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18 Mar Written by  Kimberly Ward

What’s in a Name?

When I first came to Nigeria, many people would ask me what my name meant. I have no idea what Kimberly means, I suspect it doesn’t mean anything in particular. Just a name passed down through the annals of English history, like Hayley or Emma or George.

In Nigeria of course, names mean something, and are usually homage to the religion, culture, tradition or family norms of the family, proudly bestowed on the baby officially marked by a naming ceremony. But apart from language-based names, Nigerian parents often give their children English names that are still distinctly Nigerian.

 

Old-school names that ceased to be in vogue in the UK or America centuries ago like Ebenezer, Ethel or Edna, find their home in Nigeria. Shakespearean, Dickensian and Old Testament names like Hamlet, Abraham, Claudius and Cyprian are also found safe and sound here.

 

Not only that, but names expressing laudable characteristics and Christian faith, like Favour, Constance, Faithfulness, Godswill, Believe, Goodheart, and Miracle are widespread. I even watched two politicians named Experience and Epiphany being interviewed on TV one night.

 

I’ve also seen men named Clever, Famous and Prosper, and a girl called Happiness. And I met a restaurant waiter called Genesis, whom a customer joked was making him wait until Revelation before bringing his drinks.

 

But one name took the biscuit and surpassed them all; a name I thought was only ever given to one man in history, a name that is above all names. A baby boy, two years old, who was born on Christmas Day, was called Jesus.

 

And it wasn’t pronounced ‘Heysus’ like the Spanish do it, but J-E-S-U-S. When the baby was introduced to me, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be stunned. The funny thing is that no one actually called the baby by this most unique of names; people said “Awww, baby is so cute” or asked “where’s that fine baby boy?” Even the baby’s mother called him by a pet name. It’s like everyone subconsciously knew that you couldn’t go around calling a baby Jesus.

 

Practically speaking, some names are so completely identifiable to and wholly captured and occupied by their famous bearer, that to call anybody else by that name would be ridiculous. Like a girl called Beyonce, that’s not the ‘actual’ Beyonce. Forever the burden of her famous name will weigh on the child’s shoulders, with an unshakeable feeling of ‘my name belongs to someone else’ following her throughout her life.

 

But apart from receiving a name, I believe we can infuse one with meaning and associate characteristics to it, for instance, all Kemis are beautiful and all Michaels are generous. A name becomes what we make of it, and there are instances whereby someone decides to change their name mid-way through their life, and soon after begins to display a different personality and thinking in keeping with what they believe their new name signifies.

 

In the same vein, and in order to placate my questioners and adhere to the general tradition in Nigeria that names should mean something, I will henceforth state that my name means ‘Diamond,’ as in rare, strong and priceless, and that I was named after a great, ancient English Queen who later emigrated to South Africa and had a diamond mine named after her.

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