Last week, I argued that the current religious trend in Nigeria is not neo-paganism but a cultural reawakening. I must state that I was fortunate to be baptised with the name ‘Chidiebere’. I have wondered why priests rejected native names in the past and, sadly, why some priests still do that today.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given” (Can. 855).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated in 1992 says: “In Baptism, the Lord’s name sanctifies man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. The ‘baptismal name’ can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue”. (CCC, 2156).
The current stand of the Church is very clear. Most of our native names are deeply theological and indeed, not foreign to Christian sentiment. If this is the case, why do we continue to undermine native names at baptism? The dominant mentality in the world.
Officially, ‘Gregory’ is my third name, which I chose at Confirmation. When I arrived in Europe, they preferred to call me Gregory, which was easier, but I insisted on Chidiebere. “If you cannot pronounce Chidiebere, call me Chidi”. In Italy, many write ‘CD’ because ‘Chi’ in Igbo is pronounced as ‘C’ in Italian. I joyfully correct any message that addresses me as ‘CD’.
Even the universities I studied, assuming that I made a mistake by placing Chidiebere first, switched my first name to Gregory. I had to go to the secretariat to correct that. Unfortunately, one of my certificates still placed Gregory as the first name and Chidiebere as the second. For all these, I have no ill feelings and I enjoy explaining because people will not know your culture unless you tell them.
Pause and examine some of the English names we bear and accept as having Christian sentiments in Nigeria. Do all have Christian sentiments? For instance, is ‘Lilian’ the name of a saint or derived from the name of a flower? As I reflected, I discovered that the reason we keep on insisting on English names goes back to the time of the missionaries.
Canon 761 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law states: “Pastors should take care that a Christian name is given to those whom they baptise; but if they are not able to bring this about, they will add to the name given by the parents the name of some Saint and record both names in the book of baptisms”.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law was in force at the time of the missionaries. The 1983 Code of Canon law was promulgated after the Second Vatican Council, which took place between 1962 to 1965. Sadly, the missionaries, at least in the then Biafra, were expelled during the Nigeria-Biafra war between 1967 and 1970. Hence, the Nigerian priests who took over continued with the existing tradition and the tradition has lingered among the people so much so that no one really knows what the 1983 code says. Sadly, we are still stuck in many other pre-Vatican II practices today.
Looking at the 1917 Code, one sees what we still practice today regarding baptisms. We have a native name and must add a European name or the name of a saint to make it two. Of course, people are free to choose any name and the number of names they wish for their children.
Ka Chineke mezie okwu🙏🏾