Home Why do Nigerian names start with Oluwa? [An exhaustive explanation]

Why do Nigerian names start with Oluwa? [An exhaustive explanation]

by Abbey
Why do Nigerian names start with Oluwa?

The first thing I need to point out is that Nigeria is a multicultural society, but I am only going to break the country into three major ethnic groups. Having taught the Yoruba language to foreigners in the past, I am definitely qualified to talk about this topic.

Nigeria is predominantly made up of the Hausas in the North, the Igbos in the southeastern part of the country, and the Yorubas in the southwestern part of the country.

These three ethnic groups are by far the biggest, and their respective languages of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba are the most spoken languages in the country.

The word “OLUWA” is the name of the Yoruba extraction of southwestern Nigeria. So the first thing that should jump out at you is that the name belongs to someone whose father is a Yoruba. I mentioned father because in Nigeria, children often take the name of their father (not their mother).

OLUWA is one of the names given to God. When I say “God, I mean the universal GOD. Irrespective of the religions of the Nigerian people, we all usually agree that there is only one God. There might be several prophets of God, but there is only one God. Now, that God could be the Christian or Muslim God, and indeed, it could also mean one of the traditional gods. But I will explain to you the most likely God that the name represents. And also, nobody bears the name OLUWA as a stand-alone a lot; it is usually a prefix or a suffix to something else, and all of this will be explained.

OLUWA with respect to traditional gods.

The people who practice traditional religion also believe in a god, which means that their names could also have the word OLUWA. But the traditional worshippers are less likely to use the name OLUWA as part of their children’s name. The most obvious reason for this is that traditional worshippers often worship a particular god, and they are more likely to give their child a name similar to that specific god than to give that name to the universal God.

Take, for example, a certain group of traditional worshippers who worship the god of divination called IFA. IFA is one of the most important gods to the Yoruba people; there is hardly any traditional village in southwestern Nigeria where you won’t find IFA worshippers. As long as the village has a king, there is an IFA priest in that village.

Now, if the IFA people want to name children, they are likely to use the word “IFA” in the name of that child. Take, for example, the word BUNMI. Bunmi is a name that means “gift.” An IFA priest or a devout person will only name their kids IFA-BUNMI. What this translates to is that the child is a gift from the god of divination, IFA.

To avoid dragging this article out, I’ll leave the traditional definition here.

OLUWA with respect to the Muslim faithful

The next one is the Muslims, who are of Yoruba origin. How likely is it that a Muslim of Yoruba origin will give their kids a name with the word “OLUWA”? The likelihood of this is very slim. Muslims don’t tend to give their children a name that will confuse people as to whether that child is a Christian or a Muslim. The truth is that religion usually plays a big part in the name that a child is given in Yoruba land. The word “OLUWA” is usually reserved for Christians.

The real meaning of OLUWA as it relates to Christians

So, OLUWA is a name of Yoruba extraction in southwestern Nigeria. It means God, and more specifically, JESUS or GOD. The name is also usually shortened to just OLU. In fact, you will encounter this shortened form a lot more than the longer form.

Going by the example of the name BUNMI that we used in the first example, don’t forget that BUMNI means a gift. So a Christian Yoruba will usually name their child OLUWA-BUNMI. This means that Jesus gave me this child, or that he gave me a gift from Jesus, which is the same thing. But the name OLUWA-BUNMI can be shortened to OLU-BUNMI. This has the exact same meaning as OLUWA-BUNMI.

Please note that there is no hyphen in the exact names. The hyphen has been included here in order to make this explanation easier for you.

Another example is Ibukun-Olawa. As I told you, the word OLUWA can either be a prefix or a suffix to something else. The word IBUKUN means blessings; therefore, the word IBUKUN-OLUWA means blessings from God or Jesus.

I hope you have been able to enjoy this short lecture on not only the word “OLUWA” but also about the cultural and religious implications of the name.

Also check out why Yoruba names starts with OLA. 


  • Abbey

    Abbey Johnson has a Masters degree as an engineer and has over 3 years of teaching and research experience. He is happiest when on a bike and is also interested in electric energy and computer Science.

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