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Social names… still in vogue?



By Chizoba Njaka
I HAVE once heard that if you don’t address a man or an elderly person with his title or social name, you have not accorded him due respect.
I never gave it a serious thought until the day I had an encounter with somebody, who was informing his close friend that if he want to gain favour from his boss, he must address him by his social name, otherwise his journey will be a waste.
In another development, a middle-aged woman saw a man while she was on her way for an errand. Knowing full well that there is no other way to get his attention other than calling him all sort of names; Akunatakasi, Okpataozuooha, Onon’ikpoaku, Ideejiejemba, to mention but a few ,she started calling him these names. The man became so much excited that he gave her in return, a huge amount of money.
Title or social name, according to analysts is often a humorous name. It is a name that is either connected to the real name, personality, appearance or anecdote of a person. It is also a substitute for the proper name of a familiar person.
It has been observed that Igbo tradition is gradually fading away as regards to Igbo language speaking, attires and what have you. But some aspects of Igbo culture is still thriving and becoming more and more stronger, especially in the taking and bearing of title names, whether initiated or not.
Some have it that title names, sometimes, are given and taken to reflect the character of the title bearer or holder. While in some other areas, the titles are just symbolic, and become a mere symbol of greeting during social interactions. Moreover, in typical Igbo communities, people are not known, called or greeted by their names but rather by their titles or social names.
In a research carried out, it stated that titles could be either assumed without any ceremony, fuss or taken through elaborate feasting and fulfillment of other conditions.
Some are also hereditary, passed on from generation to generation. And in such cases, while all the male children born to a family may be addressed commonly by such title by which their father or grandfather was known in the long term, it is only the eldest male child that would eventually retain the title. Other male siblings will be expected when they deem it fit, to take their own titles.
However, National Light moved round to find out why majority of people like taking titles whether by traditional practice or ordinarily, its significant, and what it offers in terms of status symbol.
Many explained that during the ancient times in Igbo land, fathers of old where hardly addressed by their real names but rather women, wives, sons and daughters call them one social name or the other like Agu, Nnanyi, Ogbuefi, Ogbuachalla, Akunwata, Ogbuagu, Ifemelumma and even Papa and Mama.
They noted that it is a sign of respect to the people of the old. Such continued to graduate from generation to generation and never seized up to this day. Most often, in the lives of the forefathers, such names came up as a result of what they have passed through or experienced in life and came out successfully.
Other persons agree that it is permitted for any individual to answer or bear any kind of social name he or she chooses, be it good or bad, adding that it all depends on one’s choice. Whether to answer Ikuku (wind), Onwa (moon), Anyanwu (sun), or even Onwu (death) depends on individual choice .
Also Mr Ugochukwu Okoli, an Orumba North indigene, who goes by the social name ‘Aguidinanwa’, says, “there is no place by any law in lgboland that forbids anyone from answering any social name he or she chooses.
By the way, who will not like to be identified amidst others or don’t you know that any man without a social name is looked down upon or considered as an odd person during age grade, community or village square meetings and other community festivals, as well as in events where people are only addressed by their social name? It makes one proud.
“In fact, the day I made up my mind to take this name ‘Akuidinanwa’, was the very day I went for a new yam festival at Awgbu, Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State.I met people of various status. And I didn’t want to be humiliated again, just like the one I had in one certain function I attended.
I was looked down upon, no recognition, not minding that I was officially invited. All the VIP’s were given special attention because each one goes by his social name.
I became bitter. When the host caught sight of me, he ordered that they should usher me to the high table. I was called as an ordinary person. Notwithstanding my status, I felt very bad that day and decided to take a name fast. So, I started thinking of a name to answer so as not to be humiliated again.
It is not easy to make it in life after all sufferings. Those bearing title names or social names as you call it are not much better than i. So, after much consideration, I resolved to take Akuidinanwa as my social name. At least,to appreciate and give hope to my mother. Her sweat will never be in vain”, he concluded.
Ruby Okeke, alias Ezeoba of Mbaukwu gave his own view.” Ezeoba is a kind of social name. Why? My father was a farmer and has a very big yam barn that is up to 40 feet and eight feet wide. He was a big farmer when he was alive. So, people started calling him Ezeoba. Oba, in English is barn where yams are kept.
Social names have been there during the olden days because my great-grandfather had his own name as Agubanze. This name is not actually his real name. He was alone from his mother’s womb (the only child of his parent). Others were against him but he was strengthened enough to engage himself into farming on a very large scale.
He had so many live stocks like flocks of goat, sheep and so on. Others tried to suppress him because he was an only child of his parents. He was blessed enough with what he had, that he came up one day and took the name- Agubanze, meaning that he was a strong man. And if you count strong men around without including him, you are an enemy. Whenever, you hear such a name and its genesis, one will tighten up his belt to fight, otherwise, you will be messed up, ridiculed or taken as an animal or a fool”, he said.
Mr Arinze Okeke, an Ekwulobia indigene, who bears the title, Gburugburu , Mr Kenneth Obi, a native Agulu, known as Oba; Mr Obinna Nwandu of Agulu, addressed as Nwammiri; Mr Emeka Okpala of Nise, popularly known as Onwa, highlighted that,”majority of these title names people answer are not traditionally made but people feel like being addressed by it because it promotes one before others.”
Mrs Ujunwa Okeke, Record Nwanyi, of Nise, boasted that,” not only men has social names but women also do. Some are called Ijele because they are tall and fatty; Ugogbenwanyi, because of their beauty; Osodieme, because they help their husbands in carrying out certain functions; Stainless nwanyi, among others. These and more are all social names for women. So, it is not only men but women also have theirs”.

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