Scholar Learns the Origins of the African Name of a Florida International University Building

Florida_International_University_213414The origin and the meaning of the name of the Owa Ehan building on the campus of Florida International University in Miami have been a frequent topic of discussion on campus. Mark Finlayson, an assistant professor in the School of Computing and Information Sciences, decided to investigate and dug through the university’s archives in an attempt to solve the mystery. Here is what he discovered.

In the university’s early days, buildings on campus were named using different languages. In May 1975 the Black Employees Association sent a letter to the university’s president Charles Perry asking that a proposed building, the sixth to be constructed on the university’s campus, be named in an African language to honor the city’s and the university’s Black community. The committee offered several choices in the languages of Twi, Yoruba, Swahili, and an unnamed language used by the Benin people in southern Nigeria.

President Perry chose the name Owa Ehan, which he was led to believe meant “sixth house” in the Benin language. Dr. Finlayson conducted further research and found that the language from which the terms originated is Edo or Bini, spoken primarily in the Nigerian state of Edo by about one million people.

Finlayson also determined that Owa Ehan actually translates into “six houses” or a “collection of six houses.”


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