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7 steps to finding the perfect Igbo name for your child

Finding the perfect name for a child can be a challenge, especially if you are looking for an Igbo name. Not only do you have to pick from what feels like an endless number of options, but also do you have to consider the meaning, sound, and story that comes with it.

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And if your children are growing up in a mixed-cultured family like mine, finding a name can be even harder. Because the non-Igbo partner might struggle with some of the Igbo names due to the "difficult" spelling or "challenging" pronunciation. So how did Ezenwa and I find the perfect Igbo names for our kids? Let me outline the 7 steps to finding the perfect Igbo name.

“A name is almost like the soul of a person and should be chosen wisely. It exists before the child is born and can outlast it's death for many years."

1 - Clarify

I was convinced from the beginning that my kids should answer an Igbo name (not just because I love their meanings, but also because I feel that it connects them more to their roots, especially since they are growing up in the diaspora. But in other mixed-cultured relationships, this could be the first point of discussion, as the non-Igbo parent might not want their child to answer an Igbo name at all. So prepare yourself for some fundamental discussions.

2 - Prioritize

You may be aware that many Igbos have an English name in addition to their Igbo name. This has to do with the history of colonialization. But other than the boring names of the colonial rulers (Walter, William, Thomas, or John), Igbos often answer very creative and fancy names such as Prince, Precious, or Blessing. But that is another story. What I want to point out is that parents will have to agree if their child will answer two names and if so, which position the Igbo name will get (first name or second name).

Today, many Igbo children, not only in Europe, answer their English name first and only use their Igbo name as the second name, which is a pity. Ezenwa for example is known by his English name Kenneth in Switzerland - because when he first came here, he felt that "Chijioke" was too difficult to pronounce. But over the years, he learned to appreciate the importance of answering an Igbo name and insisted that our kids would answer the Igbo name first, which was fine for me.

# 3 - Define your criteria

Obviously, every person has different criteria when it comes to choosing names (Ezenwa and I for example), but defining clear criteria helped me to be more efficient when going through the endless lists of Igbo names available on the internet.

My criteria for choosing an Igbo name:

  1. Sound: The way the name sounded when I read it with my Swiss accent (which turned out to be very wrong in most cases).

  2. Length: For a name to "work" in Switzerland, one had to either be able to abbreviate it or the name had to be short. But since I could not find many short Igbo names, I decided to go for names that could easily be abbreviated: Zioraifechukwu - Ziora, Uchenna - Uche, or Chijioke - Chijio).

  3. Meaning: As all of the Igbo names have a meaning, of course, I also paid attention to that. After all, I would not want my child to answer a name with a funny meaning.

  4. Context: My last criterion was context. For example, I always liked the name Obinna, but I already knew four people answering that name, so I felt that it would be strange to have my child answer that name as well. Also to consider- when it comes to context is the "age" of a name. In the olden days, girls and boys would sometimes be named after the market days (the day they were born) in Igbo land. However if you name your child Mgbeke (born on Eke day) or Mgborie (born on Orie day) today, many people will tell you that your choice of name is rather old-fashioned.

# 4 - Do the research

Now it was time for research. Thankfully, Google provides many lists with Igbo names and their meanings. My favorites are here:

It became my sleeping routine to look through these lists and write down any name that I liked - which turned out to be quite a few.

# 5 - The magic 5

Once I had my own list, it was time to find a common ground with Ezenwa. The first time we did this exercise, I had a list of almost 20 names. Only then did I realize that such a long list did not help the process of finding the perfect name, as we struggled to agree on one. So the next time we had to choose a name, I reduced the list to my top 5 before sitting down with Ezenwa. I recommend your partner also only comes to the table with up to 5 names, which makes it then a maximum of 10 names to choose from. I believe that is a good number to work with.

# 6 Compromise by elimination

This is the hardest but also the most fun part of the exercise. Both partners put their lists on the table and get to cross out the names they like the least from their partner's choices (but of course, you have to keep at least one of your partner's options). Ezewna was pretty fast crossing out my selections of "Chinua" and "Diaso", which would have been my favorite picks. In return, I crossed out some of his own. We then came down to Ifeanyi and Nannyereugo, and since we liked them both, we decided to give our last born two Igbo names (instead of an English and an Igbo name).

People might question your choice of name, but if you make out time to explain the spelling, meaning and the context, you will be surprised to see how many people fall in love with it.”

# 7 practice, practice, practice

Every time I tell a non-Igbo person the name of my children, they struggle to pronounce it (and I can't blame them, because I also struggle with pronouncing foreign names sometimes). But instead of not giving your child an Igbo name, you can practice with them how to deal with such reactions. Our kids for example have learned the spelling and meaning of their names very early on. This way, they were able to spell it out and explain the meaning anytime someone struggled to pronounce it. And I have experienced on many occasions that if you make out time to explain the spelling, meaning, and context of a name, many people not only learn how to pronounce it but also start to appreciate it.

"It is not the frame that makes the painting"

To be remembered

I understand that finding a name for your child can be challenging and put you under pressure. After all, a name is almost like the soul of a person and should be chosen wisely. It exists before the child is born and can outlast death for many years. But other than the soul, a name does not define who you are - it just frames it in letters. And since it is not the frame that makes the painting, maybe we should not be so worried about choosing the right name after all.


Last but not least

I decided to always end my blog posts with an Igbo proverb or quote and a song (not necessarily Igbo) that speaks to my heart. Feel free to share your own favorite proverbs or a song that you are listening to at the moment!

Igbo quote of the week: Ukpala gbabara n'ikpookukona-ala ala mmuo. (The grasshopper that runs into the mist of fowls ends up in the land of spirits.)

My song this week: Emeli Sandé: Read all about it, Pt. III


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