Saturday, August 25, 2012

Romantic Names in Nigerian Languages - Please Translate

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Some of you may remember this post on Nigerian love and romantic names that I did sometime ago. It remains quite popular through search and I get regular emails or comments on it. Once came in recently and she needs our help. I am out of my depth in Yoruba and even my Igbo has its limits. I know my treasure in Igbo is akum and my peace is udom, white flower would be ododo ocha. Over to you language experts :)

I love these commentaries. My grandmother used to sing to my little brother Ododo mi which means flower. Please can anyone translate fufu nene for me. It is in a Yoruba song. Also my heart in Yoruba is what? How can I say my pure blossom and Piercing eyes in Ibo. What about my treasure/ diadem, my peace, my white flower in both Yoruba and Ibo. Appreciate.


  1. The problem here is that you're assuming that words and ideas/images that are considered romantic in English are considered romantic in Igbo.

    They are not.

    Flowers are considered romantic in Anglo-European culture.

    In Igbo culture, flowers are not considered romantic.

    The heart is the key symbol of love in Anglo-European culture, whereas in Igbo culture, the seat of love is the stomach.

    This is where the name Afomma (meaning love - literally good stomach) comes from.

    Piercing eyes in Igbo = Anyaoku - a word that has a generally BAD connotation in Igbo.

    My point is, English and Igbo are not languages that can be or should be directly translated back and forth from.

    Just because something sounds romantic in English does not mean it is even remotely romantic in Igbo.

    Only Igbo people who have grown up steeped in Anglo-European culture think talking about flowers in Igbo is romantic.

    Granted, that includes the vast majority of Igbo people that live in cities but it still doesn't mean their ignorance of Igbo culture or symbolism is okay.

    1. Oh, and my treasure is Onam not Akum.

      Aku specifically refers to WEALTH as in wealth that a person has amassed or earned or inherited or whatever.

      Ona refers to precious metals and stones.

      e.g. Ona Edo (literally Yellow Precious Metal) = Gold.

      And My flower = Ododom not Ododo mi.

      Igbo people don't add Mi to show possession, only Yorubas do.

  2. Sorry for a third comment, but I wanted to suggest that rather than trying to get English romantic phrases translated to Igbo where they have little or no romantic significance in Igbo, the emailer should ask which concepts in Igbo are considered romantic and which phrases built around these concepts should I use.

    For example, most romantic phrases in Igbo are intensely sexual. Not only that, some Igbo phrases are set up in a way that is completely alien to English. Very often a romantic name that you call a woman is in this format:

    "She Does XYZ"

    or "He Does XYZ"

    You're not stating that the person does something, that whole sentence is ONE NAME that you're calling another person and depending on what that XYZ is in the statement, that name could be romantic or not.

    This is where titles of address like "Oliaku" (lit- She eats(spends) wealth) and Obiageli (lit- she came and will eat (spend) ) come from.

    so you've got things you can call people like "Odibeeze" (She is in the house of the king)

    or "Omalicha" (She is so beautiful) and so on.

    There are lots of ways of addressing people like this in Igbo, in a way it's similar to the Yoruba Oriki system, but invariably most of them begin with the word "O" which is He or She.

    So, you can call a man "Omalicha" which comes out to He is so handsome.

    The problem is that these days thanks to Anglo-European thinking, Igbo people THINK you can't use words like Amaka to refer to a man which is total bullshit.

    Igbo is a very gender neutral language and almost every word in Igbo is unisex in use.

    But in terms of romance, the three key ideas in Igbo that are considered "romantic" are Beauty (of both sexes), Sex, and Money/Wealth.

    Flowers and Music and Piercing Eyes unfortunately, are NOT romantic in Igbo.

    1. While I agree with some of your points and translations, I disagree that one cannot translate some English endearments to Igbo and still be romantic or loving. I think as long as the other person gets the connotation, then you're fine.

      There are English words for instance that are NOT romantic, and yet even anglo-european people use them either in private or public to refer endearingly to their partners. You know of dirty sex talk, or Kanye calling Kim his b-word?

      Also, if an Igbo person decides to name their son a more masculine name rather than gender-neutral name, or call their lovers that, then I think you, or any outsider, are the last people that should have issues with that. Let every Igbo make their choice on how to use their language please, I am no fan of a police mentality.

    2. I love how you are so knowledgeable about the igbo culture, Sugabelly.

    3. sugabelly needs to be appointed the CEO of an Institute of Igbo Culture and History. She is the when it comes to igbo culture.

    4. I could kiss you right now. Especially about gender neutrality in Igbo language/Culture. People don't just GET IT!

    5. Thanks for this Sugabelly, please (pretty pretty please) can you do a proper post on your blog examining Igbo ideas of love?

    6. @Myne Whitman: I think you misunderstood some parts of my comments.

      I did not say that you can't ATTEMPT to translate English romantic terms to Igbo, I said that even if you do, the translated word will not be romantic IN IGBO because the IDEAS that English people and Europeans consider to be romantic are not the same IDEAS that Igbo people consider to be romantic.

      And while it can be argued that a word like Bitch has no romantic connotation in English, it follows logically that an inclined couple might use bitch in the privacy of their bedroom because Bitch CERTAINLY has a SEXUAL connotation.

      However, even if you translated bitch to Igbo, because bitch has NEVER been associated with either romance or sex in the Igbo language, culture, and understanding, it just would not have the same effect.

      The effect that you could elicit from calling your sexual partner "Bitch" during sex would totally fall flat if you called her "Nwaanyi Nkita".

      It just wouldn't work.

      And this is PRECISELY what the phrase "Lost in Translation" describes.

      While the MEANING of the word Bitch can be carried over to Igbo, the FEELING or ATMOSPHERE surrounding the word when used in the context of love or sex can NEVER make the jump to Igbo consciousness.

      Furthermore, I did not imply that an Igbo person cannot or should not name their child whatever they like.

      I was simply pointing out that even though it is perfectly possible and grammatically and culturally correct to name a male child "Amaka", because of western socialisation that puts a strong emphasis on the separation of gender markers, modern Igbo people have now become RELUCTANT to give their children names that WHILE UNISEX have become ASSOCIATED with a certain gender whether male or female if the sex of the child conflicts with the gender association that the name has acquired.

      I'm not policing anybody.

      After all I know somebody that named their child "Majesty". Did I say anything to them?

      I just think that it's not the best scenario for the false idea that "Amaka" is "a girls' name" or "Emeka" is "a boys' name" to continue when clearly that is not the case.

    7. Great, I'm leaving yet another comment.

      I wanted to add that I do not have ANY problem with an Igbo parent deciding to give an Igbo male child a masculine name.

      The "problem" as it were is that 99% of all Igbo names are UNISEX.

      In fact, the total number of gender specific Igbo names is VERY VERY SMALL.

      Igbo gender specific names are invariably names that start with or include one or more of the following words:

      Oko (male), Mgbo (female), Nne (Mother), Nna(Father), Ada (First Daughter - when used in names except Ada means "daughter" generically) or Di (Person who is skilled or a master of something - but when used in names also acts as a Masculizing particle)

      From Oko and Mgbo you get your Week Day names.

      From the Igbo week which is made up of four days- Eke, Oye, Afo, Nkwo.

      Combining Oko and Mgbo with the days of the week gives you the following GENDER SPECIFIC names:

      Oko + Oye/Orie = Okorie, Okolie, Okoye (Male born on Orie/Oye day)

      Mgbo + Oye/Orie = Mgborie, Mgboye (Female born on Orie/Oye day - now a very rare name)

      Oko + Eke = Okeke (Male born on Eke day) - A VERY common name

      Mgbo + Eke = Mgbeke (Female born on Eke day) - This name for girls has now evolved into an insult or a name for a tacky low class girl

      Oko + Afo = Okafo/Okafor (Male born on Afo day)- Again very common

      Mgbo + Afo = Mgbafo (Female born on Afo day ) - Now very rare

      Oko + Nkwo = Okonkwo (Male born on Nkwo day) - very common name

      Mgbo + Nkwo = Mgbonkwo (Female born on Nkwo day ) - Now pretty rare

      Of course there are other combinations with Oko and Mgbo that create gender specific names such as Okoani (Oko + Ani) = Male of the Earth, or Male of the land, or Male from Ani (the Earth goddess), etc.

      Combinations that use Nne (mother) and Nna (father) to form gender specific names include:

      Nnamdi (Nna M Di = My father Is (as in exists, as in lives again) - A VERY common name

      Nnedi (Mother is ) - not as common as Nnamdi

      Nnaemeka (Nna + Emeka) - Father has achieved so much / Father has done so much

      Uchenna, etc

      Nneamaka (Nne + Amaka) - Mother is so beautiful

      Combinations that use Ada (daughter) and Di (Male particle) include

      Adanna (father's daughter),

      Dike (lit: Master of strength aka Great warrior or great strong man)

      And so on.

      These sorts of names are the only gender specific names in Igbo.

      Every other name, no matter how "feminine" sounding or "masculine" sounding is a unisex name.

      An Igbo boy can be Ngozi, Amaka, Chiamaka, Onyinye, Ebele, etc

      An Igbo girl can be Emeka, Chinedu, Chidi, Tochukwu, etc

      All these are unisex names but thanks to western influence modern day Nigerians have been subconsciously encouraged to consider some of these names masculine and others feminine when really they are not.

    8. I'm totally with you on the unisex nature of most Igbo names, funny enough, I was explaining that to Atala just the other day.

      I would love to read more on the topic of Igbo culture of love and romantic endearments if you would write a post on that. Afooma as far as I know is Goodwill and speaks to agape/filial love than the erotic.

      Nkita nwanyi got me laughing. Agu nwanyi is more used I think. But maybe my Igbo neighbour calls her man nkita in bed, what do I know, LOL...

    9. i think the same thing applies to yoruba names - most are unisex but thanks to maybe westernization, we make distinctions. of course, Akin in a first name is masculine because women don't have the attributes of an akin/warrior. And also names like aduke, ayinke, apeke etc speak of a femininity that men wouldnt want to be associated with. but for most other names, they are unisex. most yoruba names refer to an incident surrounding or familial traits or a prayer or in most cases an appreciation of God - applicable to both sexes.

    10. Nwaanyi Nkita and Agu nwanyi might be incorrect. In terms of 'Oke na Nwunye' (male and female) I reckon the proper term would be 'Nwunye Nkita'?

      Agu nwanyi is when leonine properties are ascribed to a person. I think 'Odum' might be lioness.

    11. @igbophilia: Nwunye Nkita is wrong. And Oke na Nwunye is a figurative expression. It's not meant to be taken literally.

      Igbo animals are classified into male and female in two ways. By adding Nwaanyi - woman before the animal to make it female such as in

      Nkita (dog) and Nwaanyi Nkita (bitch)
      Agu (leopard) and Nwaanyi Agu ( leopardess )

    12. The second way is to add Nwunye - wife before the animal to make it female, such as in

      Okuko (chicken) and Nwunye Okuko ( hen )

      Most Igbo adjectives come AFTER the noun being described but these are exceptional examples where the adjective comes BEFORE the noun being described.

      Take Nwunye Okuko for example.

      Nwunye Okuko = Hen


      Okuko Nwunye = The wife's chicken

      You're partially right but Agu Nwaanyi is when LEOPARD-like qualities are ascribed to a woman not Leoine qualities.

      Many Igbo people keep making the mistake of believing Agu means Lion when it actually means Leopard. I'm not sure how this trend began.

      Either way in Igbo culture, LEOPARDS are considered fierce and symbols of bravery and strength not Lions. That's why there's so much reference to Agu in Igbo and very little reference to Odum or Agaba ( both mean Lion )

    13. Huh. Which might go some way to explain why there are a lot of instances of Leopards in Igboid cultures - Leopard secret societies and suchlike. Also explains 'The Bottled Leopard' and why it was not 'The Bottled Lion'.

      I never thought about it that way, I suppose the info just occupied a certain part of my brain.

      It might be down to westernization after all, this obsession we have with Lions. Like 'Lions are the king of the jungle' so it obliterated the more popular Leopard in Igbo culture.

      Ugh. I am disgusted with my lack of knowledge. Thank you so much. This has been enlightening - and humbling!

    14. OK, I just realised you said all that in two sentences. Ugh. Disgusted myself again.

  3. Very eye opening sugar belly...

  4. I really learned a lot and thank you for broadening my awareness.

  5. Hi Myne,
    In Yoruba, "funfun nene" means "pure white", my heart is "okan mi", my treasure, "Dukia mi", my peace - "alaafia mi",but most people would say "idunnu mi" or "ayo mi" which both mean my joy instead of "alaafia mi". My white flower is "ododo funfun mi". Like Sugabelly said, 'mi' is the possessive adjective (first person singular, so you basically add it after the noun you'd like to qualify)in Yoruba.

    1. Thank you so much, Feyvonne. I knew black was dudu but not white :) So ododo is flower in Yoruba too? Interesting.

    2. I agree with Feyvonne but I believe that "Idunnu mi" is more my happiness than my joy. There is also "onitemi" that can be translated to mean "my own or mine". Piercing eyes in Yoruba - "eleyinju ege".

    3. eleyinju ege refers more to the eyeballs - more like delicate eyes. you know, the type that flutter and speak volumes

    4. funfun nene is mostly used idiomatically. owo mi ma re funfun nene = see my pure white hands.

      of course the person is not referring to the color of the hands but a pure & clear motive or a free conscience or innocence etc.

    5. Eleyinju ege is more 'sexy eyes' than 'piercing eyes'. But I think that's the only endearment that applies to eyes in Yoruba language (the others that I can think of are insults. lol)therefore, I believe, it can apply across the board.

  6. You're most welcome Myne. Yes, flower is ododo in Yoruba. @Bimmby, actually, "idunnu mi" is my joy- deeper than happiness (in Yoruba, as my dad would say). "Ayo mi" is my happiness ;)

    1. I think idunnu is happiness and ayo is joy. Maybe they are interchangeable though. Interesting debate. A Yoruba language expert should shed some light on this one. Would like to know which is which.

    2. idunnu mi is something that makes my heart joyous. adun + inu = sweetness of the inside ....... it's more joy than happiness. much deeper.

      your yoruba expert would be samuel ajayi crowther. check out his translation of the bible .... compare translations of happiness and joy.

    3. Idunnu is innate happiness. When you say 'inu mi dun' which is the break down of idunnu, the literal translation is my inside/belly is sweet. So you are saying how innately happy you are. Ayo is joy. You derive happiness from something that makes you joyous and vice versa. Though they denote basically the same thing, in terms of usage they are used differently. Ayo and Idunnu are now used contextually as names. It is rare for people to say 'Mo l'ayo' which means I have joy or 'idunnu'. But people say 'inu mi dun'about most things that give them joy or make them happy. Not a Yoruba expert but I hope this clarifies a bit.

  7. Afomma is a very general type of love. It's the kind of love you'd have with your family, your friends, an animal (a pet), your society, your country, your school, etc.

    So Afooma can generally be translated as Love, Harmony, Goodwill, Concord, etc

    Ifunanya is a specific kind of love, the love that exists between lovers/people in some sort of (presumably romantic) relationship.

  8. wow sugabelly...i am impressed! How did you learn so much about igbo culture? My parents would be so proud of you.

  9. Sugabelly is schooling big time up in here. You definitely need more room for expression, please do a post on this issue. I have become so knowledgeable on the igbo culture since I started reading your blog...and I'm Yoruba. That's what's up!
    Myne, this has been a very interesting conversation.

  10. Ndeewo nu (Hello everyone).. Just popped in to add my 0.02 - Thanks to Chikodili for inviting me. Igbo is a very descriptive language and people tend to use aspects of one thing to describe another.
    As an aside - Afo oma is Goodwill , not really defined acurately as general love - sort of Friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude.

    Ndi Igbo (Igbo people) believe in title or nick names - no matter the person's age
    Words that can and have been used in a romantic context are :
    Enenebe eje olu ( The one that people look at and then forget to go to work)
    Asa (beautiful) or Asa mpete (extremely beautiful)
    Mma n'ese okwu (beauty that causes commotion)
    agbo mma (Fountain of beauty)
    Ijele (Tall and stately )
    Aru mma (Body of beauty)
    Aru or ahu pokopoko (supple body / skin)
    elewe ukwu (elewe ukwu , egbuo ewu)- (just by looking at the hips, you'll just start making marriage preparations (killing a goat).)- This is used to describe a girl with bouncy / killer hips.

    Tomato Jos (Jos is a place in Nigeria that is known for producing lovely and juicy tomatoes with smooth skin)
    There are so many more - will come back later - need to catch 40 winks now ...

  11. @sugarbelly....very interesting

  12. I love Sugabelly's knowledge on these issues. @Sugabelly,you should totally post on this.

  13. Hi Myne, you may also consider the following words of endearment in Yoruba.
    Ayonfe/Ayanfe - Beloved
    Aduke - A term of endearment used for women meaning literarily people falling over themselves to care for/treasure/cherish you
    Akanni - not sure. Hope someone can explain this.
    Olowo Ori Mi - Means somethng good but cant explain the literal meaning.
    Okunri Meta: a brave one/a man that is as strong as 3 men altogether used also in an intimate atmosphere connoting a man with great sexual prowess like that of three strong men together.
    There are some other great and very rich yoruba words of endearment, going out of use, with the older generations probably.

  14. OME- means my own in Urhobo language

  15. Hello,
    Thank you for all the words - my partner of 17 months is Nigerian and I notice the differences in communication... I am a black woman from down under... I've really enjoyed learning about him - and myself - he's been making lots of considerations for me and I can now see how hard things must be with me.. Interesting -
    Appreciate it....

  16. I know I'm late to this post. Indeed I just leårnt about the site after readimg 'a heart to mend'. The word 'ihunanya' expresses more of love than 'afoma'. The latter, just as observed, connotes goodwill just as 'bad bele' would mean badwill or ill-will. But then, let's use more of our native language. It seems English is more appetizing than, say Igbo. One can really our natives more attractive.

  17. I know I'm late to this post. Indeed I just leårnt about the site after readimg 'a heart to mend'. The word 'ihunanya' expresses more of love than 'afoma'. The latter, just as observed, connotes goodwill just as 'bad bele' would mean badwill or ill-will. But then, let's use more of our native language. It seems English is more appetizing than, say Igbo. One can really our natives more attractive.

  18. I know I'm late to this post. Indeed I just leårnt about the site after readimg 'a heart to mend'. The word 'ihunanya' expresses more of love than 'afoma'. The latter, just as observed, connotes goodwill just as 'bad bele' would mean badwill or ill-will. But then, let's use more of our native language. It seems English is more appetizing than, say Igbo. One can really our natives more attractive.

  19. thnks to Flavour and co, one can now literally translate for eg hot baby is baby oku. other names iclude ife nkili( a sight to behold), omuma awu aru(used to refer to a natural beauty), olu gbajie boys (boys will break their necks while gawking at the girl), akwa nwa(fragile beauty), etc

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  22. Wonderful post.... Akum in the romantic version could also be interpreted as my treasure.

  23. I think is a great place to add more Igbo words to our memories! 😂
    This is such a wonderful post


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