Why Nma, Chidinma, Uzodinma Are Not Igbo Names

Why Nma, Chidinma, Uzodinma Are Not Igbo Names

By Azuka Onwuka

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It is common to see people who write their names as Nma, Chidinma, Agbonma, Uzodinma, Nmesoma, etc. In fact, if you spell your name as “Chidimma,” someone would promptly edit it to read “Chidinma.” But these are not Igbo spellings and cannot be called Igbo names.

Why?

It is not possible for “n” and “m” to follow each other in Igbo language, no matter the dialect. It can never happen. The use of “nm” together shatters the structure of the Igbo language, making a mockery of its phonology and phonetics.

The ridiculous argument such people make is that “nma” means beauty, while “mma” means knife. But like Chief Zebrudaya would say: “Fa fa fa foul!”

Whatever its meaning, “mma” must be spelt as “mma.” The only way to differentiate one from the other is by tone-marking. The same thing applies to “akwa” which can be tone-marked to mean four different things: ákwá (cry), àkwà (bed), àkwá (egg), and ákwà (cloth).

Here are the variants of mma:

beauty = mmã

knife/machete = mmà

mother = mmá (adapted from “mama” just as “mpa” is adapted from “papa”)

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But those who use “nma” in their names are not fully to blame. An authority like Chinua Achebe used “Ezinma” in Things Fall Apart as the favourite daughter of Okonkwo the protagonist of the novel. Most of the books written before 1970 used “nma” as the correct spelling. But such books, including Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, also spelt Igbo as “Ibo,” which has caused that meaningless name “Ibo” to continue to be used till this day by some people. Some even funnily claim that “Igbo” is the language while “Ibo” is the people or that Igbos are those from the Southeast while Ibos are those from Delta, Edo and Rivers. But such are ridiculous and vacuous points. Ibo does not exist: it was simply an orthography issue that was misinterpreted in pronunciation.

From 1972,  Igbo linguists, under the umbrella of the Society for the Promotion of Igbo Language and Culture (SPILC), standardized the writing of Igbo words. It became obvious that “nm” is not possible in Igbo language. But there are those who have remained in the past and have continued to promote that error of using “nm” and even arguing that it is correct. Even many online dictionaries still spread that error.

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Igbo is a practical language. Whatever you pronounce is what you write. It is as simple as that. German is close to it in that regard. It is not like English or French that says one thing but spells another. For example, the English will write “bow” (weapon) and “bow” (greeting sign) but pronounce them differently. When you see “blood”, “mood” and “book” in English, please don’t assume that the double o in the three words should be pronounced the same way, neither should you pronounce the ending of “though” and “tough” and “plough” as the same. And when the French tell you “yes” in their language, please don’t spell it as “we” or “wi,” for the spelling is “oui.”

There is no silent letter in Igbo. Whatever is not needed is not included in Igbo language. Every letter is sounded, except in few, specific cases when one vowel “swallows” the one beside it in a fast speech, like writing Okeafo as Okafo.

So to confirm if “nma” is what is pronounced, just pronounce it. You will notice that your two lips will have to come together until you sound the “a”. It simply shows that what you pronounced was double m. To pronounce “n”, your lips cannot touch each other. Rather your tongue will stick to the inside of your upper lip while your lower lip is hanging down. The only way to pronounce “n” before “m” is to consciously do so. That way you have to open your mouth to pronounce “n”, then close your mouth to pronounce “m” before opening your mouth to pronounce “a”. That process is awkward, slow and unnatural. Nobody does that while pronouncing a name.

Therefore, you don’t even need an Igbo language expert to tell you that “nma” is not an Igbo word, because it is not used in Igbo language.

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Igbo language does not allow two consonants to follow each other except on two conditions. The first condition is that the consonants should be one of the nine blends or diagraphs of the Igbo language called mgbochiume mkpị. They are ch, gb, gw, gh, kw, kp, nw, ny, and sh. These blends look like two consonants but they are sounded as one letter. An example is “Chikwe” which has ch and kw as two blends.

The second condition is that the first consonant must serve as a semi-vowel (myiriudaume). Only two letters serve as semi-vowel in Igbo: “n” and “m”.  In “Ngozi” (Blessing) and “mba” (“town” or “no”), the “n” and “m” are functioning as semi-vowels.

Then most importantly, Igbo language has a rule that “m” cannot be a semi-vowel to “n”, while “n” cannot be a semi-vowel to “m”. That means that “m” cannot follow “n” and vice versa. So there cannot be “nm” or “mn” in Igbo. “M” can only follow an “m”, while “n” can only follow an “n”. Just as you can’t write “mn” in Igbo,  so also you cannot write “nm”. So you can’t have “Mnamdi” (Nnamdi) or “Mnemna” (Nnenna) or “Chidinma” or “Ezinma”.

Examples of mm:

mma    =   beauty, knife, mama

mmadu = human being

mmeri = victory

mmanya =  drinks

mmasi = liking

mmegbu = victimisation

mmebi = destruction

mmiri = water

mmezi = repair or “jara”

Examples of nn:

nne = mother

nna = father

nnọọ = welcome

nnụnụ = bird

nnu = salt

nnadi = relative

So “nm” is not possible in Igbo language. Similarly, Nsukka, Onitsha, Awka or Abba are not Igbo spellings because of the consonant cluster in each of the names.

However, people are free to spell their names as they wish. One can spell Osadebe as Osadebay. One can spell Olamide as Holamide, Orlamiday or Olamidey. Mike can be spelt as Maik. Azuka can be spelt as Azucar or Azooka. It is one’s choice. Nobody can force anybody to spell his or her name in any particular way.

But it is important for people to know which spelling is not Igbo and which is. It is also important that those who did not know this are made to know it, so that they will note it when naming their children and avoid the mistakes made by our parents.

Below are comments made by some of my friends on my Facebook wall on the same issue, for more elucidation.
———-

Chijioke Ngobili (Mmụta Na-azọndụ):
That some Igbo people are wrongly spelling “mma” as “nma” doesn’t make it right. They’re simply ignorant. They don’t know about the device used in writing Igbo called MYIRIỤDAỤME.

MYIRIỤDAỤME holds that: myiriụdaụme ndị “n” na-eso “n” ebe myiriụdaụme ndị “m” na-esokwuazị “m”. Ọmụma atụ:

Maka ndị “n”
Nna, Nne, nni, nnọọ, nnụnụ.

Maka ndị “m”
Mma, mmehie, mmiri, mmịmị, mmụọ.

There’s never any reason or a time where and when “n” will follow “m” or “m” will follow “n”. It is abominable linguistically and in Igbo Language. And it is never a function of dialect. It is simply and squarely ignorance of the language just like we are ignorant of many things that concern us including Omenaanị.

Mother is mmá
Beauty is mmã
Knife/machete is mmà.

Because our people are so nonchalant about writing Igbo let alone writing correctly, they resort to inventing things they like to differentiate words forgetting we have the provision of “akara ụdaọlụ” (tone-mark) for that just as I have used to show you the difference.

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Mgbeke Obi:
A lot of people weren’t taught Igbo in school, it seems. And they are trying to apply the rules of English language to Igbo language here.

There are two consonants in Igbo language which act as vowels and also as consonants. They are m and n. Usually, a consonant is wedged between two vowels in Igbo. But there are instances where a consonant comes before another consonant. In this case, the first consonant is acting as a vowel: myiriudaume.

Myririudaume “m” goes with these other consonants:
1. b  eg mba (town) mbekwu (tortoise)
2. f  eg mfe (easy)
3. gb eg mgba (wrestle)
4. m eg mmadu (human being), mmuo (spirit)
5. p eg mpi (horn)
6. v eg mvo (nail)
7. y  eg myo (sieve)

Myiriudaume “n” works with these consonants:
1. ch eg ncha (soap)
2. d eg ndewo (thank you)
3. g eg Ngozi (Blessing)
4. gw eg ngwe (fence)

5. h eg nhachi (replace)
6. j eg njiko (join)
7. k eg nkoli ( discussion)
8. l eg nlecha (“flexing”)
9.  n eg nna (father)
10. kw eg nkwa (music or promise)
11. r eg  nri (food)
12. sh eg nshiko (crab)
13. s eg nso (near)
14. t eg nti (ear)
15. z eg nzuko (meeting)

Myiriudaume “n” never goes with “m”. Never.

It is mma for beauty, for good, for knife or for spirit as some Enugu dialects call spirit mmà.

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——————-

Alvan Chinagorom Emerald Ilo:
Myiriudaume m and n MUST not follow each other. It is against the spelling rule.

Now, the consonants (mgbochiume) that follow myiriụdaume ‘m’ are nine in number while those that follow ‘n’  are 19 adding up to 28 Igbo consonants.

The nine consonants that follow ‘m’ include the following: b, gb, m, kp, p, f, v, w, y. For instance:

m = mba (town)
gb = mgba (wrestle)
m = mma (beauty/knife)
kp = mkpụrụ (seed)
m  = mpe (small)
f = mfe (not heavy)
v = mvọ (nail)
m = mwepụ (subtraction)
y = myọ (sieve)

On the other hand, the consonants which follow myiriụdaume  ‘n’ include the following: ch, d, g, gh, gw, h, j, k, kw, l, n, ñ, nw, ny, r, s, sh, t, z.

ch = nche (security)
d = ndị (those or people)
g = nga (prison)
gh = nghọta (understanding)
h = nha (comb)
j = nje (weevil)
k = nka (old age)
kw = nkwa (music or promise)
r = nri (food)
n = nne (mother)
t = nte (an insect)
gw =ngwere (lizard)
z = nza (little bird like the wren)
etc.

———–

Maazi Ogbonnaya:
F. C. Ogbalu remains the modern father of Igbo language study. Without F. C. Ogbalu, Igbo language would have been a dead language in terms of scholarship.

“Nma” is not an Igbo word or the dialect of any Igbo people. The place of articulation and manner of articulation of “nm” cannot come together in Igbo phonotactics. This is absolutely wrong.

Igbo language, just as other languages, has rules. That you are Igbo and speak Igbo doesn’t mean you know that grammar of Igbo. You have to learn it just as you learnt the English grammar. If not, you will continue making a mockery of yourself.

One thing some people here fail to understand is the fact that the Igbo language study has gone far and left many behind. The best thing to do is to enter into the moving train instead of arguing blindly. What your tongue pronounces should not be forced to shove into one’s throat, thereby generalizing it is the perfect way of acceptance. One of the characteristics of language is conventional. Before you argue blindly, ask yourself, how many Igbo study workshops have you attended? Most of us here are arrogant to learn. Don’t know if it is pride.

In linguistics, we have the “rule of phonotatics”. This rule determines how words must be formed (morphology). The rule of Igbo language is that consonant cluster cannot be formed. You can’t see two segment consonant letters coming together. When you see things like ” mmanu”, “mmadu”. The first “m” is myiriudaume (syllabic nasal) while the second “m” is mgbochiume (consonant).

The two consonant letters in Igbo language that can serve as vowel by receiving tone marks are “m” and “n” at the initial segment followed by a consonant. But whenever a vowel segment follows any of them, they no longer function as myiriudaume but mgbochiume (consonant). E.g. Mu. “M” here is a consonant while the “u” is a vowel. Because “m” and “n” can function as vowel by receiving tone marks, that is why they are called myiriudaume (syllabic nasal). They resemble vowel depending on the word formative usage.

How can you place two syllabic nasals together which have different places of articulation? One is voiced, the other one is voiceless in the phonetic symbol. You can’t place voice and voiceless fricatives together.
It is empty deception saying “mma” is knife, while “nma ” is beauty. This is poverty of intellectuality in aspect of Igbo language. In Igbo phonology, we have minimal pairs. For words that come in same form but different pronunciation, we employ tone-mark to show the difference. If the difference between “nma”and “mma” is beauty and knife, why is Igbo a tonal language?

See it here:

mmá = Beauty

mmà = Knife

The first “m” in each of the words is syllabic nasal (myiriudaume). It takes a high tone mark. The vowel that comes after the consonant through the tone mark shows the difference between knife and beauty.

Please anyone who thinks otherwise should bring up his logical argument. We are all learning.

27 Comments

  1. Chukwuebuka March 25, 2017 Reply
    • Azuka Onwuka March 25, 2017 Reply
  2. Robert March 25, 2017 Reply
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  3. Naomi Nwadike March 26, 2017 Reply
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  4. Sunday O. Oladokun April 1, 2017 Reply
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  5. Ramatu Ahmed April 2, 2017 Reply
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  6. Chinedu April 4, 2017 Reply
  7. Chidinma May 13, 2017 Reply
    • Azuka Onwuka May 14, 2017 Reply
  8. Edoga Chioma March 14, 2018 Reply
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  9. Stephen March 25, 2018 Reply
  10. Euzo March 28, 2018 Reply
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      • Chidinma July 7, 2018 Reply
        • Azuka Onwuka July 10, 2018 Reply
  11. Obi Oluchi April 2, 2018 Reply
  12. Chidinma July 7, 2018 Reply
    • Azuka Onwuka July 10, 2018 Reply
  13. Chidinma July 7, 2018 Reply
  14. Miss Adaugo Adanma October 24, 2018 Reply
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