Nigerian Naming Ceremony

Ade does not only help me with tech troubleshooting and updating, he is more than tech support -- he is my teacher and resource about Nigerian culture. Most of my posts about Nigeria are products of many conversations and discussions.

Ade does not only help me with tech troubleshooting and updating, he is more than tech support — he is my teacher and resource about Nigerian culture. Most of my posts about Nigeria are products of many conversations and discussions.

There was one project that I never did get to blog about before leaving Nigeria. This is the naming ceremony rite Nigerians perform for their babies, and it’s nothing like the Catholic or United Methodist baptism ceremonies that our son went through at all. Since a friend just had one for her newborn son this week I feel compelled to share it online.

First of all, Nigerians choose names that have special meanings. I particularly love the name of my son’s playmate Kamsi or Kamsiyochukwu. In Igbo it means “my heart’s desire” or literally “what I asked from God.” If my son was born in Nigerian this would most likely be the name I would choose for him, because we were desperate enough to seek the help of a fertility specialist after trying to get pregnant for two years since a miscarriage.

My Nigerian colleagues shared with me the names of their children.

“Oluwatobiloba” means “God is a great King.” He is the first child of our network technician and is called Tobi for short. He’s only a toddler but he already shares his father’s passion for soccer.

Our tech assistant’s first child (boy)’s name is Oluwalonimi (short form – Nimi ) meaning ” The Lord owns me.” He is tall for his age, like his father. His second child (boy)’s name is Oluwatimilehin (short form – TIMI ) meaning “The Lord supports, sustains, helps or backs me.” He adores his big brother and tries to copy whatever he does.

The elementary computer teacher is blessed with a girl and a boy. Her daughter, a tech-savvy, talkative girl who loves to sing, was named Oluwatoyin, meaning “the Lord is worthy to be praised,” and her toddler brother was named Oluwanifemi, “the Lord loves me”.

Aren’t those wonderful names?

My friend explained the Yoruba naming ceremony here:

The Yoruba people of Nigeria, according to their culture, names are not just names they tell the circumstances under which a child was born. There are names for just about every situation. A name can also tell group or family history.

The eldest member of the family or the baby’s father normally gives the child its name, then other family members drop money in a bowl or tray before giving the baby a name of their own, so the baby ends up having a long list of names, any of which he could be addressed by. The Yoruba people always celebrate the naming ceremony after a child is seven days old, which is the eighth day.

During the naming ceremony, the family and the community welcome a new child and accept joint responsibility for raising baby. As part of the ceremony, items used in everyday life are presented to the child as symbolic gifts.

The basic items are:

  • Water
  • Salt
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Alligator Pepper (Atare)
  • Kola nuts
  • Bitter kola
  • Palm Wine
  • Dried catfish
  • Palm oil
  • Pen and a Book
  • Bible or Koran
  • Aadun

As with many other aspects of Nigerian life, the items used as well as the ceremony itself, vary depending on the ethnic group and family preferences. What they share in common is that the birth of a child is a time of great joy and celebration for the entire family and community.

The significance of the gifts

  • Water (Omi): That the child’s life will be cool and trouble free, that the child will stay with us and drink water with us and eat what we eat in peace and harmony.
  • Salt (Iyo): Adds joy and the sweetness of life to the child’s life
  • Honey (Oyin): to bring sweetness to the child
  • Aadun (a type of corn meal mixed with oil): to bring sweetness (of another sort)
  • Sugar: same thing to bring sweetness.
  • Kola nuts (Obi): to expunge (as in vomit) ill will, bad luck, death, illness  every thing bad and evil.
  • Bitter cola (Orogbo): that the child will live long until ‘deep’ old age and will have lasting health.
  • Alligator pepper (Atare): that the child’s line will multiply like the seeds of the alligator pepper.

written by Adeniji* Akande

*Adeniji means “my royal crown has sufficient canopy to provide shelter for several people” or “my crown has a shade”. It is a Yoruba given to someone born in a royal lineage, and at his turn, may ascend the throne of his ancestors.

Relevant Links



the Nigerian staff in our school hold an improvised naming ceremony for the son of American-Venezuelan teachers who was born in Lagos. There was a healthy competition to give him a Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa name.


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