Born and bred Yoruba, entrenched in the culture of my people; I became identified as a member of that tribe and the greatest tell of all…my name! Named on the eighth day as is customary, I received many names, given by immediate and extended family alike. The nomenclature that stuck is that preferred by my parents. This in no way nullified the names given by other members of the family, and as is commonly practised, they called me by that which they had dubbed me whenever our paths crossed. In the course of growing up, it was explained to me the reason these folks delighted in calling me by names that I didn’t know belonged to me. One of my favourites is that which my late grandmother fondly called me, my mom uses it occasionally (as the mood takes her) and it always brings a smile to my face.
The opportunity to give a name to a new born is made available to everyone present on the fateful day. As a result of this custom, I had the opportunity to give name baby brother! Unlike others though, I don’t call him by it and as I type I can’t seem to recall that which I proudly bestowed on him ages ago. So a child can have as many (or as few) as the number of people present at the naming ceremony. If particularly blessed, some people (especially the elders!) can bestow as many as two names on the baby. Thus, that tiny person can end up with fifteen (or more!) names by the close of the procedure. From what I recall, yours truly has a tally of about twenty-something and that’s the truth!
As the saying, ‘many are called, but few are chosen’ so is the naming culture of the peoples of the south-west of Nigeria. The child ends up being known by a single name (out of the many generously bequeathed) at the ceremony. This baby also ends up with a middle name, in total official forms wind up with either two (or three) names listed; essentially those found on the birth certificate and taught the child as belonging to him/her is what eventually sticks.
So why go through the rigmarole of giving all those names? The joy of an addition to the family, the fortune the child is believed to have brought into that home, the future envisaged for that individual are just some of the answers that spring to mind. If you are familiar with names (Yoruba or otherwise), you’ll discover that names always have stories attached to them. I’ll make an educated guess, to say that this is what the people that lavishly hand out names are trying to convey when they confer that small person with the plethora of names.
Everybody knows that a pen name, nick name and the like always has a good story. How juicy (or otherwise) the tale is depends on your position. Thus, names always have a story attached and the next time you’re introduced, you’ll be amazed at the one attached to the person you just met. Who knows, it might become a blockbuster bestseller novel or memoir that breaks all records!