Nigerian parents often give their children names with an interesting story behind them. Heres a short guide to understanding the peculiar naming culture in various

The name is more than just a tag or a convenient badge of identity. The cultural naming conventions in different tribes are usually deeper than the surface that one sees. For many Nigerian families, and in many parts of Africa, names have been used to drive home different messages — from emotional to generational to circumstantial — and have been used by generations before now.

Knowing the story behind the name of a child can grant you a glimpse into the family history and values. It is usually of some significance either to the family or to the child itself.

Let's look at some of the popular naming patterns in some Nigerian cultures.


The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa as native speakers are estimated at 24 million. Their cultures are also very prehistoric and have evolved over time. In Igboland, the naming ceremony takes between the 7th and 12th day after the child is born and one or two names are chosen for the child. Names given to the child are either a reflection of circumstances surrounding birth, the day of the week the child is born, the order of birth, emotions of parents, observations about the child, or respect to ancestors. However, with the adoption of Christianity, many of the superstitious beliefs have been wiped out and new concepts added.

For example, names like Okonkwo, Okafor, Okeke, Okorie, Nwankwo, Nwafor, Mgbeke, Nweke and Nworie were names given to reflect the four Igbo market days, Orie, Nkwo, Afor and Eke. Now, these names are hardly given to children of these generation and are now dominantly surnames that have been passed down through generations.

Some other naming patterns in Igbo land:


Yoruba is one of the major ethnic groups and languages in Nigeria with rich culture and heritage. The naming of a child is a very special affair and takes place on the seventh day after birth for females and on the ninth day after birth for males. Among the Yoruba people, children might have as many as 13 names and these names can be a combination of three different concepts: the Amuntorunwa (the name the child brought from heaven); the Abiso (the christening name) including the Abiku names; and the Oriki (the attributive name).

When a child is born with a name, Amuntorunwa, it usually indicates the circumstances of his or her birth and the names are usually applicable to all children born under like circumstances. The Abiso names include fetish names, indicating the deity that is worshipped in the particular family. Abiku names are given to a certain class of children who are "born to die", similar to the Ogbanje phenomenon of the Igbos.

Oriki names are given to male and female to express what the child is or is hoped to become, to stimulate the destiny of the child. They can be prayers which result in very long names.

Some naming patterns in Yoruba land include:


The Kalabari are a tribe of the Ijaw people living in the western Niger Delta region of Nigeria. These are also a people of rich culture and heritage, and the names they give their children are a reflection of that. Just like in many parts of the country, some of the names given are influenced by the circumstances surrounding the child's birth while some reflect faith and express what the child is or is hoped to become.

However, due to early and prolonged interaction with the Europeans, European names are a common feature among the Kalabari and many Ijaw children. Ba and Ye suffixes are used to indicate family ties and differentiate between male and female names with traditional names. It is common, though, to see names such as Serenaba, meaning Serena's daughter, or Serenaye, meaning Serena's son.


The Hausa/Fulani people are one of the major tribes in Nigeria, predominantly in the Northern part of the country. Naming ceremonies are done on the seventh day after the child is born, just like in other cultures. Hausa names are derived primarily from the Muslim religion and so are very similar to Arabic names. However, there are also some similarities with other tribes in Nigeria as some names are derived from the day of the week the child was born. For example, Dantala is given to a boy who is born on a Tuesday.