Names in general, are used primarily for identity purposes. In religious and cultural circles, names transcend identity and wade into ‘spiritual’ or ‘situational’ expression while still attaching its primary function of identity. In Africa, the latter is the case.
Among the Igbo speaking people of Nigeria, the African system of naming is deep. People give out names mostly as a situation demands. A man whose children constantly die at infancy will likely come up with names like Onwuegbu (death will not kill this), Onwubiko (death please…), or when all hope is gone, resort to Onwuka (death is greater). The Igbo attaches emotional colouration to names. Consider Ekwutosim or Ikwutosim, Nwanyibuife, Onyebuchim… Look at Chinasa, Chimuanya, etc.
Most Igbo names like “Onwutalobi” have symbolic meanings and are grammatical constructed; that is, they constitute a complete expression.
“Onwu talu obi” literally means “Death has eaten up a kingdom”- it is a classical Igbo nomenclature with a fascinating meaning, Igbo names are symbolic and usually reflects the immediate circumstance after a child is born to a family. It is an expressive reminder and powerful emotive thoughts of the family before and after the child is born. it usually has a religious undertone.
In the olden days, Igbo names are given based on the circumstance, emotion, myths, situations, facts and historical reasons. Most often, such names may mean nothing or seemingly vague to the third party but essentially the meaning of the name can be very educating and highly appreciated if explained. for instance, If a child is born to a family that suddenly become prosperous or experience growth in wealth… the baby if a girl will be called “obanuju” which means “You met us in a good time”. In another instance, If the parents have death encounters in child delivery, they may call the next child “Ozoemena” which means “let it not happen again”. I know of my cousin who bears the name “ogbogu” because he was born immediately after the biafran war. Ogbogu means his arrival has quenched the war.
The etymology of the name Onwutalobi
On this note, Onwutalobi as an Igbo name has a mythological explanation which is widely claimed by the bearers of the name to suffice for the meaning. Most Igbo history is base on oral tradition. This story, now a cultural memory, has been passed down to our great grandfathers for centuries. Before the invention of written language, and before the advent of widespread literacy, oral tradition was much more of a daily presence in people’s lives than it is in our world today. storytelling encompasses the telling of the story of a people, their history and genealogy. For the name Onwutalobi, the situation that caused the formation of the name was a story told by one okenye (late Vincent Onwutalobi (1898 – 1972) of a particular Igbo kingdom, He said that the name ” Onwutalobi” was given to an only child of a man in one Igbo kindred (obi), whose kingdom nearly went to extinct by untimely series of death of their entire kindred.
Fortunately, after several years of this painful time, a new child was born to their family; it was a joyful moment in the history of that Community. During the naming ceremony, the community named him “I ga adi makana Onwu talu obi” that means “you have come to stay as death has eaten up our entire family members” With the power of spoken word of the elder. This name has a commanding note… as the Child is reminded that his existence will retain the lineage of his kindred and his name will be a resounding command to nature to allow God to keep his family lineage going. Thus, the child did not die as name fulfils the prayer and reinstate the emotive expression it intends.
Today’s Usage of the Name
In recent times, the name was shortened to “Onwutalobi” although the full meaning is in sentence form. The name sustained the family lineage and more than sixty people in that community still bear the name
Onwutalobi Thomas(1870-1970), Onwutalobi Vincent(1898-1972), Onwutalobi Isaac(1925-1985), Onwutalobi George(1923-1994)
Etymology of Onwutalobi
Igbo People of Nigeria, Matt VanderSluis 2008
Igu Aro Ndi Igbo, Nwokoye Chukwudi 2008