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Posted by Edonaze on May 22, 2011 at 5:09 PM







This study examines E=do personal names as they manifest in the culture, and

relates them either directly or by extended interpretation to the World – view of both the

ancient and the contemporary E=do psyche. The argument is that these names are used to

affirm certain aspects of E=do culture.

Our study reveals that there are common onomastic factors which underlie the

naming of children in the E=do society. The first section of the paper gives the

introductory background of the E=do people, as well as, the background to the E=do naming


The second section is the main body of the paper. It deals with the sociocultural

significance of E=do names. In this section, names are classified and discussed according

to the socio- cultural beliefs such names reveal. Also, in order to reveal the meanings of

the names examined, each name is broken into its constituent morphological parts.

The last section is the conclusion to our study. The main thesis of this study is

that deductions can be made as to the nature of the socio-cultural patterns in a society

1 Published in New Perspectives in Edoid Studies: Essays in Honour of Ronald Peter Schaefer. Ohioma

I.Pogosan and Francis O. Egbokhare (eds). The Center for Advanced Studies of African Society, Book

series no 20. (Year 2002).

based on examination of the meanings embodied in the naming system of that society.


In traditional African societies, personal names are not just arbitrarily

concantenated words but rather words that reflect the World-view of the people. World

view is defined in this paper as ‘ the beliefs and thoughts (conceptions, ideas, opinions)

about the world and human life within the world’. E=do personal names express such

beliefs and thoughts of E=do people. Consequently, the utterance by a shakespearean

character to the effect that ‘there is nothing in a name’ is a false expression in the African

context, especially in the E=do culture. The E=do people attach great significance to the

meaning of names as it is believed that the name given to an individual will determine his

fate. This is reflected in the E=do proverb ‘Eke ne a he eni ghe e=re eni la ghe’ (a person is

a reflection of his / her name).

Naming, therefore, is a carefully planned event. The choice of a name for a child,

a prospective title – taking initiate, a new bride etc, is a very careful exercise which

indeed require some divination.


1.1.1: THE NAME E=DO

The name E=do which is used to refer to the language and the people ,is believed

to have been the name of the headslave of Ogiefa, a man who lived in the time of O=ba

E=wuare (1440 – 73). The slave saved the O=ba (before his ascension to the throne) from a

murder plot by some elders of the Benin Empire. After the death of this slave, the land

was named E=do in his honour by O=ba E=wuare.

The term E=do was later used by scholars to encompass the E=do group of

languages. To disambiguate the above use of the term, Elugbe (1979: 98) suggested that

the term Edoid be used to refer to the E=do group which included peoples who did not

claim any right to the name E=do.

Elugbe (1979) classified E=do language as belonging to the Proto North – Central

Edoid group.The Edoid language group along side other Nigerian Languages like:

Yoruba, Igbo, Nupe etc belong to the kwa branch of the Niger – Congo family tree

(Greenberg 1966).


According to Elugbe (1979:90), there are four main traditions of origin:

autochtony; Benin Origin; Ife origin; and origin in an Edoid area other than Benin.


The E=do people occupy seven local government areas of E=do State in Nigeria,

namely; Ore=do, O=via North – East, O=via South – West, Orhio=nmwo=n, Uhunmwonde=,

Ego=r and Ikpoba – O=kha. The area lies between latitude 60 120 N and longitude 50 450 E.

It is about 90 kilometers inland from the South of the Benue river which flows into the

Gulf of Guinea. To the East and North – East of this area are the Igbos, to the South are

the Ijaws, Urhobos and Itsekiris, and to the North and West the Yorubas. The 1991

census gave the population of these people as about a million and a half.

1.1.4: CULTURE

The E=do people are rich in culture and tradition. They are best known however as

being a center for Arts and crafts. Their works in bronze, brass, carvings and terra – cotta

are renowned Worldwide.


The names given to a child distinguishes the infant socially and incorporates it

fully into the wider society (Ryan 1981: 140). The E=do naming ceremony (Izo=mo= ‘Act of

choosing a child’) takes place seven days after birth for healthy children and fourteen

days for sickly ones.

The naming ceremony not only separates the infant from the spirit world, but also

initiates him into the physical world of human existence. This is attributed to the fact that

the naming of a child is seen as the uniting of an individual with the universe and society.

A sickly child is watched by the parents for fourteen days. During this period, a

temporary reference such as Umwe=ni which means ‘ you do not have a name’ might be

given to the child. If the child is ill for a long time, the name might be adopted. A sickly

child that recovers after the stipulated period, is then given an identity and incorporated

into society through the naming ceremony. This is because once a child is name, he / she

is believed to desire life. Guemple (1965 : 324) reports the same experience for the

Eskimo people, where the conferral of a name may be delayed a few days to ascertain if

the child will life.

Child naming is a joyous occasion among the E=do people because children are

regarded as wealth and as instruments of lineage continuity. The parents, O=ka – e=gbe=e

(head of extended family), e=gbe=e (members of immediate and extended family) as well as

friends and well--wishers are usually present at the occasion. During the ceremony, the

ancestral spirits are invoked for blessings. The items used include: coconut (which

represents wealth that the child will bring to the family – coconut was an important item

of trade brought by the Portuguese to the Benin Empire), orhue ( white chalk – which

symbolizes purity and happiness), native gin and colanuts (used for invoking ancestral

blessings for the child), honey (which symbolizes the sweetness of life), and alligator

pepper ( which symbolizes the bitter side of life).

The parents of the child are the principal actors. The name they give is generally

the identity the child grows with. Before the actual name is given however, seven

different animal names are given to the child to deceive evil forces present and distract

their attention from the actual name. Although other people present equally give their

preferred names, the parents are not necessarily bound to adopt them. Sometimes,

however, such names may be adopted to please some members of the family.


In a study of this nature, there are two approaches to attempting interpretations of

names. One is to base such interpretations on the knowledge already available to us as to

the nature of socio-cultural patterns and norms in E=do culture. The other is to attempt to

make deductions as to that nature, on the basis of the meanings embodied in the names

examined. The second approach is more valid in so far as it gives some degree of

autonomy to onomastics as a scholarship. In other words, an attempt to speculate on the

nature of socio-cultural norms and practices on the basis of these names would suggest

that names alone could be reliable empirical evidence on which some hypothesis may be

formulated. Consequently, while we attempt to discuss these names as if they possess

sufficient evidence upon which we can arrive at independent conclusions, we will

occasionally have to rely on some other E=do traditional belief systems as collaborative


Below are some of the major factors that govern naming in E=do. E=do personal

names could be classified under the following groupings:

A Names depicting beliefs

B Names depicting the concept of the World and the Edo Kingdom

C Names depicting E=do Kinship system

D Names depicting ethical and social values

E Names depicting events / circumstances at birth.


2.1.1: Belief in Destiny

The E=dos believe that every living person has an E=hi (guardian angel) which has

the dual function of being one’s destiny as well as a counterpart and guide in the spirit

world (E=rinmwin). According to Bradbruy (1973: 262), O=mwan (the living person) and

E=hi are the two halves of a single being ---- before birth each individual is believed to

predestine himself (hi) by making a statement before Osanobua, the Creator, setting out a

life programme and asking for all that will be needed to carry it out successfully.

The following names reflect this belief:

1. E=hio=su:

E=hi + o= + su

(Guardian pronoun to guideSpirit)

‘It is the guardian spirit that guides’

2. Aize=hino=mo=:

A + i + ze= + e=hi + ne + o=mo=

{Impersonal {negative choose {guardian for child

Pronoun} marker} spirit}

‘A child’s destiny is not chosen by the parents’

3. E=himwe=nma:

E=hi + mwe=n + maa

{Guardian my good


‘My guardian spirit is good’

4. Aisagbo=nbuo=mwan:

A + i + se= + agbo=n + bu +o=mwa

{Impersonal {negative reach world determine person

Pronoun} marker}

‘One’s destiny is not determined in the world’

The names above are given to re-affirm the belief that one’s sojourn on earth is

predetermined. Also, in giving such names, the giver has the hope that the E=hi of the

child so named, will be benevolent.

2.1.2: Belief in Re – incarnation:

The E=dos believe in two types of re-incarnation: Ancestral reincarnation and

infantile re-incarnation. While ancestral re-incarnation is desired infantile re-incarnation

is regarded as an abomination.

Names like 5 and 6 below reflect the belief in ancestral reincarnation.

5. Iye:


6. Iyorre:

I + yo + rre

I go come

‘I have gone and come’

These names are given to children who are believed to be re incarnation of some dead

member of the family. The E=do belief that the dead is survived by children, in a way, is a

manifestation of the doctrine of transmigration of souls.

E=do cosmogony identifies three categories of persons: The Igbakhuan (the

elementals), the Emwanagbo=n (the human beings) and the Okpemwan (the super –

human beings).

The Igbakhuan represent the focal point in reincarnation: their life span is short.

The term Igbakhuan (synonymous with the Yoruba term, Abiku) refers to someone who

is “predestined to a continual cycle of birth, death and re – birth”. (Akinnaso 1981: 55).

Children born under these circumstances bear names to that effect:

7. Gumwe=ndia:

Gu + mwe=n + dia

With me stay

‘Remain with me’

8. Onaiwu:

Ona + i + wu

This {negative die


‘This one won’t die’

9. So=narae:

Se= + o=na + rae

Reach This one ?

‘leave this one behind’

These names are pleas to the Igbakhuan child by the parents to reside long in the human

world. They are wishes for long life.

The Emwanagbo=n also re-incarnate, their life span is much longer than that of the

Igbakhuan. It takes them a longer time to re-incarnate between deaths. Besides, in E=do

cosmogony there is an upward movement of souls in terms of graduation from one

category to another. The Emwanagbo=n after fourteen re – incarnations get absorbed into

the realm of okpemwan spritually, if they are found worthy. At this stage, they cease to

re-incarnate as humans. The Okpemwan are one step above the Emwanagbo=n. Oral

tradition has it that once the Emwanagbo=n transform into Okpemwan, they remain in the

astral world as sub-gods until such a time that condit ions favour their incarnation for the

first time as Okpemwan. People in this realm are the Obas and men who perform heroic

deeds while on earth. Such persons are believed to have the power of protection against

all evil, hence names like:

10. Igbinado=lo:

I + gbinna + Ado=lo

I {to seek Ado=lo


‘I seek the protection of Oba Ado=lo’

11. Igbine=we=ka:

I + gbinna + E=we=ka

I (to seek) E=we=ka


‘I seek the protection of O=ba E=weka’

2.1.3: Religious Belief

Names in this category capture the African notion of cause. The modus –

operandi of the universe is attributed to spiritual agencies. These agencies are credited

with causing disturbances in everyday experiences as well being responsible for any

misfortunes or illnessess.

E=do every day experience can be explained in terms of one main force – the

E=rinmwin (Astral forces). The E=rinmwin are believed to have a high spiritual excellence

of the soul. This is reflected in the following name:

12. E=rinwingbo=vo:

E=rinmwin + i + gbe + o=vo

{Spiritual {negative to do envy

Beings} maker}

‘The spirit beings are not envious of humans’

Osanobua , {osa ne o= bu uwa}

‘God’ { God that Pron establish wealth}, is believed to be the highest of

the astral beings and the creator of all living things, hence names like:

13. Osaro=dio=n:

Osa + re + o=dio=n

Osa copular verb eldest

‘God is the eldest’

14. Osaro=:

Osa + rro=o=

God exist

‘God exists'

Names nos. 15, 16, and 17, below capture the fact that Olokun (God of sea,

wealth, and fertility), Ogun (god of iron), and Osun (god of healing) are the most

venerated of the E=do gods.

15. Okungbo=wa:

Okun + gbo=o= + uwa

The sea to plant wealth

‘Olokun (water god) ensures wealth’

16. Ogunbo=:

Ogun + bo=

Ogun to be favourable

‘Ogun (God of Iron) is favourable’

17. Igbinosun:

I + gbinna + Osun

I seek protection osun

‘I seek the protection of Osun (God of healing)’

Ancestors are below the gods in hierarchy and only those who have achieved the

status of Okpemwan influence naming:

18. Igbinne=wuare=:

i + gbinna + E=wuare=

I {to seek E=wuare=


‘I seek the protection of O=ba E=wuare=’

19 Igbinnazaka:

i + gbinna + Azaka

I {to seek Azaka


‘I seek the protection of Azaka’


2.2.1: Concept of the World and the E=do kingdom

E=do cosmogony states that E=do land (formally known as Idu) is the origin of the

world. E=dos also believe that the world will never come to an end, contrary to the

christian belief in a day of judgement. The E=do land in the scheme of the universe is seen

as the core of existence. These beliefs are revealed in names like:

20 Idukpaye:

Idu + Kpe=e= + aye

The E=do land to be a long time world

‘The E=do land has been in existence for ages’

21. E=doso=mwan:

E=do + se=e= + o=mwan

E=do surpass person

‘The E=do land is greater than the individual’

22. E=dorisiagbo=n:

E=do + o=re isi + agbo=n

Edo focus marker source world

‘The E=do land is the origin of the world’

23. E=dogiawerie:

E=do + i + gi + a + werrie=

E=do {negative allow {impersonal to turn over

Marker} pronoun}

‘One cannot subvert E=do land’

24. Agbo=nifo:

Agbo=n + I + fo

World {negative finish


‘The world won’t ever end’

25. Agbo=nko=nko=n:

Agbo=n + ko=nko=n

World to be big

‘The world is big’

2.2.2:The Rulers

The E=do system of government was highly stratified with the O=ba at the summit.

He was the focal point of all administrative, religious, commercial and judicial matters.

He was believed to be divine and the owner of all lands in the kingdom (Ben-Amos

1971:41). In conferring on children the names below, the ancient and contemporary E=do

man reaffirms his belief in the supreme nature of the O=ba:

26. Osagio=barre:

Osa + gie O=ba + rre

God send King come

‘The King is ordained by God’

27. O=basogie:

O=ba + se=e= + Ogie

King Surpass ruler of fiefdom

‘The King is greater than the ruler of a fiefdom’

28. Aiguo=basimwinoto=:

A + i + gue + O=ba + simwin + oto=

{Impersonal {negative be with King Struggle land

Pronoun} marker}

‘One does not dispute the ownership of land with the King’

29. O=bayanto=:

O=ba + yan + oto=

King own land

‘The King is the owner of all lands’

The Benin Kingdom had many fiefdoms which were administered by Enigie

(fiefdom rulers). Each village or ward was guided daily by the edion (senior age-grade

set). In troubled times, the edion were consulted first before the enogie (if need be). The

names below encode this information.

30. Igbinigie:

I + gbinna + enigie

I {seek fiefdom rulers




(Message over 64k, truncated.)

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