Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Four Facts You Never Knew About Names

No Award for Prisoners

I asked last time if you watched the Grammys.

I was rooting for the prisoners from Malawi who had recorded an album with the help of a musician who travels the world looking for unusual and authentic musical groups.

They didn’t win. The world music category award was won by Angélique Kidjo, her third Grammy. She is quite amazing. I admit I hadn’t listened to her before, but I’m making up for my lack.

I read about her award on Yahoo news: “The Beninese-born singer won the Grammy for Best World Music Album for ‘Sings,’ a collection of her songs infused with Western classical traditions in a collaboration with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.”

The YouTube video I posted is from 2009.

She dedicated her award this time to “aspiring artists on the continent.” That includes the prisoners in Malawi! Maybe they will be in the competition again next year.

And one more note about her, since I’m writing about names!

When I did a search for Angélique Kidjo, I found that Wikipedia lists six names between her first and last names. She is Angélique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo!

And I found that she is more than a singer. She is “. . a winning singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos.”


Traditional healer from article by Patrick E. Iroegbu Ph.D.

Traditional healer from article by Patrick E. Iroegbu Ph.D.

In May 2014 I promised to explain my husband’s Igbo name Chukwukadibia. And then I forgot to do it! So it’s time.

You may remember, if you’ve been reading for a while, that Chukwu is an Igbo word for God. Even if you are a new reader, now you know!

Do you know about the ‘dibia,’ the word that’s the last three syllables of Clem’s name? There are several translations for dibia – shaman, rainmaker, medicine man, healer, and of course from a long time ago one might have said witch doctor! I think of the dibia as a native doctor.

The dibia has been a part of Igbo culture forever, or at least as far as anyone remembers. Chinua Achebe wrote about the dibia in Things Fall Apart. In my memoir and in an earlier blog post, I write about a visit to the dibia.

But back to the name – I’ll explain it in an excerpt from my essay about names.

“Many Igbo names have a reference to God, often in praise, sometimes in supplication. Traditionally the god of reference would have been the Igbo deity, Chukwu. But since the incursions of the Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the reference is more likely to the Christian God.

Probably from photo by Basden, 1920's.

Probably from photo by Basden, 1920’s.

“Clem had told me about his Igbo middle name, Chukwukadibia, not long after we decided to marry. ‘You know Chukwu is God,’ he said.

“’Yes, and I know the dibia is the native doctor. What’s the word ‘ka’ in between?’” I’d begun studying Igbo by this time, but I didn’t know that word.

“’It means ‘greater than,’ Clem said. ‘God, the Christian God, is greater than the native doctor.’

“’That’s an odd name,’ I said. But as he explained, I realized it wasn’t odd at all.

“Clem’s father Samuel had run away from home as a teenager and joined the Christians. With the name he gave his first son, he was proclaiming his faith in the new God, and at the same time renouncing the old ways of the dibia.

“So it made complete sense. It was also very brave. This after all was a time when many people in his village, and in all of Igboland, were still pagan. He was defying tradition.”

The photo shows a dibia from the early 20th century with tools of his practice including bells and a miniature Ikenga figure.

As I write, I think that my husband Clem also was brave and defied tradition. He married me, a white woman from America! He had studied and lived in England for nine years, and come back still single. His people rejoiced and began seeking an Igbo wife for him.

Rap Dibia Igbo Hip-Hop Artiste, with single Akalaka or destiny

Rap Dibia Igbo Hip-Hop Artiste, with single Akalaka or destiny

A year or two later, he and I met, and the rest as they say . .

And here’s a more recent incarnation of a dibia – a rap artist in Nigeria!

Naming Ceremony by Another Name

I also wrote in May 2014 about the naming ceremony for our son Chinaku. Yesterday Ainehi Edoro posted a story about another naming custom.

Have you ever heard of ‘outdooring?’ I hadn’t. It’s a Ghanaian naming ceremony with a similar purpose to the Igbo naming ceremony, but different execution. The author Kwame Dadson explains it in his story about lifetime friends who stopped speaking over an argument about the ceremony.

He says that the setting is usually either the home of the baby being named or of the person whose name is being given to the baby.

“So when Kojo [the friend] said he wanted to do it at the local drinking spot, I blew my top. It was out of order, against tradition, and nothing was more traditional than an outdooring.”

He continues, “The funny thing was that he had asked to name the child after me, which was a break of protocol, too. Friends hardly received that honor—especially when they came from another tribe like I did.”

Dadson is a great storyteller, I think, but I found the ending a little disappointing. You can read for yourself and tell me what you think.

A Name as a Sign

The Jamaican resort I chatted about with Kelvin.

The Jamaican resort I chatted about with Kelvin.

I don’t think I’ve heard the name Kelvin other than for our son-in-law.

So when I did an on-line chat a few days ago with a resort in Jamaica to consider booking a holiday, I was surprised and pleased that the person on the other end was named Kelvin!

I took it as a good sign.

I told him it was our well-loved son-in-law’s name and he was happy to hear it.

Did I book? Tell you next time.






Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. My daughter, Kim, has a friend named Kelvin. When I met him years ago I’d never heard of that name. Isn’t it also a temperature measurement?!

    • Thanks, Judy. I’m glad to hear of another Kelvin. And yes, it is a measurement of temperature. In fact, I just Googled it and found that 0 degrees on the Kelvin scale is -460 Fahrenheit. I knew it was cold, but didn’t know it was this cold! (High school physics was a long time ago!)