What’s in a name?

My name is very Nigerian, Yoruba if we’re being specific. Each of my three names (first name + two middle names) is distinctly Yoruba and a fellow Yoruba person cannot hear them without recognizing this. I have noticed that people are often surprised that my parents who gave birth and raised me and my siblings in North America chose only Yoruba names for us but I am glad they did. I have always liked my name.

My mom’s reasoning was that no matter where we go, our names would tell fellow Nigerians where we’re from before they even talk to us, and immediately tell strangers that although we may sound North American or act North American, we’re not. Somewhere along the line our origins are different.

However, like most of you who live abroad know, getting people to pronounce your name right is a bit like trying to get Nigerians at a gathering to be quiet while speeches are being made—impossible!

Maybe I was a sellout, but I decided that I won’t win the battle of how to pronounce my name correctly early on and I just went with the flow. There are only so many times you can correct someone before you just say “Yup, close enough” as they bungle your name yet again. Before you judge though, let me give you a short history lesson:

Age 6: we arrive in Canada after living in Naija for three years. I am very gung-ho about all things Nigerian and correct anyone and everyone who says my name incorrectly. This feels like my full time job and at the age of six I shouldn’t have been in the workforce!

After a year at the most, I give up on this. By the age of 11 I realize that even my siblings don’t say my name absolutely “properly” (they have this cute mix of Naija and North American way of saying it). I begin introducing myself by the North Americanized version of name. I occasionally become embarrassed when I catch myself mispronouncing my name to Nigerians I am just meeting. After a while it feels ‘wrong’ to say my name correctly.

In my mid-20s, I record my voicemail welcome message and on it say my name correctly. Friends who call and leave messages suddenly pronounce my name correctly when leaving a message, but continue to call me by the mispronounced name when we meet. I am not bothered by this and I change my voicemail message to omit my name entirely after short while because that is the phase I was in (constantly changing my voicemail welcome messages).

Lately, I notice that when I am telling stories and I say that someone said “GNG, blah blah blah” I don’t say my name correctly. Something strikes me as wrong about that.

Today, I resolve to introduce myself by the correct pronunciation of my name, and even if people can’t pronounce it right, at least make sure they know the right away to say it. I prepared for this by telling some coworkers the right way to say my name last week. Only one comes close to saying it almost correctly, and she remembers it the next time we meet.

Coming up soon: recordings of how my name is (mis)pronounced and more on Nigerian names

How about you? Have you had any name-related issues?

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12 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I recently had to change my name; dropping what for over two and a half decades had been my first name and using a not too popular name as my first name; the media loved it. When I introduce myself with my new first name and people find it difficult to pronounce i quickly revert to the former name for their convenience. Like you, I have resolved that people call me what I want to be called even if it twists their tongue and even if they cant pronounce it properly at first, they would soon get the hang of it.
    I will start by ensuring my sweetums starts calling me my new first today.
    nuff said

  2. When in rome! My brother in law blesse his heart is still your six year old self, he completely exasperates people for not just going with the flow but making them say his ENTIRE name and the RIGHT WAY. It's quite annoying how self righteous he is about it considering the fact that he has a HEAVY Nigerian accent and cannot pronounce American names correctly either. He claims it's because he's Nigerian with an accent while the Americans don't have an accent hence they should know how to pronounce his name.

    Blink, Blink, Blink

    I could give a ratz tail on how people pronounce my name, I really don't care. I had to shorten my real name to Abbie, because for one I'm an introvert and did not enjoy prolonging conversations by a) making people pronounce my name correctly, b) answering questions about what it means and c) giving people a tutorial about the continent of Africa, the country of Nigeria and the "tribe" of the Yorubas. uh! It's so tiring!! And I don't feel it makes me less of an Abiola or that I'm not embracing my culture because of it. My priorities are just arranged better than to hassle over a mispronounced name.

    My son has 6 syllabi in his name and we just call him the short version for the same reason.
    For job hunting purposes, I'd rather his potential employer get to meet him first before making assumptions about him based on his foreign name. It's sad but there are people out there like that I and feel so bad for the Shanekwas and Shenanays of this world.

    Great Topic!

  3. I love my nigerian name. It's difficult for americans to pronounce but i refuse to go by my easy 3 letter english name just because i prefer my nigerian name. However, if i'm not in the mood to repeat my name 10 times, i just tell them the easy name. I have had to change the pronunciation of my name to suit the "american tongue". Some of them actually get it right the first time (well, the american version of right). Still, whenever i meet a Nigerian for the first time and they say my name perfectly, i'm excited. My father heard me say my americanized pronunciation of my name to some dude and he was cracking up seriously. He has actually told us to drop our nigerian names for work and stuff cos he says people are discriminated by their names. But i refused. I love my name to death. It means "child of wealth". That's why i'm rich biatch!

    GNG: You've been tagged. Enjoy!

  4. I have never had any name issues-with my 1st name at least- because my parents gave me an english name. But reading this really helped me see things from a different perspective, cuz it use to urk me when I would hear my 9ja friends pronounce their names in the 'yankified/janded' way. I always thought it's one thing if your name is mispronounced, but another if you mispronounce it yourself. Reading this softened me up though. I see where your coming from. Im not yoruba but im in love with yoruba names for real. at least one of my kids will have a yoruba name.

  5. i love this sory, especially the beginning. reminds of the times when tribal marks where used by certain tribes for identity. and i remember my father once said its extremely important to identify with ur roots and one of the eaiset ways to do that is ur name. while at times, it might put one in trouble, there r lots of times it saves.

    and for pronouncing names, u got me laughing at ur determination and resignation. it happens. just give up on trying to correct people. my simple name is pronounce in so many different ways. i have noticed that most Yoruba people pronounce it the same way, just like most igbos pronounce it the same way. i dont bother anymore. i only get mad when my surname is messed with. and i wonder why. i just tell people who struggle with uzezi to just call me UZ or zezi or zi. but i love the full name anyday.

  6. The beautiful thing about Yoruba names is that you can get several shorts out of them. Remove the prefix (of which many mean same thing), suffix…..

    While they may not mis-pronounce my name, i have my name written with as many as 3 different prefixes, 2 of which mean same thing. So, how do i correct 'em……i write my name without the prefix….Rethots, simple. It gives an interesting initials too.

    Beautiful one, GNG

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  8. i base in one of the city called, portharcout,call me throuh this n0, 084748294
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