Profound Meanings Of Yoruba Surnames as written By:
Daniel Ayodele Adeniran
There are many Yoruba names whose meanings are now lost due to the fact that the words forming the roots of those words are no longer in use. For instance, ask the young Master Olopade the meaning of his name and he will probably tell you that his name means “policeman has come”.
Ask Mr Olopade, 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 Olopade actually means “the Opa devotee has come”. The same goes for all other Opa names like Opatola, Opadotun etc. Those names show that the ancestors of the bearers of the names were worshippers or devotees of the Opa Cult otherwise called Awo Opa, one of the religion cults or secret societies proscribed by the British in colonial days.
Or imagine another scenario: Pastor Obafemi, the pastor of a Pentecostal church, is asking Deacon Ogunyemi to change his name because he believes that the name of the deacon is associated with Ogun, an idol, without realizing that his own name is also idolatrous in its origin.
Even Professor Wole Soyinka in his book “The Man Died” gave the meaning of his surname Soyinka to be “surrounded by wizards”. This is far from being the case. Names like Soyinka, Sonekan, Sonuga etc do not derive from “Oso” wizard but rather they derive from Orisaoko, the Yoruba god of Agriculture. The name Soyinka in full is Orisaokoyinka which became shortened by a gradual declension to Sookoyinka, Sooyinka and finally to Soyinka. It is the same for all the other “Soo…” names.
If a whole Professor Soyinka, 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 other’s 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 Yoruba name, you are welcome to ask.
Agba o ni i tan lorile.
The “Oku” names like Okusanya, Okusehinde, Okusaga etc are not derived from “Oku” do-mi, a dead person. They are derived from “Okù” the Ijebu god of wealth which corresponds to ” Ajé” the Oyo Yoruba god of wealth. Thus Okusanya means the god of wealth has rewarded me for my sufferings and not dead person has rewarded me for my sufferings.
Ore Names like Oresanya, Oredipe etc. They do not derive from Ore, do-mi (friend) but from Ore, re-do ( a deity).
Ope Names like Opeseyi, Opetola etc do not derive from Ope, do-re, palm tree but rather from Ope, do-do, an Ifa divining chain.
Igbin Names like Onigbinde, Igbintade etc do not derive from Igbin, do-mi, (snail) but rather from Igbin, re-re ( a drum beaten for the Orisaala worship). The ancestors of people bearing these names were drummers for Orisaala worshippers.
Onasanya, Onabajo these names are not derived from ona (road) but they derive from ona (craft). The name bearers of these names would be people who were craftsmen like sculptors etc in their origin.
Alalade does not derive from ala do-mi (dream) but derives from Ala do-do (white, the insignia of the Orisala or Obatala deity) and it means the owner of ala has come, the Orisala devotee has come and not the dreamer has come as many have supposed it means.
Elegbede does not derive from egbe, re-mi (the supposed magical means of teleporting) and is not supposed to be pronounced as Elegbede re-mi-mi as Sunny Ade sang it in one of the records he made for the Erelu of Lagos when he sang “Aya Dehinde mi kaabo, Elegbede, Abiola Fernandez ku eto”. The name is derived from egbe do-do meaning support. Thus the name is more properly pronounced as Elegbede re-mi-do-mi-mi (the defender, the one who will fight or support my cause) has come.
Onipede does not derive from ipe do-mi (fish scales) but derives from ipe do-do (consolation). So it should not be pronounced as Onipede re-mi-vi-mi the owner of scales has come but rather as Onipede re-mi-do-mi-mi (the consoler has come).
Baba re-re and Oba re-re names such as Babasanya, Babafemi, Obadare, Obafemi, Obasanjo do not derive from father or king. They both derive their roots from Sonponna, the god 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.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at page Page 45 of his latest book My Watch gave us an insight into the origin of the names starting with Oba when he stated the origin of his name Obasanjo as follows:
“The change of fortune in my father’s life was, to me inexplicable. Apart from being hardworking, he was a stickler to everything correct – correct behavior and mannerism; correct attitude in almost all things; respect for all, both younger and older. He was a good family man, wise and confident–most people in the village and many from neighboring villages sought his advice- and he was always sober and caring. My father’s social drink was fresh palmwine, which contains little or no alcohol before it ferments. But suddenly, my father started taking ogogoro, the locally brewed gin. The drink is reputed to be harsh and intoxicating. As my father indulged in this drink, things started going downhill for him. He became alcoholic. People wondered and were concerned.
“My mother took to enquiring from the gods and seeking a solution from diviners. The answer they came up with was that my father was an abiku (children that are regarded as dying and coming back, reborn through the same parents). They said also that when my grand mother came to her wits’ end, desperate to have a surviving child, she sought a child through the deity of smallpox, Obaluaiye. It was assumed that the neglect of Obaluaiye in our family has caused the change in my father’s lifestyle. The deity had to be appeased by my sister, Wola, being made a worshiper and being inducted into all the rituals of Obaluaiye. I was then made to understand that my father’s name, Obasanjo, was given to appreciate the kindness of Obaluaiye in granting my grandmother a surviving child. I later saw all this as superstition, anyway. And, in any case, my father’s gradual but steady downturn of fortune was neither stopped nor reversed until he died early in 1960. My sister married a Muslim and forgot about worshipping Obaluaiye and practising its rituals.”
From this one can see that the Oba in Obasanjo, Obafemi, derived from Obaluwaye otherwise called Sonponna, the god of small pox and does not derive from king. So Pastor Obafemi 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 Ogunyemi should change his name.
Oloko re-mi-do does not derive from the word oko 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 oko 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.
Adekogbe re-mi-do-mi does not mean the crown rejects excreta as the word igbe 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. Adekogbe is a name much favoured by the Ijebus, as they are of all Yoruba tribes a tribe that is more averse to farm work or manual labour than any of the other Yoruba tribes. They prefer to trade instead.
Ade re-mi names like Adeboye Adebayo Adebola are not derived from Ade (crown) but rather they are derived from the verb de which means to come. Adeboye means he who came at a time when chieftaincy has just entered into the family. Adebayo means he who comes to meet when a thing of joy has just come into the family and Adebola 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 knows what the names mean.
Shadare Sadeko, Sadela etc, these names derive from the Orisala otherwise called Obatala deity. Shadare is an hyphenated form of Orishadare. The word Orisha whenever used alone invariably refers to Obatala otherwise called Orisala. So those names are names of people named after the Orishala deity. Shadare or Sadare then would mean Obatala has vindicated (me). Sadeko would mean that an Obatala worshipper has arrived at Eko (Lagos) Sadela would mean Obatala has arrived into wealth.
Akeredolu 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.
Adewuyi re-mi-re-do means the crown grows honour, that is the crown produces honour.
Olofa 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.
Alokolaro re-mi-re-mi-do-mi-mi means he who has a large farm and also has a cooperative society to assist him to do the farm work. Aaro is a cooperative system among the Yorubas 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.
Olowe re-mi-do means he who has an owe do-do cooperative group. Owe 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 anytime in his farm or other work.
Apara re-re-re is short for Aparaogunbienipale 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.
Okoya re-mi-re-mi means the hoe has torn into pieces. It is an Abiku name. It implies an imploration to the Abiku not to die again as the hoe for burial has torn into pieces.
Okose means the hoe has broken, same as Okoya.
Popoola means the avenue of Honour or nobility. Popo means a broad street or avenue, Ola means honour or nobility.
Adesiyan means the crown is good.
Adelabu means the crown has passed through the deep (the sea).
Banmeke means hold or sustain the rafter of the house with me. Eke 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.
Falade means the god of divination has intermingled with royalty, probably a name given to a child who was born of an Ifa priesthood parent and a royal parent, like the mother of the 1st Olowu who being a princess married his father’s priest.
Olaniyan means nobility has swagger, that is to say noble people have a special way in which they carry themselves.
Adedeke or Dedeke re-mi-re-mi means he who comes to become a very important part of the house. Eke (the rafter) being the superstructure of the roof. The Ade there is not crown but is from the verb de meaning to come or arrive.
Oluwusi means kingship has increased.
Adebosin means he that came to meet kingship.
Osinbajo means the king has returned from a journey. Osin re-do means king. Bo means to come back from ajo do-do which means a journey.
Asaju 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.
Seriki derived from the Hausa word for king sarkin. He is the head of all the junior war chiefs.
Sarumi 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.
Alasa re-mi-mi-do is a war title that has now become a name. It does not refer to aasa tobacco, but to asa the shield. Alasa means the owner or lord of the shield, that is the shield bearer, perhaps of the king. Asa means shield.
Oshadipe. Orishadipe. The god (Obatala) has used this one (the newly born baby) to console by using him to replace a loss recently suffered by the family.
Sonibare means be careful in choosing whom you allow to get close to you.
Eesuola means the pool that is the reservoir of honour or nobility.
Bamgbegbin 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 Orisaala/Obatala deity).
Tella do-do is a name borne only by Oyo princes and it means bend or bow to become in order to become wealthy.
Oladoyibo re-mi-do-do-mi means Honour surrounds him.
Olasope re-mi-re-mi means honour has emerged completely.
Kotoye do-mi-mi is short for Kotoyesi do-mi-mi-mi-mi, which means not worthy of being honoured, a name given to a child believed to be an Abiku because the Yorubas 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 Kotoyesi, Aja (dog) etc.
Bamgbose mi-re-mi-mi means assist me in carrying the ose, that is Sango’s wand. It is a name given to children born by Sango worshippers.