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Oríkì, or praise poetry, is a cultural phenomenon amongst Yoruba-speakers of West Africa.


According to the Yoruba historian Samuel Johnson, the oriki is an attributive descriptive, one that expresses what a child is or what he or she is hoped to become. If a male, it is always expressive of something heroic, brave or strong. If a female, it is a term of endearment or of praise. In either case, the Reverend Johnson said that it was intended to have a stimulating effect on its bearer. [1]

The oríkì varies in length depending on whether it is the name given to a child to describe the future portents of the life or a recital of the accomplishments of a person's clan. It is invoked to praise a child for bringing pride to the parents or to attempt to evoke virtuous character traits of bravery, fortitude and perseverance that are believed to be innate in a person by pedigree.

It is not always clear what was pre-eminent in the mind of the person who named a child with the shorter praise name. Traditionally, a boy born with the umbilical cord around his neck is called Òjó (there are exceptions; the Ijebu subculture names a boy or girl Àìná), but the name Òjó has praise poetry that does not even mention that but implies that the child would be the darling of ladies and might be a little impatient.

Oríkì and surnames[edit]

Usually, a family derives its surname from a strong, accomplished patriarch or matriarch, and it is common to find the latter's accomplishments recited in the longer version of the oríkì of all progeny. An excerpt from praise poetry for the name Òjó would be:

When Ojo is not home, the chick grows to become a hen, if he was at home, he would have made soup of it"


Examples of oríkì names and their meanings (m and f denote the gender thereof):

  • Àjoké - meant to be taken care of by all. - f
  • Àlàké - to take care of her as a result of victory over circumstance. - f
  • Ànìké - had (birthed) to be pampered. - f
  • Àshàké - selected to be spoiled (with good things) - f
  • Àbèní - begged for (from God or, more traditionally, the gods) - f
  • Àríké - meant to be spoiled on sight - f
  • Àdùké - people will fight over the privilege to spoil her - f
  • Àdùnní - competed over to have - f
  • Àbèbí - begged for to be birthed (probably a difficult birth) - f
  • Àjàní - fought to have this child ,valuable and cherished son- m
  • Àkànní - met only once to have this child - m
  • Àjàgbé - fought to carry this child - m
  • Ajoke - to be cared for by all - f
  • Àkànde Àgàn - favourite of the prince - m
  • Akanni - first male child - m
  • Adigun - Name of God - m
  • Apeke - Called to be cared for - f
  • Adunni - One sweet to have - f
  • Amoke - Known about and cared for - f
  • Ajadi - the end of conflict - m
  • Ariyo - One that brings joy on sight - m
  • Àshàbi - selected to be born - f
  • Àtànda - lured to be created - m
  • Ayoka - One who causes joy - f
  • Atunke - One who would continually be taken care of -f
  • Iyànda - Chosen/selected to be created - m

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson (1921), p. 85.

External links[edit]