67. Native baptismal name
67. Native baptismal name

67. Native baptismal name

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’.

To all I explained the meaning of Chidiebere, their response was “Wow”, “What a beautiful name”. Of course, Chị dị ebere.

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.

When I see some names used at baptism in Europe, I struggle to find the Christian sentiment in them. Does the law not bind those in Europe?

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.

However, for an African priest in the twenty-first century, amidst the cultural reawakening, to continue to discourage or even prevent people from using native theological names at baptism means that the priest is neck deep into an identity crisis. Sadly, the worst thing that can happen to someone is not knowing his identity. The person is lost.

Ka Chineke mezie okwu🙏🏾



  1. Paul Ezeibenne

    Nice one dear Fr. Thank you so much for giving time and attention to this topic long overdue. I am more convinced that we seldom read and study even those Church documents handed down to us in answer to questions. I never knew the Canon law (of all documents) spoke on this.

    God bless you Fr. Thank you. My work is to share and also STUDY. 😊

  2. Fr. Chuks Ejiogu

    Thank you Fr. for this expository writeup. I never knew this even though my baptismal name is Chukwuemeka. I have to commend my parents for identifying me with this name amidst the epoch of rejecting Igbo names among some priests. Lol. Pls i suggest that you make the writeup avaliable to many social handles for more audiance to read.

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