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?