One common stereotype about Yorùbá names is that they, on the surface, always seem obsessed with wealth. It is incompatible with the truth, of course, but examples are usually provided easily to show how almost any verb combined with the word for “wealth” will almost always generate a Yorùbá name.
My name is “Kọ́lá” (full name Kọ́láwọlé), a very good example of this instance. There are others: Bọ́lá, Ṣọlá, Tọ́lá, Nọ́lá, Fọlá, Dọlá, Gbọlá.
The problem, however, is that the “ọlá” in Yorùbá names do not all mean the same thing. In the case of “Kọ́láwọlé”, I can provide a curt interpretation as “(He who) bring(s) wealth into the house” but that doesn’t say all that the name embodies. In any case, the “ọlá” in the name is more than nominal wealth. It is prominence, it is dignity, it is nobility, it is public acclaim.
A man referred to as “Ọlọ́lá” is not just rich, he is a notable public figure with admirable nobility. If money were to be the distinguishing factor, he would be called “Olówó” instead. There is another appellation given to properly highlight material wealth. That is Ọlọ́là. This ọlà (note the difference in the tonal marking) also encompasses success, but highlights it above individual character or nobility.
Therefore a name like Adégbọlá would be better interpreted either as “We have arrived to receive wealth” or “The crown/royalty has received nobility/prominence.” The context, or the family story, will decide which one is appropriate in each instance. A name like Ọláńrewájú, however, brings a different problem. Same with Ọláwálé. Here, the root “ọlá” is being given a subject role in which it is forced to be more than wealth or nobility. It becomes a person! A Dictionary of Yorùbá Personal Names by Adébóyè Babalọlá and Olúgbóyèga Àlàbá defines both, respectively, as “The head of this noble family is progressing” and “The new member of our noble family has come home.” In both cases, Ọlá is a living being, represented by this newly-born child.
In other instances, Ọlá means “blessing” or “grace”. And isn’t that interesting? The sentence “Ọlá Ọlọ́run ni mo jẹ” means “I’ve benefited from the grace of God.” In this case, it is not wealth or nobility at all. What the name is saying is that if not for the presence/grace/help of God, the child wouldn’t have been born. Now, this doesn’t mean that it couldn’t also mean the wealth of God, but that would be a simplistic reading indeed.
This interpretation would explain names like Ọláìyá (“the benefit/grace of mother”), Ọláòkun (“the benefit of the ocean – or foreign travel”) or Ọláolúwa (born by “the grace/benefit of God”).
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