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Naming Children—the Akwa Ibom Way

Wife of Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mrs Martha Emmanuel with children

By Ekemini Simon

FRIENDS of ours named their baby daughter Do Not Doubt. You may think, “How peculiar!” But before you feel sorry for her, let me explain that her parents are Akwa Ibomites, and they speak Ibibio. In their tongue Do Not Doubt becomes Ekuyik, a very pretty name if you pronounce it correctly.

Now, shall we try Ekuyik again? Eku-yik. If you repeat it several times, it will resonate in your ears like the beat of your heart.

Without doubt, among many are those who have bestowed upon their children Bible names such as Sarah, Naomi, Daniel and David. These are easy to pronounce and never old-fashioned.

There are still some who may not want to give their children local names but opt for foreign names. One father who himself bears Okon – a name popular with Akwa Ibom people choose to name his five boys with the names of American Presidents: Lincoln, George, Regan, Clinton and his three month old son Trump. He said the reason he choose not to give names that reflect the origin of their children is because he does not want their children to look local.

“Does the name Okon sound well to your ear? Giving your child local name is old-fashioned and we have to move with time. The world is now a global village so the names I have given them can make them integrate easily anywhere they go”. He said.

Another parent whose four children bear Ibibio names thinks differently from Mr Okon, he said bearing a name is never old-fashioned and the reason he and his wife had agreed never to give a foreign name to their children in other to maintain their cultural identity. Offering more insights to the reason behind their stance he said “Many who give foreign names to their children do not necessarily know the meaning of those names. And the painful thing is that we Africans are always very quick to embrace things to our detriment. And as a result, our identity which is intrinsic in our names is gradually fading. Show me any foreigner who bears our name.”

No matter the divide you may belong, the fact remains that in time past names were usually given because of the meaning they conveyed. And although greatly affected by cultural imperialism with many opting for foreign names, this is true to a considerable extent in not just Akwa Ibom State but Nigeria today. You will find it interesting to know the whys and wherefores of naming Akwa Ibom babies.

Parents Speak

At hand is an insight from the Ibibio-speaking parents of Ekuyik. Both father and mother are farmers who survive from the proceeds of their farm, and they together devote over a 100 hours weekly to ensure the work to provide for a family of seven. Dennis, Stella and Michael are their first three, but the last four children were given Ibibio names: Ekuyik, Mbotidem “Feel Confident,” and Edikan “Overcome.” The fourth was named Ntiense “Witness”. The parent explained:

‘When we were naming our last four children, we did so with the thought of encouraging ourselves as a family in the Christian faith. For example, when calling our girl Ekuyik, the family as a whole would know that we must not be fearful in times of persecution from Satan’s agents or be doubtful of God’s saving Hands. When calling Mbotidem, the family would be reminded that we should be confident, have faith in God no matter the situation we may face. When calling Edikan, the family would know that we should fight and overcome difficulties put on us by the Devil. When calling Ntiense we are reminded to appreciate as witnesses to God’s grace so far with hope of witnessing more of His blessings and love’

If Ekuyik’s father were to call these last four children one after the other, he would practically be giving a sermon, and a stirring one at that. Another happy thought is that this family has gentle reminders every day of what they want to be or do. Surely these are good reasons for giving thought to selecting fine names.

The mother of another family reveals that having only sons is not as bright a picture as having both sons and daughters, and she reflects this attitude in her choice of names:

“The first girl in my family is Uwana. Uwana means brightness or ‘light.’ I named her Uwana because I wanted children of both sexes in my family. I had already given birth to two boys, so when I gave birth to a girl there was light in the family. My husband was very desirous of a girl child. The second girl is Mfonido. Mfonido means ‘kindness.’ I named her Mfonido because Uwana was the only girl in the family and had no partner to play with, so it was kindness for the second girl to be born into the family.”

Say Them Aloud

Although there is no much difference, in the three main dialect of the Akwa Ibom people- Ibibio, Annang and Oro, there is a wealth of pretty names. You are sure to enjoy the following selection if you read them aloud.

Ekom—“Give Thanks.” One man named his son this because, though he loved his four daughters, he was thankful that his fifth child was a boy.

Esin- “Trigger” a couple named their second child this because it was their believe that the arrival of the baby will trigger glad tidings in the family. And according to him the name was the magic that really turned things around for them.

Mfonobong—“God’s Grace.” An appreciative couple bestowed this name on their second child because they considered it a great grace from God to have another son after the death of their firstborn.

Eno—“Gift.” Idara—“Make Happy.” We have met many Eno and Idara, but I was most impressed by a mother who had two sets of twins and three other children. Would you be made happy to receive your seventh gift of children? She was. She permitted me to hold these two beautiful, velvet-skinned babies, and I shared her happiness.

Ima—“Love.” This name is found across the three main dialects of Akwa Ibom people, and its popularity is equal to that of John and Mary among the Europeans. In view of the fact that Akwa Ibom State is predominantly a Christian State, the people know that God is love, and that Christians are commanded to love God and love their neighbours, coupled with the fact that the word sends some sensational strike down the heart, it is little wonder that Ima is one of the favorite names. As with many other Akwa Ibom names, the suffix Obong (Lord) and Abasi (God) are usually attached to the name making you hear something like Imaobong or Imaabasi. This name can be given to either girl or boy.

Deeper Meanings

The significance of names is not always readily apparent. A long list of events or perhaps the family history will be recalled by a name given to a baby. For example, the names of the children of some families which I spoke with intrigued me, and I had the meanings all worked out in my mind. However, see how wrong I was, as pointed out by the father:

Mbaba—“We Do Not Have.” At first, I had thought the name to be masculine. However, since she was their firstborn and only child after seven years of marriage, I reasoned that the parents thought, “We have no child but this one.” But the father explained: ‘It is our custom to desire big families and many relatives, but of my paternal grandfather’s family of ten only three lived. Of my own father’s offspring there were only two. Consequently at the birth of my daughter I said, “We do not have relatives.”’

Inyene—“ Riches.” My thought: “They have two girls and now a son so they are rich.” But that is only a small part of why the father chose this name. His reasons: ‘I came from a poor family and had very little education, and yet by the time my third child was born I could count my riches like this: As a Carpenter, I worked and bought a motorcar; we have a son as heir; and, most important, my little girls are very bright and intelligent giving me a tip of how they will make the family proud. Thinking of all these, I then said, “Now we are rich.” That is why I named this boy Inyene.’

Nkponam—“Trouble.” To my way of thinking, four children in six and a half years would cause the mother some troubles. But the difficulties that prompted the name were not attributed to the child. The father said that his wife had been dangerously anemic, his mother ill and his firstborn, Utibeima,(Miracle of love) sick also. Since the child came into the world during a period of trouble, she received that name, but not as a disparagement to her. Did you read Nkponam aloud? Easy to pronounce, isn’t it?

Names in Other Languages

As you may have noted, parents sometimes use English words to name their children. For example, some children grow up with names such as Gift, Precious, Emmanuel and so forth. A teacher from the State Capital Uyo said concerning his son: “I named him Blessing because I felt that it is God who gives good gifts, so the child came to me as a blessing from God.”

Many African marriages end in divorce if there are no children from the union, and having only one child seems unsatisfactory and sometimes disgraceful to a great many of the people. But not so with this man and his wife who, for ten years of marriage, had only one child, Samuel. To their second-born son they gave the name Ayanime, which has two meanings, “calm” and “Long Suffering.” This well describes their quiet, untroubled, calm married status during the ten-year delay between Samuel and Ayanime.

To give your child the name of a person of faith in the Bible is certainly commendable, especially if you know the thought behind it: Sarah, “princess”; Naomi, “My Pleasantness”; Daniel, “God Is (My) Judge”; ‘David, “Beloved.” Like those Israelites of old, we see many Akwa Ibom people also giving their children names with thoughts behind them. It can be a delightful way of selecting a name. And Do Not Doubt is an encouraging thought and quite an acceptable name for a little miss if you say it in Ibibio, Ekuyik.

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