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.

black mother and child sit by window

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 and Jide. We’re not fans of the latter for the precise reason that there’s a similar Yoruba name. Interestingly, many people assumed that’s why we had settled on this name as it could be twisted to suit either ethnic groups. But rather surprisingly, white people had no difficulty pronouncing it; it rolled off their tongues quite easily.

But with all the naming fuss, it was hard not to wonder — how do people typically pick their kids names?

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 name Onyekachi was a rather popular Igbo name for girls — perhaps inspired by the popular Onyeka Onwenu. (But please do not call me Onyeka.)

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 MIchael Jackson era. Another example? The number of Igbo baby boys named Naeto grew exponentially when Nigerian musician NaetoC exploded onto the music scene.

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 labour, because the name had to go on the birth certificate ASAP! Tega chose a Finnish name for her second boy because she liked the meaning. Ify, mum to five, mentioned that she googles to find names she likes — from Hebrew to Greek.

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 honour to name a child, but names could be instrumental to a child’s life. I love my son’s name and my anchor scripture for choosing this name was John 15:16 which says “Abide in me and I in you. Cut out from me, you can do nothing.” When I call his name in full I often (okay, only sometimes) say a prayer than he holds on to God and honestly, to his earthly father as well. I pray they have a strong bond and that he has both his heavenly father’s heart and his earthly father’s heart (the wonderful bits of the latter anyway — which truly, is quite impressive).

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.

Read more: Teaching kids about failure and 9 mummy bloggers on how they knew they were ready to have kids.


14 COMMENTS

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14 Comments

  1. Yvonne Kimata

    September 5, 2019 at 12:30

    My name is Yvonne,I was given this name by my uncle so recently i asked him why he named me that he said he wanted a unique name for me because there is no one like me in this world which i found to be very sweet.

    Reply
    • Nzubechukwu Okoye

      September 12, 2019 at 12:00

      My name Nzubechukwu means God’s plan/will. I think they choose it after the birth of yet another girl, they resigned themselves to the will of God. Luckily for them, a boy came after me.
      Do you remember the chimamanda era, literally every girl child was named after CNA.

      Reply
  2. Atinuke

    September 5, 2019 at 13:20

    My name is Atinuke which means “pampered from The womb”, it’s a very sweet name but sometimes I wonder why I Wasn’t given a prophetic name, especially one which translates to “wealth”. Hehehe.
    Honestly, when I heard about Jidenna as the name you chose, I was more curious about its meaning and it has such a beautiful one! Families and the way they think things should be done ehn.
    For me, I’m one of those people who would choose names that begin with the same letter for my children. To know how serious I am, I have 3 names that start with the letter “D” and guess what? They are unisex. *Winks

    Reply
  3. Chiemela

    September 5, 2019 at 13:53

    Kachi, this article got me re-affirming some thoughts I already decided on. My name is Chiemela meaning “God has done well” and I’m absolutely in love with it. My parents did a great job with our names, I’m grateful to them for that. I have a nickname my siblings gave me but I still prefer to introduce myself as Chiemela and it’s an absolute joy when people pronounce it rightly. I’ve always seen Jidenna as a Special name and I still wonder how people say it’s common because I’ve only heard of the Nigerian Singer and your son.
    I believe as Africans, naming our children is a big deal and no one jusy picks a name casually. Even when I hear some names and it makes me cringe, I remember the parents must have taken a deep thought and the experience surrounding the child’s birth is a huge factor, so we all should respect that and not help rename the child.
    I already have some sweet names for my children, they’d definitely love it. Welldone Kachi.

    Reply
  4. Abby

    September 5, 2019 at 16:39

    Interesting how there’s a name trend but your Jidenna is the only one I know.
    Maybe cos I don’t have a lot of newborns in my immediate circle yet!

    Reply
  5. Femi Luwa

    September 6, 2019 at 15:17

    This was such an interesting read, Kachi!

    I absolutely love my full name – Oluwafemi which means “God loves me”. I’m not sure how my parents decided on it but I often joke that they were looking for a boy (I’m the 5th of 6 girls) and when they didn’t get one they decided on Oluwafemi, which is more commonly associated with Nigerian boys.

    If I had to pick a name for a child, it would be something meaningful, which would also serve as a positive confession into the life of the child. If it happens to be a trendy name at the time, so be it.

    I think Jidenna is a beautiful name, with a beautiful meaning! And I don’t know anyone else by that name apart from the rapper.

    Reply
  6. Yevandy

    September 7, 2019 at 05:15

    The person that composed that tweet in your first paragraph is just a “bad belle”.. I dont know any Jidennas apart from the musician and your son and it is such a beautiful name!
    I honestly thought you and your husband chose it because it could pass for both a Yoruba and Igbo name which seemed like an amazing idea to me!! Just like names like Kanye (AdeKanye and Kanyechukwu) ..
    I actually changed my name from Toluwani to Yewande after university for 2 reasons
    1) Yewande is not as common as Tolu.
    2) Someone forgot to include Toluwani on my international passport and its a hassle to change anything in Nigeria.

    Reply
  7. Aisha

    September 11, 2019 at 16:34

    Lol tbh I only know of your son and the artist bearing Jidenna. However, my sister also mentioned there’s been a trend with those two names in particular but its not such a big deal. Let people name their kids what they want provided they’re sure of the meanings. My sister actually used to be called Yetunde as a child and somehow there was a switch to calling her Simisola. Not sure why or what happened cos I was still pretty young too but it was a good idea by my parents now that I think about it. Sometimes, I wanna change the spelling of my name (I love my names actually) but it’s such a hassle going through all that especially with official documents. I’m still thinking about it tho. Love this.

    Reply
  8. Berry Dakara

    September 18, 2019 at 19:42

    Ha! Watch out for my upcoming “What’s in a Name” episode on the Mommy Oyoyo Podcast.

    Expo: My real first name was popular in the early 1980’s. But I heard from God in 2016 a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant, why He put the name on my parents hearts. And the name ties into my daughter’s name too! He orchestrated them before we were born.

    Enough expo!

    And I had heard of Jidenna before the artist became popular and always really liked it.

    As far as your son having a first Igbo name when his father is Yoruba, anybody that objects can have several stadiums of seats. If I had really thought about it properly, my daughter’s first middle name (she has 3) would have been her Ogoni name.

    Reply
  9. Jidenna's Uncle

    February 13, 2020 at 16:33

    I wish changing name as an adult is an easy as it was at 8. I still have a name that’s essentially a burden today. I have to keep telling people to ignore it.

    Reply
    • Kachi Tila-Adesina

      February 18, 2020 at 13:36

      😅😅😅 it’s actually pretty easy. You just have to swear an affidavit and boom, it’s done (kinda!).

      Reply
  10. Anwuli

    February 13, 2020 at 16:47

    Yes names are important and a lot of factors should be considered when picking names
    In super grateful I have an easy name, joy. Easy to spell and pronounce, this came in handy when j travelled for school. Everyone could call me.
    However, I personally call my self Anwuli, just to give my self a cultural blend. I don’t really like my middle name, even though my mum loves it

    Reply
    • Kachi Tila-Adesina

      February 18, 2020 at 13:35

      Hahaha! So people called you the English version of your name. I guess that makes sense. It’s a lovely name too!

      Reply
  11. Collins Michael

    June 3, 2020 at 09:11

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information online. I really enjoyed reading through. I know they are some rare and nice Igbo names

    Reply

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