Some weeks ago, I saw a tweet saying, “Every new baby boy these days is named Jidenna, and every girl is Tiaraoluwa. Can’t you people be more creative?” I scrolled past the tweet, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a bit. I mean, my son’s name is Jidenna. I love it, and it had nothing to do with my lack of creativity — at least I don’t think so.
But it wasn’t the first time I was hearing the comment. Our family friend once said something similar, saying while he wasn’t sure about our son’s middle name, he knew the first name was Jidenna because all the baby boys around these days were Jidenna.
So are all the baby boys around us really Jidenna — and is this such a big deal? Off the top of my head, I know 5 baby boys born to Igbo-affiliated parents in the last 30 months with this name. Frankly, though, we didn’t actually know anyone — in real life — with this name when we settled on it. But shortly before, and right after, several birth announcements popped up on social with boys named Jidenna.
Why the tilt to this name? It’s simple, I think. There’s a well-liked Nigerian musician who’s become increasingly popular — and just happens to be named Jidenna. It was a seemingly unique name not many had heard, and for Igbo boy names which can be arguably difficult to settle on, it was a welcome development.
But obviously, it isn’t simply because the name Jidenna is shared by a musician that parents have rushed to christen their newborn sons similarly. I’d like to think that for most parents, there was a deeper meaning and thought process.
The name Jidenna literally means “Hold the Father.” In many cases, “Nna” is taken by Igbo Christians to also refer to God. For us, then, there was this Christian connotation of holding on to God — which we liked.
So we liked the meaning, check. We also wanted a simple name; one we could use without shortening and that everyone could hopefully pronounce. More importantly, my husband had to be able to pronounce and be comfortable with our chosen name. As you know, he’s Yoruba, but he was keen and insistent on Igbo first names — after all, the kids would have his Yoruba last name.
“Jidenna” ticked all the boxes for us. Still, it wasn’t an easy decision because we’d shortlisted a handful of names. It was also more difficult since we had picked many girl names, convinced we’d be having a girl.
So how did our expectations compare to reality? Not great, I tell you.
First, at his naming ceremony a few people were visibly shocked that he had an Igbo first name. And I honestly held in my chuckle at their attempt to hide this fact and pronounce it correctly. I’m personally not fussed about the pronunciation struggle. It’s an ethnic ability. Some members of my Igbo family, for example, can’t correctly pronounce my son’s Yoruba middle name with the right tones.
Things got more interesting when third parties heard of his name. Many of them expressed concern. A distant aunt suggested that I consider changing the name so as not to upset Tola’s family members. She didn’t say much else after I told her kindly that my husband had selected the name.
Another of Tola’s acquaintances asked if he was really fine with his son having a name from his wife’s side. That bothered me quite a bit because if it were an English name, such a question would not have arisen. Then there were those who immediately shortened it to JJ, Jay, JD
But with all the naming fuss, it was hard not to wonder — how do people typically pick their
Is leaning towards a particular name at a certain time a new phenomenon? I actually don’t think so. Perhaps I’m an example myself. I’ve mentioned before that my friend and I have the same first and middle names. And it may be a stretch, but at that
My middle name, Jennifer was commonplace in 80’s Nigeria — just like at the peak of Sade Adu’s career, many Yoruba girls were named Sade. You may not know this, but Michael was a popular name in the
It’s only normal that in naming their kids, humans are influenced to some extent by popular culture. Since Sisi Yemmie, a popular Nigerian influencer, recently named her daughter Tiaraoluwa, it appears even more have decided on the name for their girls as well, and on the flip side Alexa recently dropped down the list of popular girl names — no thanks to Amazon’s little device! People care how popular names are and why they’re popular. Little wonder many pregnancy websites have blog posts like “30 popular names for boys and girls in 2019.”
So how do parents pick names? It’s not a snap decision and people’s motivations vary. Let’s have a look at a few of the 8 mums of boys we’ve featured. Anuli mentioned she settled on Nnakere after a difficult pregnancy. Bunmi said her first son Tese’s name was revealed in a dream, and for Osemhen, for her first kid they had to almost vote while she was in
Besides reaching for deep meaning, it’s hard to deny the role aesthetics play in child-naming. People want their kids to like their names, and also not have names that make easy targets for bullies. My colleague said he even considered how the initials sounded before picking a name. I also know many families who want some kind of synergy in the kids names and so intentionally pick names beginning with the same letter or ending in the same suffix. Ikenna and Ijenna, Toni and Tami, for example.
With more Nigerians migrating, some people understandably want names that are easy to pronounce. That argument is for another day. Others, on the other hand, like deep Igbo names — often full-on sentences. My friend is one of such people. Her husband, though? Not so much. I’m curious to see what they settle for.
For couples from different ethnic groups, there can be an extra layer of difficulty. In her inter-ethnic marriage feature, Yewande mentioned that for peace sake, she’d give her kids English names rather than Yoruba or Efik where her husband is from. Her baby girl was beautifully named Olivia Grace. Similarly, Louisa, a Ugandan married to a Yoruba man had to go through a number of Yoruba names to find one she could pronounce with her British accent.
So are names such a big deal? I think so. It’s an
But again, a name is not a permanent irreversible thing. If for any reason Jidenna is not a fan of his name and wishes to go by his middle name or any other name, I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. His dad, afterall, doesn’t even care much for his own middle name; my teasing use of the name never fails to elicit an eyeroll. Likewise, his uncle — my husband’s brother — changed his actual name when he was just about 8 because he bore the same name as a “rough looking” neighbour he didn’t like — or so I hear. And who am I to speak? I’m not a fan of my middle name either.
For now, though, I actually enjoy hearing people call him different variations of his name. I know all of them come from a place of love and that’s what matters most.
I’m very curious to hear: how did you pick your kids’ names and why? Did your parents or someone else pick the names? Is there a story behind your own name, and have you changed it? Do you already have names for your kids? Lots of questions — please share.