The Danger in the Rise of ‘Chimamanda’ and Similar ‘chi’ Names

The Danger in the Rise of ‘Chimamanda’ and Similar ‘chi’ Names

By Azuka Onwuka

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie popularized the name "Chimamanda"
Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie popularized the name “Chimamanda”

It seems like an abomination for an Igbo child below 15 years old not to have a “chi” name: Chimamanda; Chikamso; Chikaima; Chimdindu; Chimeremeze; Chizaram; Chizitere, etc. These names are further shortened and “funkified” as Amanda, Mandy, Kamsy, Kaima, Merem, Zaram, Chizzy, Mimi, Zizi, etc.

Long before a baby is born, the parents start coining some long-sentence names with “chi.” Once the child arrives, the sentence is heaped upon the child as a name. It may be Chizaramekperemgbeolileanyamgwusiri or Chiziteremnkasiobimgbeuwagharipurum. And the parents start feeling cool that they have given their child a unique name.

The thinking behind these chi names is to show how wonderful God is and reinforce the belief that once God is added to the name of a child, the future of the child is blessed.

This has created a problem for many people like me. I find it hard to remember the names of my little nephews, nieces and friends’ children because most of them bear such names, which all sound alike. The names are also usually unisex. So, boys sound like girls and girls sound like boys, making it more difficult.

But does “chi” mean God? No. Let me burst the bubble of many. Is “chi” a Christian concept? No. Chi is part of the Igbo traditional religion, which Christianity calls paganism. Judged strictly on Christian principles and standards, any belief in “chi” is idolatry. Chi is not the short form of Chukwu. Chi is a personal god that the Igbo believe creates each person. The Igbo say: “Otu nne na-amu ma otu chi adighi eke” (One mother can bear many children, but one chi does not create them.) The Igbo also say: “Chi abu otu” and “Onye na chi ya” (No two people can have the same chi).

Chi determines whatever happens to a person, good and bad. So people can have good chi or bad chi. Nobody can die if his or her chi does not approve it.

So, chi inhabits every human being. It is comparable to the English guardian angel.  Unlike the guardian angel, it is a god, but it is personal to everyone. Even animals are believed to have their individual chi.

In Igbo cosmology, chi is the strongest and most important god in matters concerning the individual, but Ala (the earth goddess) is the most important in communal matters. Most gods of each community could be unseated, destroyed and replaced but Ala could not because nobody could move the earth. Similarly, a man could challenge other gods but no man could challenge his chi.

Despite taking over and permeating Igboland, Christianity has not been able to erase the concept of chi from the worldview of the Igbo. Because of the importance of chi to the Igbo, a smart way has been devised to keep it relevant. That way is to force chi to mean Chukwu (God), so that when a Christian Igbo mentions chi, he does not want you to see him as dragging paganism into Christianity. This is syncretism at its best.

So, when an Igbo man names his child “Chimamanda,” he wants you to believe that he means: “My God will not fall/fail.” But you ask: “According to Christian theology, can God fall or fail?” Why then is it impossible for one to name a child Chukwumamanda? The answer is simple. It sounds blasphemous to even suggest that there is a possibility that God can fall or fail. So, it is better to hide under chi for such a name rather than use Chukwu.

The same thing goes for a name like Chioma, which some erroneously assume to mean “good God” but which actually means “good luck” or “good fortune.” The opposite is “chi ojoo” (bad luck or bad fortune). Nobody can name his child “Chukwuoma” because that presupposes that there is a “Chukwu ojoo” (bad God), which is also blasphemous in Christianity, as God can only be good.

Many erroneously believe that any name with chi refers to God and is the same with its counterpart that contains Chukwu. For example, many assume that Chikamso is the same thing as Chukwukamso; Chinenye is the same as Chukwunenye; Chiziterem the same as Chukwuziterem. But that is not so. Chizaram means “my personal god answered me,” while Chukwuzaram means “God answered me.”

The reason for this fixation with chi names is the preaching by some people that those without God-related names do not experience divine success and blessings. It started by telling people that the tragedies and lack of progress occurring in their families were caused by their names. So, those whose names were Ogunshola or Fashola were made to change them to Jesushola or Olushola in Yoruba, while those called Nwogwugwu or Nwagbara in Igbo changed their names to Nwachukwu or even adopted English surnames like Emmanuel or Smith.

But such preachers did not bother to ask why Chinua Achebe met with exceeding success despite his Achebe surname, which is the short form of Anichebe (May the earth goddess protect). Why did Venus Williams meet with great success in tennis even though Venus (Aphrodite in Greek) is the Roman goddess of sex, prostitution, fertility, etc? Going by the reasoning of these preachers, Venus Williams should have been nothing but a porn star. Why did Paul, whose name means “small,” become the most important figure after Jesus Christ in the New Testament? He should have thought “positively” by choosing the name “great” rather than “small.”

Why did George Bush Snr and George Bush Jnr succeed in occupying the White House instead of spending their lives in oblivion in the bush? Why did Bill Gates not become a gateman instead of the richest man on earth because of his surname and the fact that he is an agnostic (a person who does not know whether God exists or not)? Judas means “the praised one”. So how did it help Judas Iscariot? And how did the meaning of Lucifer (“bringer of light”) help Satan?

Deborah means bee; Rachel means ewe (female sheep); Philip means friend of horses; Caleb means dog; while Melinda/Belinda/Linda all mean serpent. So what?

Is the most important thing Christ promised His followers success-cum- wealth or salvation? Which person did Christ reject because of his or her name or whom did He bless because of his or her name? Is He not the same teacher who said that it is not what goes into a man that defiles a man but what comes out of a man?

The British missionaries demonized African names, and our founding fathers like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and others fought against it by dropping their English names (Benjamin Azikiwe, Jeremiah Awolowo etc) to promote African names. In recent times, the new preachers who perpetually want to make others chase shadows rather than the substance came up with the idea of making people reject names that they consider not positive or modern. Now, the craze for some peculiar names is killing the creativity and wisdom in our names. Names are no longer given to children according to the events around their birth.

Even beautiful modern names like Ngozi/Ngozichukwu (blessing/God’s blessing); Ifeoma (a thing of beauty); Akwaugo (precious); Agbomma (lineage of beauty); Adaeze (first daughter of the king); Ifenkili (spectacle); Ebelechukwu (God’s mercy); Ifeukwu (great thing); Obiefuna (may the palace not disappear); Nnamdi (my father lives); Chukwukadibia (God is greater than medicine men); Ugonna (father’s glory); Ugochukwu (God’s glory); Nwabufo (child is remembrance); Okwudiile (potent word), etc, seem to have been made obsolete by this generation.

The British have maintained British names like Henry, Richard, and William for centuries. The Jews have maintained Jewish names like Benjamin, Abraham, David, Sarah, and Judas. Arabs have maintained Arabic names like Mohammed, Abdulsalam, and Aisha for centuries. Why do we like to abandon our things for the sake of so-called modernity?

Please, let us bring back our beautiful and meaningful Igbo names and move away from this predictable path. We are a creative people with a mind of our own. Let us stop moving in one direction like some docile sheep.

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