Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Swahili & Igbo Names That Begin With "Sh" or "Ch"

Edited by Azizi Powell

Revised January 19, 2018

This post presents a partial list of traditional Swahili names and Igbo names that begin with "sh" or "ch". Information about the KiSwahili language and the Igbo language are also included in this post.

This post is part of an ongoing series on distinctive African American names and naming practices. Other posts in this series can be accessed by clicking the "distinctive African American names" tab below.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, and linguistic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

This pancocojams series provides examples and comments about African American naming traditions, including my speculations about why many African Americans have preferred and, in some cases, still prefer certain prefixes and certain suffixes. For example, it's my premise that the large subset of 19th century and, in particular, 20th & 21st century distinctive Black (African American) names that begin with "sh" or "ch" can be at least partially explained by 1. the existence of a large number of Arabic names and traditional African language names that begin with one of those sounds, 2. the existence of pre-1960s mainstream American names and distinctive Black American names that begin with one of those sounds and 3. the mass media attention given to some people or products with those names from the 1970s on.

I was one of the African Americans in the late 1960s who was interested in finding lists of African names so that we could change our "slave names" (European or Hebrew language birth names) to "free names" (names from Arabic or traditional African languages.) In those early days of the Black power movement with its interest in African cultures there was no internet and lists of African names were hard to come by. I recall people in the Committee For Unified Newark, (the cultural nationalist group that I belonged to which eventually was headed by poet, playwright, activist Amiri Baraka, formerly Le Roi Jones), sharing mimeographed (reprinted) copies of African names that we happened to come by. Many of those names were from the Arabic language and others were from KiSwahili, which is largly based on Arabic.

Islam (and therefore the Arabic language) was introduced in northern Africa in the early 7th century, in East Africa by the 9th century, in West Africa in the 10th century, and into Central Africa ( Malawi and Congo) "in the second half of the nineteenth century under the Zanzibar Sultanate. Then the British brought their labor force from India, including some Muslim Indian nationals, to their African colonies towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries."

My theory is that early on African Americans developed a fondness for the "sh" or "ch" sound at least partly because of their memories of Arabic/traditional African names that begin with that sound, or have that sound within the name or at the end of the name (such as the "sha" suffix. prefix).

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, African Americans who were interested in changing their names to an African name were more likely to find Arabic names than any other African continent names. Those name were considered very acceptable "free names"* for afro-centric African Americans, whether we were Muslim or not. The conversion of several African American celebrities (particularly athletes and Jazz musicians) to Islam was one reason why Arabic names became known to African Americans. I'm not aware of any book of African names that was published before The Book of African Names (As Told by Chief Osuntoki) was published in 1970. In 1972 another book of African names was published - Names from Africa: Their Origin, Meaning, and Pronunciation by Ogonna Chuks-orji helped introduce African Americans to names from traditional African languages.

This post isn't meant to imply that the majority of distinctive African American names are from the Swahili language or the Igbo languages. In fact, only a small number of distinctive names that African Americans have are from Swahili, and very very few distinctive African American names are from the Igbo language.

Click to read more about African Americans and Arabic names.

*"Free names" were names that weren't from European languages or from Hebrew (i.e. common "American names". Those names that were called "slave names".

"The Swahili language, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is a lingua franca of the African Great Lakes region and other parts of Southeast Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[7] The closely related Comorian language, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is sometimes considered a dialect.

Although only around fifteen to fifty million people speak Swahili as their first language,[8] it is used as a lingua franca in much of Southeast Africa. Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers vary widely, from 60 million to over 150 million.[9] Swahili serves as a national or official language of four nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its dialects are used as official languages in Comoros - Shikomor and Mayotte - Shimaore. It is also one of the official languages of the African Union and East African Community.

A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic through contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili Coast.[10] It has also incorporated German, Portuguese, English, Hindustani and French words into its vocabulary through contact with empire builders, traders and slavers during the past five centuries."

"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. There is apparently a degree of dialect leveling occurring."

Note: This lists aren't meant to be comprehensive.

The names are given in alphabetical order from each source. Each name is given only one although they may have been included in other sources given and elsewhere online or in print.

Note: These names may be pronounced differently in the United States as Americans usually emphasize the second syllable of each word, including names. I've found that many traditional African names use the same vowel sounds as in Spanish (a=ah, e=a, i=e, o=o, u=oo)

Note: This list doesn't include examples based on Arabic names. Many of those names are included in the pancocojams post on Arabic names whose link is given above.]
[female names]
Shanee - a form of Shany
Shani - a form of Shany
Shanie - a form of Shany
Shanny - a form of Shany
Shany - marvelous,wonderful
Female - Chagina brave one
Female - Chiku chatterer Swahili
Female - Chriki blessing Swahili
Female - Chinira God receives Swahili
Female - Shauri - counsel; advise
Female - Shauriana - counsel; advise
Male - Shomari - forceful

Igbo (Nigerian)
Male - Chetachukwu - remember God
Male - Chibueze - God is king
Female - Chichima - sweet and precious girl
Male - Chidubem - God lead me on
Male - Chiemeka - God has done well
Male/Female - Chigoziem - God has blessed me
Male/Female - Chikanma - God is the best
Male/Female - Chikezie - God's will is supreme
Male/Female - Chilotam - God remembered me
Male - Chimaobi - God knows the heart
Male/Female - Chimbuchim - God is my God
Male - Chimezie - let God done it
Female - Chinenyenwa - God gives child
Female - Chinechezirim - God thinks good of me
Female - Chinelo - God remembers me Igbo
Male/Female - Chinmakodim - God knows my condition
Female - Chinwe - God is the owner
Female - Chinyere - Chi is the giver
Male/Female - Chisomaga - God is always with me
Female - Chuku of God
Male/Female - Chukwudimma -God is good
Male - Chukwuemeka - God has done well
Male - Chukwuma -God knows
The prefix "Chi" in these Igbo names is pronounced like the English word "she".

Note the elements “chi” and “chukwu” can also be used as a suffix, and are also found in the middle of names. for instance, [from that same online source quoted above] Male/Female - Sopuruchi - reverence God, Male/Female - Ogechukwukana - God time is the best, - Male - Okechuku - God's gift, and Female - Ginikachukwu - who is greater than God?

"Chinua" is another Igbo name. That name became known in the United States because of the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart and other books. Here's information about that name from
"[ 3 syll. (c)hi-nua, ch-in-ua ] The baby boy name Chinua is pronounced as CH-IY-Nuw-aa- †. Chinua has its origins in the African-Igbo language. It is used largely in the African and Igbo languages. The meaning of the name is 'God's blessing'. It is derived from the word Chi which means 'God'. "

Also, with regard to the Yoruba language of Nigeria, note that "The other common problem areas [in pronouncing Yoruba words and using Yoruba pronunciation rules in speaking English] are the ‘ch’ and ‘sh’ sounds. Yoruba does not have the letter ‘c’ in its alphabet. But there is ‘s’ pronounced ‘si’ and then there’s ‘Ṣ’ pronounced ‘she’. Can you see where the confusion gets in? ;-)" [This website is no longer available.]
An example of a Yoruba name in which the "s" is pronounced "sh" is "Folasade". The Nigerian/British vocalist "Sade" popularized the nickname for the name "Folasade" (meaning: honor bestowes a crown; "ade" is a Yoruba element that means "honor".)

Although I have showcased some Igbo names as examples of traditional African names that have the "sh" or "ch" prefix, it should be noted that Igbo names aren't that common among African Americans. My guess is that this is because 1. information about and lists of Igbo names weren't easy to find in the United States before the 2008 or even later when that content was placed on the internet, 2. Many Igbo names have more than three syllables and most Americans (including Black Americans) prefer names and other words that have two or three syllables, 3. Igbo includes a number of names with the "u" (pronounced "oo") sound and most Americans, including African Americans, appear to dislike the "u" sound in words, including names, perhaps because of the words "ugly" and the word "ugh". A relatively recent exception to (what I believe) is African Americans' tendency not to begin (or end) names with the letter "u" is the name "Unique" (with several different spellings.) "Unique" is an example of African American names that demonstrate the parents' positive attitudes about their child and their hope that their child becomes a person who stands out in a crowd for positive reasons.

As to which traditional African language were the source of names that African Americans knew about, chose for themselves and others, and/or gave to their children in the late 1960s/1970s, I'd say - starting with the most commonly used names - Akan (Ghana, Ivory Coast), Yoruba (Nigeria), and Zulu (particularly the name "Shaka" ["Chaka"] which was a male name but was popularized by an African American female singer).

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1 comment:

  1. My theory is that the "sh" & "ch" sound is considered favorably by some African Americans-as demonstrated by the number of new, distinctive names with that beginning sound or ending sound-can be partly traced back to 18th & 19th century African Americans' familiarity with African and Arabic names (and other words) that have those sounds. The Igbo (Nigerian) place word "Onitsha" is another example of Igbo words that include the "sha" sound. Here's some information about that word from
    "Onitsha (Igbo: Ọ̀nị̀chà Mmílí[4] or just Ọ̀nị̀chà)[5] is a city, a commercial, educational, and religious centre and river port on the eastern bank of the Niger river in Anambra State, southeastern Nigeria.

    Most theories on the word 'Onicha' point to the meanings "despiser" or "arrogant"; apparently the people of Onitsha were prone to "look down" upon the people of the towns adjacent to them.[6] 'Onicha' may be a contraction of either 'Ọnịsịlị-ncha', meaning 'too headstrong [to be disciplined]'; Ọnyịsịlị-ncha, 'too headstrong [for everyone]'; or 'Ani-Ocha', 'the fair or white land'. Some claim that 'Onicha' is a contraction of Igbo and Edo words, and perhaps from the word 'Orisha'. Therefore, as a matter of verifiable fact, there are as well other communities east of the Niger River kwown as Onicha with differing appendages. The communities are as follows: Onicha Uburu (Ebonyi state), Onicha Uboma (Imo state), Onicha Agu (Enugu state), Onicha Nwenkwo (Imo state), Onicha Ngwa (Abia state), Onicha Amagunze(Enugu state) etc.[7]

    Onitsha Mmili was known as Ado N'Idu by migrants who departed from the vicinity of the Kingdom of Benin near the far western portion of Igboland (near what is now Agbor), after a violent dispute with the Oba of Benin that can be tentatively dated to the early 1500s.[8] Traveling eastward through what is now Western Igboland (and various towns also called "Onitsha", for example Onicha-Ugbo, "farmland-Onitsha". Onitsha was founded by one of the sons of Chima, the founder of Issele-Uku kingdom. Chima, a prince of the ancient Benin kingdom emigrated, settled and founded now known as Issele-Uku in Aniocha North Local Government Area. The eldest son of Chima eventually emigrated across the Niger River to establish the Onitsha community. After their arrival on the east bank (Onicha-mmili, "Onitsha-on-water", see above), the community gradually became a unitary kingdom, evolving from a loosely organized group of "royal" and "non-royal" villages into a more centralized entity.[9] Eze Aroli, was apparently the first genuinely powerful Obi of Onitsha, the ruler of the city.[10]

    In 1857 British palm oil traders established a permanent station in the city, Christian missionaries joining them headed by the liberated African bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther (a Yoruba recaptive) and Reverend John Taylor (an Igbo Recaptive).[11] In 1900 Onitsha became part of a British protectorate.[12]{ The British colonial government and Christian missionaries penetrated most of Igboland to set up their administration, schools and churches through the river port at Onitsha.

    Today, Onitsha is a modern day urban society in Anambra State. The people speak the Igbo and English languages."...