a picture showing moyo okediji wearing a customized hoodie poised for the camera and behind him is one of his art piece

The birthday Gift.

This birthday gift came well after my birthday. It has my name emblazoned on it. As I wore it, I recalled the conversation with Iya Oyo and Baba Oyo that evening they explained the meaning of my name, Moyo, which literally means “I rejoice.” It is part of a longer name Moyòsọ́rẹtíolúwápèsèfúnmi.


“Baba Oyo,” I said, “my father told me you gave me the name Moyo.”

“Technically, I did,” “Baba Oyo responded. “As the head of the Okediji household, it is my responsibility to name you. In truth, your name was Mama Oyo’s idea. When you were born, and your father requested a name for you, I asked Mama Oyo. She said Moyo. And I agreed. I couldn’t think of a more lovely name.”

“Didn’t you say at that time it was a female name?” Iya Oyo quipped. “You took some convincing!”

“But I agreed, finally,” Baba Oyo countered.

“It was not easy to persuade you that both genders share the same names in Yoruba culture,” Iya Oyo held. “It is true that certain names have been so consistently applied to males that they now seem totally male, and vice versa for females.”

“But Oríkì (second names) are strictly male or female,” Baba Oyo insisted. “I concede that first names may be interchangeable between male and females. But with oríkì, I draw the line.”

“That is the Kiriyó in you,” Iya Oyo continued. “In Yoruba, we give a child the name you want the child to champion, and that child will carry the name like a champion, whether male or female.”

“I still say some oríkì are more suitable for females than males,” Baba Oyo was adamant.

I saw my opening into the conversation. “So, Baba Oyo,” I said, “why did you say Moyo is more female than male?”

“I didn’t exactly insist,” Baba Oyo replied. “I just mentioned that there are many more female Moyo than male.”

“Where is the census figure that shows you that?” Iya Oyo said, as she continued to cut the okro fingers into pieces. She was preparing our dinner.

I always longed for the one day I spent with them in Oyo immediately after the end of the school term, at the beginning of the holidays, before I caught the bus that would take me to Ile Ife to be with my father, mother and sisters for the rest of the month-long vacation.

My grandparents fed and doted on me on that special day spent with them. And their dialogues were seminars to my ears.

“Census figures?” Baba Oyo asked. “You use your eyes to do the census. How many males in this town bear the name Moyo?”

“It’s just a rare name, period,” Iya Oyo remarked. “How many persons, male or female, bear it that you know of? Ayo, yes, many people bear that name. But Moyo is rare. And since I was certain that he will be a special child, a rare child, I immediately thought of Moyo as a name for him.”

“What does Moyo really mean?” I asked Iya Oyo.

She wiped the kitchen knife on the edge of the top of the bowl into which she was cutting the okra. The okro was sticky and thickly attached itself to the kitchen knife. I loved sticky okro and looked forward to the meal with amala and catfish.

Iya Oyo straightened up. “Moyo is a name that you break into two syllables: mo and yọ̀. Mo means me or I. Yọ̀ is formed from Iyọ̀, or salt. Iyọ̀ is the sweet ingredient that you add to dishes to make them palatable. The sweetness of Iyọ̀ is different from that of Oyin or honey. People bear the name Oyin too. But Oyin is quite limited. You don’t add Oyin to your soup, beans, rice, or beef, fish, chicken or whatever you are cooking. But you add Iyọ̀ to all of them. That is why the sweetness of Iyọ̀ is much more widely useful than the sweetness of Oyin.”

Baba Oyo continued, “I hardly touch Oyin. It is too sweet for me.”

“I like Oyin with my hot ògì (corn pap),” said Iya Oyo, “but not always. I prefer the slightly sour tinge of the fermented corn, which the Oyin (honey) tends to reduce.”

“We use sugar at our boarding house,” I said. “The school serves us sugar with ogi.”

“Ah, sugar is too sharp,” Baba Oyo said, with his mouth pouted. “I don’t know how you can stand the sharpness of sugar.”

“Iyọ̀, from which your name, Moyo, comes,” Iya Oyo continues, “is a delicate condiment. Without iyọ̀ (or salt), this okro will taste flat. But too much iyọ̀ will spoil the okro and make it inedible. We must be careful with salt. Just a pinch of it is enough.”

“Iya Oyo is telling you to be careful and measured in whatever you do, Moyo,” Baba Oyo said.

“Ayọ̀ and Moyọ̀ are both from the pleasure of salt. They refer to the joy of sweetness, a delicacy of joy that shows taste, measure and discretion. You cannot be careless with salt, Moyo. Your name demands that you are deliberate, discreet, and measured. Wherever you go, you add the wonderful condiment to the party.”

“In a measured dose,” Baba Oyo added.

“Moyo is measured, of course,” Iya Oyo concluded. “May we not add too much salt to our food and ruin it.”

Baba Oyo and I responded with “Amin, ase!” in unison.

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