Sunday, August 28, 2016

Igbo Names That Reference God (Nigeria, West Africa)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on African names and naming traditions.

This post provides a sample listing of Igbo names from Nigeria, West Africa that reference God. That compilation is preceded by brief notes about the Igbo language and an overview of traditional Igbo beliefs about God.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

..."Igbo is one of the official languages of Nigeria. It is spoken in the Southern Delta states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo, as well as in the northeast of the Delta state and in the southeast of the Rivers state. In the states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo, Igbo is the main language of trade and commerce. It is used in mass media communication such as radio and television in the southern Delta region.

Although Igbo is taught at all levels in eastern Nigerian schools, English remains the principal literary language of the country while [Igbo] remains a spoken and colloquial language. Reading and writing in Igbo is not very widespread. In many urban areas, Igbo is often replaced by Nigerian Pidgin English. Igbo speakers are typically bilingual in English...

The sound inventory of Standard Igbo consists of eight vowels, thirty consonants, and two tones, depending somewhat on the analysis. Igbo has only two syllable types: consonant + vowel (the most common syllable type), vowel or syllabic nasal. There are no consonant clusters and no syllable-final consonants."...

"Igbo ... is the principal native language of the Igbo people, an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria. There are approximately 24 million speakers, who live mostly in Nigeria and are primarily of Igbo descent. Igbo is written in the Latin script, which was introduced by British colonialists. There are over 20 Igbo dialects...
Igbo is also a recognised minority language of Equatorial Guinea....

Igbo is a tonal language with two distinctive tones, high and low....An example is ákwá "cry", àkwà "bed", àkwá "egg", and ákwà "cloth". As tone is not normally written, these all appear as ⟨akwa⟩ in print....

"Chukwu is the supreme being of the Igbo religion. In the Igbo pantheon, Chukwu is the source of all other Igbo deities, and is responsible for assigning them their different tasks. The Igbo people believe that all things come from Chukwu, who brings the rains necessary for plants to grow and controls everything on earth and the spiritual world. They believe Chukwu to be an infinitely powerful, undefinable, supreme deity encompassing everything in space and space itself.

Linguistic studies suggest that the name "Chukwu" or "Chukouuee" is a portmanteau of the Igbo words "Chi" ("spiritual being") and "Ukwu" ("great in size").[1]

Conception of Chukwu
According to the Igbo people from the south-eastern region of Nigeria, Chineke is the creator of the world and everything good in it along with rain, trees, and other plants. Chukwu is a supreme God represented by the sun. The ancient God is not humanized in Igbo tradition belief. Because the Igbo deities Amadioha and Ikenga are masculine, Chukwu is assumed to be male.

Many Igbo Christians refer to the Christian God as Chukwu as well.[2] The Igbo believe it is impossible for humans to conceive of the unlimited power of Chukwu. Many Igbo dialects refer to God by names such as "Chukwu", "Chiokike", or "Obasi."[3]."...

Pancocojams Editor Notes:
This list is culled from two sources- Part I: Names From Africa: Their Origin, Meaning, And Pronunciation by Ogonna Chuks-orji, edited and with a commentary by Keith E. Baird (Johnson Publishing Company, 1972) and Part II:

A few of the names in Part I are also given in Part II.

Examples in Part I demonstrate how those Igbo names are pronounced, and, by extension, may provide some guidance regarding the pronunciation of the names given in Part II.

Notice that multiple names in this list begin or end with "chi" or "chukwu" or contain one of those elements in the middle. These elements refer to God.

This compilation doesn't claim to be a complete listing of Igbo names that refer to God. Additions to this list are welcome.

From Names From Africa: Their Origin, Meaning, And Pronunciation by Ogonna Chuks-orji, edited and with a commentary by Keith E. Baird (Johnson Publishing Company, 1972)

(Note: This book uses the outdated term "Ibo".)

Chinue (CHEEN-weh) God's own blessing, [female]

Chijoke (CHEE-jee-oh-keh), God gives talent, [male]

Chike (CHEE-keh), power of God [male]

Chinelo (CHEE-neh-loh), thought of God, [male]

Chinua (CHEE-no-ah), God's own blessing, [male]

Chioke (CHEE-oh-keh), gift of God, [male]

Chukwuweneka (choo-kwoo-eh-NEH-kah). God has dealt kindly with us, [male]*

Okechuku (oh-keh-CHOO-koo), God's gift, [male]

Onuwachi (oh-noo-WAH-chee), God's world, [male]

Onyebuchi (on-yeh-BOO-chee, (who is God), [male]

Onyemachi (on-yeh-MAH-chi), who knows God's will, [male]
Here's an excerpt pertaining to one of these names from that book's commentary section:
"Africans are very religious; thus a family may through the name given to a child be saying that they consider the child's coming as a mark of divine favor, a blessing duly acknowledged in a boy's name such as Chukwueneka, "God has dealt kindly with us" (Ibo, Nigeria), or in the girls name Sibongile, which simply says "Thanks" (Ndebele, Zimbabwe)".


A, B
Akachi (the hand of God), male & female

Akuchi (wealth from God), male & female

Amarachi (God's grace), female

C, D
Chi (god, spiritual being" in Igbo, referring to the personal spiritual guardian that each person is believed to have. Christian Igbo people use it as a name for the personal Christian god. This can also be a short form of the many Igbo names that begin with this element)), male & female

Chiamaka (God is beautiful), female

Chibueze, (God is the king), male & female

Chibuike (God is strength), male & female

Chibuzo (God leads the way), male & female

Chichi (Diminutive of Igbo names beginning with the element Chi meaning "God"), female

Chidi (God exists; It is also a short form of Igbo names beginning with Chidi), male and female

Chidiebere (God is merciful), male & female

Chidiebube (God is glorious), male & female

Chidiegwu (God is wonderful), male & female

Chidike (God is strong), male

Chidimma (God is good), female

Chidubem (guided by God), male

Chiemeka (God has performed great deeds), male

Chijindum (God holds my life), male & female

Chika (God is the greatest), female

Chike (God's power), male & female

Chikelu (variant of Chikere)

Chikere (God created), male & female

Chima (God knows), male

Chinasa (God answers), female & male

Chinedu (God leads), male & female

Chinonso (God is nearby), male & female

Chinwe (God owns; It is also a short form of Igbo names beginning with Chinwe), male & female

Chinweike (God owns power), male & female

Chinwendu (God owns life), male & female

Chinweuba (God owns wealth), male & female

Chinyelu (variant of Chinyere), female

Chinyere (God gave), female

Chioma (good God), female & male

Chizoba (God protect us), male & female

Chuks (Diminutive of Igbo names beginning with the element Chukwu meaning "God"), male

Chukwudi (Variant of Chidi, using Chukwu as the first element, which is the extended form of Chi meaning "God"), male

Chukwuemeka (God has done something great), male

Chukwuma (Variant of Chima, using Chukwu as the first element, which is the extended form of Chi meaning "God"), male

E, F
Ekenedilichukwu (all praise to God), male & female

G, H

I, J

K, L

M, N
Nkechi (short form of Nkechinyere), female

Nkechinyere ("what God has given" or "gift of God"), female

O, P
Ogechi (Short form of Ogechukwukama), female

Ogechukwukama (God's time is the best), female

Oluchi (God's work), male & female

Onyeka (short form of Onyekachi), female & male

Onyekachi (who is greater than God?), famle & male

Onyekachukwu (Variant of Onyekachi, using Chukwu as the last element, which is the extended form of Chi meaning "God", male & female

Q, R

S, T

U, V
Uzochi (God's way), male

W, X, Y, Z

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  1. It's been my experience that many African Americans use the Spanish language vowel pronunciations for Igbo and other traditional languages.

    Also, it's been my experience that -rightly or wrongly African Americans (and other Americans?) use the same rules for which syllable is emphasized in traditional African language names (and other traditional African words) that we usually pronounce American English words- meaning we emphasize (accentuate) the second to the last syllable. In two syllable names/words that means the first syllable.

    Judging from the pronunciation guide that was given in that 1972 African name book which is quoted above, that emphasizing guide doesn't always conform to how those Igbo names are pronounced.

    By the way, Johnson Publishing Company, the publisher of that 1972 African name book was (up until June 2016*) was the publisher of the Ebony magazine, Jet magazine, and other magazines that were primarily marketed to African Americans. For that reason, and because there were very few books on African names in the 1970s, it's likely that that book had a significant influence on the choice of African names that African American who wanted such names chose for themselves, their children, and/or others.

    *According to, EBONY, JET Get New Ownership, Company Name
    "After being acquired by a Texas-based equity firm, the historic brand will continue its work under a new entity named Ebony Media."

  2. It's also been my experience that we (African Americans) modify the spelling of some traditional African (and Arabic) names.

    I believe that one example is the female name "Onieka" (pronounced oh-NEE-kah). I think that's a modification of the Igbo name "Onyeka" that is found in the above list.

    I should also mention that you probably will find very few African Americans (who have no known Igbo descent) with Igbo names, in part because we had (have) so little knowledge of those names.

    I think that another reason why Igbo names (weren't) aren't selected by African Americans who were/are "in to" traditional African names is that those names don't met the American (and also usually the African American) aesthetic preference for names that are no longer than three syllables.

  3. There is a British politician, Chuka Umunna, who is of mixed Igbo and English descent. I think his first name must derive from 'Chukwu'. (A British newspaper article gives the meaning of his name as 'God is greater', but that may only be an approximation.) He has a sister called Chinwe.

    1. Thanks for sharing that information with us slam2011.

      I wonder if "Chinwe" is an updated way of spelling "Chinue".

      I'm glad I kept that 1972 book of African names. Otherwise, I might have thought that the name Chinwe was pronounced like the English words "chin" and "we", instead of "CHEEN-weh".

  4. When I was in London last month there was an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery of some photo portraits of Africans who visited in Victorian times. One lady was called Eleanor Xiniwe, and the exhibition notes said she was from 'South Africa', so I suppose she couldn't be Igbo. I do wonder if her name is related to Chinue/Chinwe though. But I think in South Africa the family of languages would be very different from the West of Africa. The distances are huge, after all.
    Victorian portraits

    1. slam2011, pardon the pun, but you really hit a slam dunk with that link of Victorian photographs. It's exhilarating and also sad at the same time to see those photographs. Imagine, people given to other people as gifts...

      I'm impressed with many of those photographs. Eleanor Xiniwe was beautiful.

      Here's an excerpt from a brief article about that choir:
      "Between 1891-1893 a group of young Africans singers toured Britain and North American as the ’ African Choir’. Inspired by Orpheus M. McAdoo’s Virginia Jubilee Singers, they were a Christian choir on a mission to raise funds for a technical school in Kimberley in the Cape Colony (South Africa).

    2. Yes, Eleanor Xiniwe was a stunner. At the gallery, after people had worked their way right round the room, looking at all the photos and reading the labels, before they left they would drift back to Eleanor's portrait and just stand and stare at it for a bit.

      You know once you start to notice something, it's suddenly everywhere? I'm watching some new reality TV series about different amateur orchestras competing against each other under the tuition of top-notch classical music pros, and the cellist is a woman called Chinyere Nwanoku! She's known as Chi-Chi though, which is the same as the pet name Chinwe Umunna is known by. Maybe that's just how they shorten it in Nigeria?

    3. Not a cellist sorry, a double-bassist. I am not musical :(
      Chi-Chi Nwanoku

    4. Yes, that list above gives Chichi as a Igbo female nickname (pet name) for names beginning with "Chi".

      I met a Nigerian young woman whose nickname is Chi Chi. From what I know now, she's probably Igbo.

  5. You pointed out the similarity between the Zulu [?] surname "Xiniwe" and the Igbo personal name "Chinwe. While it doesn't directly answer that question, this excerpt from a Nigerian discussion forum indicates that Niger-Congo languages such as Igbo and Bantu languages are indeed connected.

    Origin Of The Bantu Peoples: Eastern Nigeria/Western Cameroun? by TonySpike: 6:40pm On Aug 08, 2012
    "During one of my visits to South Africa, I became fascinated to the language of the Zulu peoples, ISIZULU. I noticed some distant similarities in the spelling and phonetic styles of the Igbo and Isizulu languages. This curiousity led me to the research into the Bantu people of Africa. The Bantu people are a massive group of African people believed to have migrated from somewhere around Eastern Nigeria and Western Cameroun between 1500 BC-2000 BC...

    According to Wikipedia [], their migration point started from the areas around Eastern Nigeria and Western Cameroun (see below). Today, their descendants are found in Central Africa, Eastern Africa and Southern Africa in millions. The Bantu Languages in Africa may be classified as Niger-Congo languages too. The Bantu identities are found in languages such as Bemba, Ingala, Isizulu, Ambo, Bemba, Ndebele, Shona, Swazi, Xhosa, Venda, Khoikhoi, Luhya, Makonde, Hutu, Tutsi and so on...

    There is a general belief that the word "person" means "muntu" in the original Bantu language. Through the centuries, this word has assumed many spellings and tonal inflexion in different Bantu subgroups. In the Igbo language, "umu-" could mean "children" which could be a shortened form of MU ntu. Even the Yoruba and Edo languages are not spared as "omo-" is the adopted word for "children" in their languages....

    1. That discussion is 8 pages long. I haven't read the entire discussion yet. But here's another quote from the first page whose link has already been given:

      Re: Origin Of The Bantu Peoples: Eastern Nigeria/Western Cameroun? by TonySpike: 4:17pm On Aug 31, 2012
      "The implication of the Bantu migration is that most of the indigenous tribes along the Weatern and Southern African tribes are distantly and genetically linked to the Eastern Nigeria/Western Cameroun. A look at the map below will confirm the migration patterns. It will should be noted that the Khoisans and Pygmies were well-established at their various settlements before the Bantu migrations.. Like I earlier suspected and suggested at the onset of this thread, the Zulu language of South Africa retains some tonal features that sounds like modern Igbo language, even after hundreds of years! This is quite astonishing and needs further research"....