Names are always given to a child soon after birth and it is done traditionally all over Africa and a good part of the world. Names are usually given to commemorate events of history, sometimes the memory of something or somebody of importance or most times, names of religious warriors, political warriors, explorers of past and present and to dates of the week, the month or even the year.
My father Samuel Jibunoh was a traditional scientist and self-educated, meaning that he never saw the four walls of any educational institution. However, he spoke a bit of English and a bit of French because he was a cross border trader who transformed a yam farm, he inherited from his own father into a plantation producing and exporting such products as cocoa, rubber, and palm products through Royal Niger Company to the Cameroons and Port Novo in Dahomey now the Republic of Benin and later to European countries and the Americas.
I was three years old when my father passed in 1942. Everything I know of my father was told to me by my father’s brother – Abel Jibunoh, relatives and friends of the family. My uncle, Abel; who was educated in politics would go on to later become a member of the Western House of Assembly. One interesting part of the story I was told about my father was a slogan he used every time he was confronted with challenges in his dealings with people or business. The slogan was, “Everything that goes up, must come down” and that became his nickname.
When the colonial masters, the British arrived in my territory a few hundred years ago, they found him very enterprising, very eloquent, very detribalized and a linguist. Samuel Jibunoh was different. So, they decided to engage him as an interpreter but they found his nickname very strange and wanted to know if he knew anything about Sir Isaac Newton, the great century scientist. Of course, my father had no way of knowing that his favorite saying captured the law of gravity and that Sir Isaac Newton was the first scientist to measure the gravitational force and to propound the universal theory of gravitation and the laws of motion in classical physics. When eventually he was afforded these bytes of scientific knowledge, my father filed it away in a corner and installed Sir Isaac Newton in the same corner as one of his heroes.
By the time I was born, he knew exactly the English name he wanted for his son: Newton, of course!
Then to the name Jibunoh.
In pre-colonial Igbo land, power and social standing were measured by the size of your barn or the strength of your arm.
It was no different with us. In the estimation of my great grandfather, yam was wealth, yam was development, and you were nobody without a big yam farm or barn. He was renowned as one of the biggest yam farmers in the whole territory. When the use of money was introduced, he refused to touch it, choosing instead to exchange yam for whatever item he wanted in a weird trade by barter system.
He gave offerings with yam, paid all his taxes and dues with yam. His wives went to the market-on-market days to exchange yam with other commodities. So, he lived all his life with yam. Our family name was Omanga but as was the custom at that time, if you took a title, you were at liberty to choose a name that would portray your new position in the society. So, he opted for the name, ‘Ji bu unoh’ which means ‘yam is the homestead.’
While my grandfather may have wished for his children to pursue the family tradition (in some way, I still do), I am sure my father must have nursed a secret hope that I would go on to pursue a career in the sciences just like his hero. I like to think I have in some small way satisfied both generations; my grandfather by maintaining the yam farm and regularly distributing yam tubers to friends and families; and my father that secret longing especially for me going back to Ben-Gurion University in Israel at over 60 years old to study the science of desertification after retirement which has now led me to a life of pushing back the desert and saving the desert land from desertification, land degradation, global warming and climate change. The study time in Israel afforded me knowledge of the sciences that was applied in establishing the pilot projects in some parts of the North, the Niger republic and Mauritania and also in those places that are presumed by science to be the heart of the Sahara. I also conducted further research in the Gobi Desert in China, Arizona and Nevada in the United States of America.
During my second expedition driving from Nigeria to London across the Sahara to Europe alone, a Nigerian from the northern part of the country whose community was threatened by desert encroachment saw the news of the expedition on NTA and CNN and waited for my successful arrival in London and subsequently returned to Nigeria alive to name his son that was a few weeks old Newton. He recently got in touch with me through social media to inform me that his son now in his early twenties (20s) was told the origin of his name, now studying sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA, one of the best science institutions in the World. I told him that I would be looking forward to meeting or that I will make a trip to meet with him whenever I am in the United States of America.
I have since collected contacts of both father and son so as to be able to conduct further research on “WHAT IS IN A NAME”.
A story was told of a man who had taken a cake to a local supermarket to be decorated for his son and gave them the name to be written on it, when the attendant saw the name she refused writing it on the cake. It was to be written boldly “ADOLF HITLER”.
The name “Adolf” was prevalent in south Germany before even Hitler became known. It was only made more popular when it got associated with Hitler taking control of power in Germany. The attendant was of the opinion that the name speaks of evil and may ruin the son’s childhood because of who Adolf Hitler was known to be. He would be subjected to bullying and hate throughout his school and college life and will have a hard time getting a job later on. Because of all of this, not only will he change his name when he grows up, he will hate the man that gave him the terrible name. In the same way, people are given the name Emmanuel because they believe it has a religious and pure meaning relating it to the biblical Jesus Christ who was also known as Emmanuel or Mohammed relating the name to Prophet Mohammed.
This has made me curious about the psychology behind the names attributed to babies when they are brought into the world. Does a name determine the outcome of a child’s future and does it alter the course of his or her life in his or her lifetime?