But, yup. Those names above are real names. Names people bear. 

I’ve got my beef with the Ijaws on naming. I do even more with Nigerians who give their scions Caucasian, Jewish or Arabic names. I’m gently miffed. What gives? I have never seen a Brit name his son Obunezi or an Israeli name his daughter Oyinkan. But this good Òduà tokàn tokàn sister from Oke Ila Orangun names her son Jayden. 

‘Jayden’ how? 

‘Arianna’ wetin? 

‘Shaun’…of the dead? 

‘Bella’? As in Bella Schmurda?

‘Jason’ Ekechukwu? Like Jason and the Argonauts? Jason Momoa? Jason Bourne?  

My homeboy named his son Xavier. Really, Rahim? Xavier. You might as well name the boy Wolverine. 

Look, I’m a Christian. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. And I like the meaning of some Christian names. But I’m not from Jabesh-Gilead or Kiriath-Jearim. I am Yoruba. Omo Káárò Ojíre. You are therefore never going to catch me naming my daughter Zoey, Seraphina or Naomi. African names are too rich, too cool and too unique to trade down to Lachelle. 

Oh, did I tell you how I named my second daughter? Here goes!

When my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, we wanted a name that was Yoruba, was uncommon, acknowledged God, and whose short form would be easy for everyone to pronounce. I know that’s a lot for a name to do. But the brief is the brief.  It was the same brief we followed in naming our first daughter so why should this be any different?  

As the self-professed creative in the union, I had to rise to the occasion. So, I journeyed once again into the creative ether. 

After many moons of wandering and discourses with the Muses, a name emerged from the spectral mist. 


That is the short form of Mapolongojesukakirigboboagbaye. 

It means “I will proclaim Jesus to the ends of the earth.”

I thought it was absolute aces. It was uncommon, it was Yoruba and it acknowledged Jesus. 

I came back to earth and presented it to my wife.

She cleared all the bottles of liquor in the house and muttered something about stabbing me in my sleep.

I took it she didn’t fancy being called Mummy Polongo.

She marched me back to the Muses. Me and them dey craze together. 


Maybe you are one of those who don’t see anything good in Nigeria. Or one of those who signal their ‘exposure’ and contemporariness in the inability of their children to speak a local language. I know folks like that.

“Nne, Chucka can’t speak Igbo. He only speaks English and he’s taking Spanish classes. Let’s not confuse him,” she says with a conceited air to her mother.  

Shame on you, Adaeze! 

Your son will never be English enough for the English. Even if he dines with world leaders and has dual citizenship, they’ll still ask him “But where are you really from?” 

I get it, though. In an increasingly globalised world, we don’t want our children’s names to give their ethnicity away. Racism and profiling is a real thing. Names can be a crutch. I understand all these. But I fear we are throwing the baby away with the bath water. Our name is who we are. Opting for a Caucasian name is another form of colonization. It’s mild colonization but colonization nevertheless. At any rate, if white folks can pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, they can also pronounce Chimagozielam Bunkechukwu. All is fair in love and war. 

Before I go, did I tell you guys the beautiful name my grandfather gave me?

It is Ògúnmódedé.

It means “Ogun (Yoruba god of iron) has brought a hunter.”

The older members of my extended family fondly call me Bàbá Odę (Chief Hunter)

Man, I love the names! I am the hunter of hunters, the stalker of stalkers, the abitoshaker and ganduka-gandusha! Best respect me. 

My grandfather and his fathers hunted game in the presumably haunted forests of South West Nigeria. I imagine they encountered many goblins, sprites and deadly beasties. But thanks to Ògún, their lives and livelihoods were preserved. 

I do not believe in Ògun anymore than I believe in Zeus or Odin. But my forebears have no such intellectual and Christian encumbrances. For them, Ògun was real. And he had brought them another huntsman. But great must have been their tears in Òrùn Alàkeji when they saw me trade potent amulets, daggers and guns for a life of segmentation, targeting and positioning.

Sorry, grandfather. Civet and snake meat are not my thing. I prefer sirloin.  

In a world with cool names like Mmesoma, Chelchi, Kiitan, Fiyin, Toni and Boma, you decide Keisha and Rhonda are finer names. Something dey do you, aunty.


One thought on “Nigerians and foreign first names – something dey worry una!

  1. Chibuzor Nwaezeapu says:

    Call me biased, i have a mix of names and fir someone who has used his native name all his life, im the self appointed foreign name giver for my family. So both kids have a foreign or english name. My preference is to guide them withsome love and respect for their name and culture which is the larger issue and allow them pick a preference when they get to that age.My biggest issue is the lack of respect other Nigerians have for cultures of other tribes. From failing to try to pronounce names not from their tribe to even mocking customs or cultures because it doesnt jive with that which you were raised with. Ive soent 99% of my life in the south west and as a teenager i decided to stop prostrating after learning the eastern belief of never bowing to any one but your God which is at conflict with south western culture of prostration to elders. Ive been called disrepectful by sone who dont realise i speak fluent yoruba for that.My point is culture is reflective and different, we need to resoect and accomodate the differences in our culturex esoecially when they dont destroy or denigrade

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