Growing up in North West London during the 90s and 00s, being African (or Nigerian in my case) wasn’t socially cool! My Yoruba name Oluwadamilola, was sometimes mispronounced at school and some of my peers attempted to anglicise it to Demi (as in Demi Moore). Our Nigerian family friends, Nigerian delicacies eaten at home, my mother’s love for King Sunny Ade’s music and African sculptures and wax prints weren’t things that I chose to talk about outside of the home. In terms of friends visiting me, only a select few were ever chosen.
I always wondered why I wasn’t given an English name. Why my family were so colourful, eccentric, emotional, loud as opposed to being reserved, quiet and balanced and why the constant inclusivity of palm oil in most meals.
I don’t remember there being any Nigerian restaurants or museum collections that reverberated the culture I grew to know. The books lining our shelves (Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiwa) and the Afro juju music (King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Fela Kuti, Salawa Abeni), were not seen when I was out and about. The only time I came across any place that stocked any of these items is when we took a trip to South London to visit some of our family. It was almost like living in two different worlds, home being one and the outside being another and although I was born and raised in London, that didn’t make a difference.
Hmmmm…I digressed slightly, so let’s talk about Yoruba names.
My name was given to me by my parents and grandparents.
My mum, a proud Nigerian believed that having a Yoruba name allowed you to bear your heritage well, show the world where you are from and be proud of your heritage. I can honestly say that this is true, but it’s taken a little while to truly embrace this. Within the Yoruba culture, children are usually named on the 8th day after a baby is born in a traditional naming ceremony. They believe in giving a child a profound, meaningful and powerful name that bears an influence on their entire life cycle. Therefore, particular attention is paid to the physical characteristics and circumstances surrounding the birth of a child. Furthermore, names can also be given to reflect the religion, profession and or cultural roots of the family.
So as you can see, a great deal of thought goes into our given names. It’s never about names simply sounding nice or being named after a famous person. A person’s name is the first line of their identity. If a child reacts negatively to their name, it’s just a projection of how they’ve been made to feel inside; more than anything and sometimes it is a reflection of their parent’s insecurities. Generally speaking, children that do this tend to come from a background where they constantly hear things such as “the shame that Africa has become.” If we can be positive, without condemning everything African, our children will have the inner strength to stand up for their identities, just like the Srilankan’s and many Eastern Europeans who have extremely long names.
Growing up I was often asked questions such as:
“Do you have an English name?”
“Can I just call you….?”
“Do you have an easier nickname?”
My answer was no to all of the above. WHY!? Simple. My name is my name. No other alternative. The reason why these questions were never appreciated was because, they undermined my heritage which is a huge part of my identity. I mean, I wonder if the famous composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was ever asked these questions, probably not and guess what…I don’t speak a word of Russian, yet I can pronounce his name perfectly, accent and all! I have no issue with nicknames, many people have them, but when you ask if I have one straight off the cuff, you’re indirectly telling me that you want an easier one because you can’t be bothered to pronounce the one I provided. Having an African name will often mean that you won’t find your name on a key-ring, Microsoft Office will always underline it, as it it’s a mistake but always remember that it’s the exact opposite. Our names are purposeful.
Embracing your unconventional unique name is a beautiful thing. Why would you want to fit into a mould? My name is a self-prophecy that gives me a strong sense of motivation. I am not the only Damilola (I know a few) but I am the only me and that is what counts. My name is valuable to me, it carries history and plays a part in my future by helping to shape who I am.
The continent of Africa is rich with culture, diversity and history. African people are one of the warmest you will ever meet. Our ancestors have faced years of travesty and our problems are unlimited, but our spirit and hope can never be broken. Embrace your roots. Your name is far more than just a bunch of letters put together, it is a part of who you are. It is your history, your legacy, your tradition and culture. It is your identity everything that makes you, YOU!
So with pride, I write this for you all:
My name is:
Latifah Oluwadamilola Oluwakemi Adeyemi Idris-Ligali,
but you of – course can call me Latifah.
Prefix: Olu – or – Oluwa (God) | Ade (Royalty)
Latifah (God has made me kind, gentle and pleasant)
Damilola (Prosper me) – [pronounced as dam-e-lol-ah]
Kemi (God takes care of me)
Yemi (I am worthy of the crown) – [pronounced as a-de-ye-mi]
So, reader, have you anglicised your name or the names of your children? If so, why?
Please comment below.
Thank you for reading.