My father was not born into Christianity. His father’s name was “Ogbuji,” a formal and high chieftaincy title taken by the most successful farmer in the clan. My father adopted his primary name, Thomas, through conversion to the Catholic faith. The new convert is predictably zealous and my father was no different.

When the time came to name his own children Papa chose to give them all European names. His first son was Justin; following Justin were my two sisters, Roseline and Louisa; then came I, and I was named Linus; then came Marcellus, and finally Cletus. Note that all his sons were given the names of Catholic Popes; Linus was the direct successor to Peter the Apostle. My father and his peers belonged to the generation of Nigerians that was indoctrinated by European missionaries; they were taught that a child must bear the name of a “saint” listed in the Church canon.

I belong to the generation that began to turn away from that colonial mindset. All my children and their children were given Igbo names. Our aim in so doing was to affirm that the cosmology of our people was no less valid than the quaint beliefs of the English, Irish, French, Dutch, or what have you. Every Igbo name carries a meaning or message. The name given to a baby is always reflexive of the circumstances of its birth.

  1. Our eldest son is Uchenna (Uche for short, pronounced “Ou-chay”). My wife wanted a daughter for our first child; I wanted a son. It came out a boy, in accord with “the wishes of the father.” Uche mean will and Nna means father (and by extension, God): hence Uche-Nna.

           Synonyms:            Uchechi, Uchechukwu, Ikenna, Ikechi, Ikechukwu, Obinna

  1. Our second son is Chimezie (Chime for short, pronounced “Chee-may”). He was named after Louisa, my closest sibling, who died while I was in college abroad. “Chimezie” is an invocation to one’s chi, or god, for welfare or blessings.

           Synonyms:            Chigozie, Chidozie, Nnadozie

  1. Our third son is Ejike. My wife and I had had a peripatetic life as students (on three continents), with children born on the go; we decided three children were enough. But since all were boys and my wife never got the daughter she craved, we named this one Ejike (“Eh-jie-ke”). It may be translated loosely as “It’s not in your power.”  (In other words, you want what you want but you take what you get!)

            Synonyms:            Emenike, Ikeazota