(This is kind of a continuation of What’s in a name?.)
When my parents were deciding what to name the precious daughter that turned out to be me, my mom told me they decided to give me a Yoruba first name so that I would always have a tie to my heritage, no matter where in the world I ended up. My two middle names are also Yoruba, and they were given to me by my paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother. My parents hadn’t planned to raise their children in North America: my father had received a scholarship from the Nigerian government to study abroad, and the deal was when he was finished his schooling, the government would bring him and his family back home. However things had changed by the time my dad had finished his degrees, and the government was no longer able to honour their part of the deal. By this time my brothers had came along and my parents realized they’d be in North America for longer than they planned.
The result then is four Yoruba children with names that are regularly mispronounced by our Canadian friends. Because my siblings and I were heavily exposed to North American culture in comparison to Yoruba culture, which we mostly got from our parents, the four of us developed our own mix of the Yoruba and Canadian accent. As a result, when we’re pronouncing each other’s names we almost get it right. Our exposure to Yoruba from our parents allowed us to develop the ability to pronounce certain letters that don’t appear in the North American alphabet (like ‘gb’ and the Yoruba ‘p’), so we pronounce each other’s names better than other Canadians would, but not quite as well as a Nigerian would, if that makes sense. There are some intonations that don’t come naturally to Canadians or to us, but as ‘Titilayo’ (Cara Harshman) has demonstrated, with practice it can be learned.
Most Yorubas my age who were born or raised here have Yoruba first names, and those are the names they go by. I noticed that there are some Jennifers or Jessicas in the much younger generation, but I don’t know if that’s their first name or their middle name. As I think of naming my future children (the ones who still need a father), my plan (provided I marry a fellow Yoruba who feels the way I do, since I can’t expect someone from another part of Nigeria or from another country entirely to agree to my plan) is to choose Yoruba names that are relatively easy to pronounce in North America. However, I don’t plan to sacrifice a great name just for pronounceability’s sake! Instead, I intend to do my part to teach others how to say the name and encourage my kids to do the same. I don’t know if I’ll use English middle names yet; right now I feel like that’s a no.
If my parents had known that I had given up correcting people regarding the proper way to pronounce my name, and that I was introducing myself to non-Nigerians using the “Canadian” pronunciation, they would have reminded me to be proud of my heritage and not allow my name to be mispronounced. However, when you tell someone how to say your name and they try several times and just can’t get it, you have to move on, and my parents get that. As long as you can tell someone is referring to you and as long as they actually do try to pronounce the name correctly when you tell them, I don’t think one should belabour the issue. BUT, there is no excuse for me pronouncing my name wrong!
In the recording of my voicemail message at work, I pronounce my name properly, but if someone calls me, I tend to say “*name of organization*, *butchered version of my name* speaking”, because I don’t know if the person on the other line is someone that I’ve introduced myself to in the past by saying my name incorrectly. I know: I have unnecessarily complicated my life! Thank God that in the grand scheme of things this is a minor issue that can be rectified, one introduction (or reintroduction!) at a time.
- If you live abroad, how well is your name pronounced compared to the proper pronunciation?
- Did you shorten or modify your name to adapt to your new environment?
Want my monthly messages?
Subscribe for a monthly, often personal, message from Good Naija Girl.