Onye ma Uche?

"The Mythology of Igbo Names", Uche Nworah

One of my many namesakes muses about the name, and other Igbo names. Interestingly enough, it seems that his name is really just "Uche". Mine is actually "Uchenna", and it's not very usual for one to be given the name "Uche"—. This bare form is much more common as a surname. "Uche" is an Igbo word that approximates English words such as "will", "desire", "plan", "counsel", "intelligence", "knowledge", etc. It's sort of sophia meets consilium meets in animo habere.

As Uche Nworah says:

There is uchenna, uchechukwu, and uchechi which a man or woman can bear.

Yes, and there's also "Uchendu" ("thinking about life"/"will for life", etc.), "Ucheoma" ("good will", "sound mind", etc.), and rare cases "Ucheji" ("will for yam", metonymic for "will for wealth") and "Uchegbum" ("Worries won't be the death of me"). Note: if you're wondering how Igbo packs so much meaning into such small packages, it's largely because of the tonality of the language. So for example, the way the "e" is pronounced in "Uchegbum" actually serves two purposes, one of which is to express the negative sense of the phrase.

"Uchenna" in my experience is by far the most common "Uche" name. I've probably known a hundred or more with that name. I'd say they're three quarters male. This makes it interesting that Nworah finds that people he encounters associate "Uche" with girls rather than boys.

Igbo names like most other names (non-Igbo) have symbolic meanings. These different versions of uche all mean the wishes or heart of God, As some people may think, uchenna does not mean the wishes or heart of the father of the child, Nna in this sense means God Almighty, if it meant the former, then feminists would argue and demand for the naming of children uchenne (the wishes of the mother). While there is no reason not to, I am yet to encounter nor hear of anybody bearing it, a task for modernists and feminists then, you may say.

It is always dangerous to make such generalizations about Igbo names. They are almost always loose formulations upon which a range of meanings can be attached, depending on circumstance. My own name is a counter- example to Nworah's assumption, with "Uchenna" literally meaning the will of my father, Dr. Ogbuji. My mother wanted me to be a girl, my father wanted me to be a boy, it turned out as my father wished, so I was named "Uchenna". Simple as that. I think the fact that you don't see "Uchenne" as a name has more to do with arbitrary convention than any specific code attached to "nna". After all, the name "Uchenna" predates the import of Christianity's single, male god into Igbo culture. The narrow meaning Nworah cites for "Uchenna" is often translated into the English name "Godswill", which feels very alien to me as a translation of my name.

Nworah later on mention "Obiageli" and "Ifeoma" (also "Iheoma") as names reserved for girls, even though there is nothing in their meaning thet has to do with female sex . Other such examples are "Nkechi" ("god's very own", "my spirit's own"), "Uloma" ("good house") and "Nkiruka" ("the future is bright", "the best is yet to come"). There are numerous examples the other way as well.

The rest of Nworah's article is interesting, but I wouldn't swallow it all whole. There is a great deal of generalization in it, and I think in many cases it papers over the huge complexity of Igbo culture whether in pre-colonial or modern times. He also laments a lack of Igbo scholarship over naming in our culture, which I think is very surprising. There is a metric tonne of scholarship on Igbo naming (as with every other aspect of Igbo culture, it seems). I often feel as if we have the most analyzed names on the planet, looking only at modern study. Just a casual poke at Google reveals a lot of material on Igbo names, and I've seen four or five books on the topic.

BTW, the title of this piece means "Who knows Uche?".

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia