A Brief History of Yoruba Names

There are many Yorùbá names whose meanings are now lost due to the fact that the words forming their roots are no longer in use.

For instance, ask the young Master Ọlọ́pàádé the meaning of his name and he will probably tell you that his name means “the policeman has come“. Ask Mr. Ọlọ́paádé, his father, and he would probably tell you it means “the owner of the staff has come“. The two of them would be wrong as Ọlọ́pàádé actually means “the Ọpa (re|re) devotee has come“. The same goes for all other Ọpa names like Ọpatọ́lá, Ọpadọ̀tun etc. Those names show that the ancestors of the bearers of the names were worshippers or devotees of the Ọpa Cult otherwise called Awo Ọpa, one of the religious cults or secret societies proscribed by the British in colonial days.

Or imagine another scenario: Pastor Ọbáfẹ́mi (re|mi|mi|re), the pastor of a Pentecostal church, is asking Deacon Ògúnyẹmí to change his name because he believes that the name of the deacon is associated with Ògún, an idol (so-called), without realizing that his own name is also idolatrous in its origin.

Even Professor Wọlé Ṣóyínká in his book “The Man Died” gave the meaning of his surname Ṣóyínká to be “surrounded by wizards“. This is far from being the case. Names like Ṣóyínká, Ṣónékàn, Ṣónúgà etc. do not derive from “Oṣó“(wizard) but rather they derive from Òrìṣà-Oko, the Yorùbá deity of agriculture.

The name Ṣóyínká in full is Òrìṣàokoyínká which became shortened by a gradual declension to Ṣóókóyínká, Ṣóyímiká and finally to Ṣóyínká. It is the same for all the other “Ṣóó…” names.

If a whole Professor Ṣóyínká, a master of literature and language can be thus mistaken on the derivation and meaning of his own name, what about we lesser mortals. It is in order to put these various misconceptions right that I am publishing this little work via this medium.

This list is by no means exhaustive and others inputs are welcome so it can be in writing for generations yet unborn so that the knowledge of the meaning of our names will not die out.
Also, if you want to know the meaning of your Yorùbá name, you are welcome to ask.
Àgbà ò ní tán lórílẹ̀ (the elders’ wise counsel will never be scarce in our midst).

The “Okù” (re|do) names like Okùsànyà, Okùsẹ̀hìnde, Okùsàga etc are not derived from “Òkú” (dò|mí), a dead person. They are derived from “Okù“, the Ijebu deity of wealth which corresponds to “Ajé“, the Ọ̀yọ́ Yorùbá deity of wealth. Thus, Okùsànyà means the deity of wealth has rewarded me for my sufferings and not dead person has rewarded me for my sufferings.

Ọrẹ̀ (re|do)names like Ọ̀rẹ̀sànyà, Ọ̀rẹ̀dípẹ̀ etc. They do not derive from Ọ̀rẹ́, (dò|mí), friend, but from Ọrẹ̀, (re|do), a deity. A phrase like “A kìí ọmọ Ọrẹ̀ bọ Ọrẹ̀” (you don’t use the child of Ọrẹ̀ to propitiate Ọrẹ̀) comes to mind.

Igbin names like Onígbindé, Igbintádé etc do not derive from ìgbín (do|mi), snail, but rather from Igbin, (re|re), a drum beaten for the Òrìṣàálá or Ọbàtálá worship. The ancestors of people bearing these names were drummers for Òrìṣàálá worshippers.

Ọ̀pẹ̀ (do|do) names like Ọ̀pẹ̀sèyí, Ọ̀pẹ̀tọ́lá etc do not derive from Ọ̀pẹ, (do|re), palm tree, but rather from Ọ̀pẹ̀, (do|do), an Ifá appellation.

Ọnà (re|do) Ọnàsànyà, Ọnàbánjọ: these names are not derived from ọ̀nà (road) but they derive from Ọnà (craft). The name bearers of these names would be people who were craftsmen like sculptors etc in their origin.

Aláàlàdé (re|mi|do|do|mi) does not derive from àlá (do|mi), dream, but derives from Àlà (do|do), white, symbol of purity – the insignia of the Òrìṣàálá or Ọbàtálá deity and it means the owner of àlá has come, the Òrìṣàálá devotee has come and not the dreamer has come as many have supposed it means.

Elégbèdé does not derive from egbé (re|mí) – the supposed magical means of teleporting – and is not supposed to be pronounced as Elégbédé (re|mi|mi|mi) as Sunny Ade sang it in one of the records, on the Erelú of Lagos. The name is derived from ègbè (do|do) meaning support. Thus, the name is more properly pronounced as Elégbèédé (re|mi|do|mi|mi) – the defender, the one who will fight or support my cause has come.

Onípẹ̀ẹ́dẹ́ (re|mi|do|mi|mi) does not derive from ìpẹ́ (do|mi) fish scales, but derives from ìpẹ̀ (do|do) – consolation. So, it should not be pronounced as Onípẹ̀dẹ́ (re|mi|do|mi) the owner of scales has come but rather as Onípẹ̀ẹ́dẹ́ (re|mi|do|mi|mi) – the consoler has come.

Baba (re|re) and Ọba (re|re) name such Babasànyà, Babafẹ́mi, Ọbadáre, Ọbafẹ́mi, Ọbasanjọ́ do not derive from father or king. They both derive their roots from Ṣọ̀npọ̀nná, the deity of small-pox, which used to be referred to in reverent tone in olden days as Baba so that he would not kill them. If you will recall, in olden times, the marks left on the faces of anyone who recovered from small-pox attack used to be referred to as Ila-Baba, that is father’s marks.

In Chief Olúṣẹ́gun Ọbásanjọ́’s book, My Watch, he gave us an insight into the origin of the names starting with Ọba. Such names are related to Ọbalúaiyé (also calledṢọ̀npọ̀nná), the deity of smallpox. So the Ọba in Ọbasanjọ́, and Ọbafẹ́mi, is derived from Ọbalúaiyé and not from king.

So, Pastor Ọbafẹ́mi, in the hypothetical case mentioned above would do well to remove the log in his own eyes first by changing his own name first before insisting that Deacon Ògúnyẹmí should change his name.

Olókọ̀ (re|mi|do) does not derive from the word ọkọ̀ (re|do) – lorry or canoe and it does not mean the owner of a lorry or the owner of canoe, but it derives from the word ọ̀kọ̀ (do|do) – spear, and it means the owner, master or lord of the spear. It is a war title which has become a name. It is the title borne by the group of warriors whose chosen weapons of warfare is the spare.

Adékọ̀gbẹ́ (re|mi|do|mi) does not mean the crown rejects excreta as the word ìgbẹ́ (do|mi) in the name does not mean excreta; rather it means a bush or a light forest. The name means the crown rejects the bush, that is to say a prince shouldn’t be involved in manual labour or farming activities. Adékọ̀gbẹ́ is a name much favoured by the Ìjẹ̀bú, as they are of all Yorùbá tribes a tribe that is more averse to farm work or manual labour than any of the other Yorùbá tribes. They prefer to trade instead.

Adé (re|mi) names like Adébóyè Adébáyọ̀ Adébọ́lá are not derived from Adé (crown) but rather they are derived from the verb dé which means to come. Adébóyè means he who came at a time when chieftaincy has just entered into the family. Adébáyọ̀ means he who comes to meet when a thing of joy has just come into the family and Adébọ́lá means he who comes to meet when wealth has just come into the family.

Apart from the misconstrued names, there are other names whose meanings are now recondite as many people no longer know what the names mean.

Ṣàdáre Ṣàdẹ̀kó, Ṣàdẹ̀là etc, these names derive from the Òrìṣàálá otherwise called Ọbàtálá deity. Ṣàdáre is an hyphenated form of Òrìṣàdáre. The word Orisha whenever used alone invariably refers to Ọbàtálá otherwise called Òrìṣànlá. So, those names are names of people named after the Òrìṣàálá deity. Ṣàdáre then would mean Ọbàtálá has vindicated (me). Ṣàdẹ̀kó would mean that an Ọbàtálá worshipper has arrived at Èkó (Lagos). Ṣàdẹ̀là would mean Ọbàtálá has arrived into wealth.

Akérédolú (re|mi|mi|re|mi) means he who reduces himself in order to become a king. He who humbles himself to become a king like the title of that play “She Stoops To Conquer” by Oliver Goldsmith.

Adéwuyì (re|mi|re|do) means the crown grows honour, that is, the crown produces honour.

Ọlọ́fà (re|mi|do) means the owner of arrows or the master or lord of arrows. It is another war title that has become a name and it is the title given to those whose weapons of war in battle is the bow and arrow, that is archers.

Alókoláàrọ́ (re|mi|re|mi|do|mi) means he who has a large farm and also has a cooperative society to assist him to do the farm work. Aarọ́ is a cooperative system among the Yorùbá whereby the members agree to work jointly in the farm of each member of the group in turn until they have finished the farm-work of all the members.

Ọlọ́wẹ̀ (re|mi|do) means he who has an ọ̀wẹ̀ (do|do) cooperative group. Ọ̀wẹ̀ is another type of cooperative society whereby the members assist each other to work in the farm of each other. Olowe is thus somebody who has a large number of people at his beck and call whom he can call upon to assist him any time in his farm or other work

Apara (re|re|re) is short for Apara-ogun-bí–ẹní-palé (re|re|re|re|re|mi|re|mi|re|mi) implies he who sets war at naught. It means literally somebody who gets ready for war as easily as other people get ready for home affairs.

Ọkọ́ya (re|mi|re) means the hoe has torn into pieces. It is an Àbíkú name. It implies an imploration to the Àbíkú not to die again as the hoe for burial has torn into pieces.
Ọkọ́ṣẹ́ means the hoe has broken, same as Ọkọ́ya.

Pópóọla (mi|mi|re|mi) means the avenue of Honour or nobility. Pópó (mi|mi) means a broad street or avenue, Ọlá means honour or nobility.

Adéṣiyan (re|mi|re|re) means the crown is good.

Adélabú (re|mi|mi) means the crown has passed through the deep (the sea).

Bánmẹ́kẹ́ (mi|re|mi|mi) means hold or sustain the rafter of the house with me. Ẹkẹ (re|re) is the underlying structure upon which the leaves used to roof the house was be placed. It served the purpose now served by the rafter as forming the superstructure of the roof. It thus a very important part of the house or family.

Fáladé (mi|re|mi) means the god of divination has intermingled with royalty, probably a name given to a child who was born of an Ifá priesthood parent and a royal parent, like the mother of the first Olówu (re|mi|re) who being a princess married his father’s priest.

Ọláníyan (re|mi|mi|re) means nobility has swagger, that is to say noble people have a special way in which they carry themselves.

Adélékè or Délékè (re|mi|mi|do) means he who comes to become a very important part of the house. Eke (the rafter) being the superstructure of the roof. The Adé there is not crown but is from the verb dé meaning to come or arrive.

Ọlúwùsì (re|mi|do|do) means kingship has increased.

Adébọ́ṣìn (re|mi|mi|do) means he that came to meet kingship.

Ọṣìnbàjò (re|do|mi|do|do) – Ọṣìn-bọ̀-làjò – means the king has returned from a journey. Ọṣìn (re|do) means king. Bọ̀ means to come back from àjò (do|do) which means a journey.

Aṣáájú or Aṣíwájú (re|re|mi|mi) means the leader of the van. It is the war title of the chief of the unit that fights at the head of the army.
Séríkí derived from the Hausa word for king Sarkin. He is the head of all the junior war chiefs.

Sàrùmí (do|do|mi) is another war title given to the head of the Cavalry, that is the unit of the army that fight with horses or on horseback.

Aláásà (re|mi|mi|do) is a war title that has now become a name. It does not refer to aasa tobacco, but to asà (re|do) the shield. Aláásà means the owner or lord of the shield, that is the shield bearer, perhaps of the king.
Òòṣàdípẹ̀ or. Òrìṣàdípẹ̀. The deity (Obatala) has used this one (the newly born baby) to console by using him to replace a loss recently suffered by the family.

Ṣọ́nibárẹ́ (mi|re|mi|mi) – Ṣọ́-ẹni-tí–ò-nbá-ṣe-ọ̀rẹ́ – means be careful in choosing whom you allow to get close to you.

Èésúọlá (do|mi|mi|re|mi) means the pool that is the reservoir of honour or nobility

Bámgbégbìn (mi|re|mi|do) means assist me to carry the Igbin. It is a name borne by drummers for Orisala worship. (Igbin is the drum beaten in the worship of Òrìṣàálá/Ọbàtálá deity).

Tẹ̀là (Tẹ̀llà) (do|do) – Tẹ̀ẹ́-kó-là (do|mi|mi|do) – is a name borne only by Ọ̀yọ́ princes and it means bend or bow in order to become wealthy.

Ọládòyìbó (re|mi|do|do|mi) – Ọlá-da-iyì-bòó – means Honour surrounds him.

Ọlásọpé (re|mi|re|mi) means honour has emerged completely.

Kòtóyẹ́ (do|mi|mi) is short for Kò-tó-yẹ́-sí (do|mi|mi|mi), which means not worthy of being honoured, a name given to a child believed to be an Àbíkú because the Yorùbá believe that such a child if shown any love or regard by being given sweet and affectionate names would go back to his group of bad children but if shown he is despised and of scant regard and is expected by his parents to die anytime, he would stay; because Abikus have a perverse tendency to do just the opposite of what you expect them to do. For that reason, they are given derogatory names like Kòtóyẹ́sí Ajá (dog) etc.

Bámgbóṣé (mi|re|mi|mi) means assist me in carrying the Oṣe, that is Sango’s wand. It is a name given to children born by Ṣàngó worshippers.

We have not been able able to contact this writer.

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