English Names

I was somewhere between five and six years old playing on the veranda of our house with my elder brother and some of the neighborhood kids. What we’d been doing remains a blur to me, although I think it was somehow related to ‘cooking’ with sand and leaves.

“My English name is Fred,” Nonso, one of our playmates suddenly piped up. “That’s what I’m called in school. What’s yours?”

It had never occurred to me that having an ‘English’ name was important. I didn’t know how to answer, and I was slightly miffed at my parents for naming me ‘Azuka’ — at the time, it seemed like the most unimaginative name ever.

“When’re we going to get English names?” I asked my mom sometime after that.

“Isn’t Azuka enough for you?” my mom was surprised, but looking back it now, I don’t think I’d blame her.

“But everyone on our street has an English name!” I protested.

“You don’t need one,” my mom had said curtly, and that was the end of the matter — or so she thought…

I’ve always been ‘strong headed’ since I was little and although the cane could be counted on to get my ‘cooperation when’ I was younger, as I’ve grown older and more cane-resistant, more of my stubbornness has surfaced. Back then, the cane still held sway and even in my young mind I could tell that something as little as changing my name would have dire consequences.

I didn’t need to look very far to find a name I liked. From reading my stack of [children’s] encyclopedias, I had come to admire the inventor Thomas Alva Edison. I became Edison and began to call myself that, but never in any way it would leak back to my parents.

To strike a suitable compromise between getting my way and appeasing my parents, all my school notes from Primary 4 through 5 had the name ‘Main Guy’ instead of mine on their backs. I think my teacher was amused and condoned it only because I was his best student. A classmate who used the name ‘Muammar Gaddafi’ on his got 12 strokes of the cane for his pains and had to put his real name back on. On one of my tests, however, my teacher’s veneer wore thin. I wrote ‘Dharam V Okuleye’ (after the Indian movie Dharam-Veer) as my name on my test script and got into trouble with my Dad.

I digress.

My elder brother got himself a plethora of names, getting on my parents’ nerves many times. My little brother Uche came along and when I was eight I dubbed him Eric (at the time Vikings were my rave and both Erik the Red and his son Leif Erikson fascinated me). He’s the only one among us boys who legitimized his name with my parents’ approval when he got baptized.

I kept using my Edison name secretly throughout secondary school until I had to represent Nigeria at the 2003 National Geographic World Championship. I sneaked it onto my passport application and although my mom raised eyebrows, I didn’t care. I’d finally achieved my silly childhood dream formed when I was probably making idle chatter over sand and leaf soup.

I’ve evolved since then, and I keep wondering what led me to make that choice. My Dad (and all his family) answer to English names but my mom doesn’t and I think somewhere within me I wanted to belong. My parents knew why they gave us Ukwuani and Yoruba names, and in the folly of my youth I thought the names unrelated to my culture were ‘cool.’

I’m proud of my name now and it’s a source of embarrassment to me every time I look at my passport and see that name Edison on it. I won’t drop it because I believe it should server as a reminder to me that I once refused to identify with my culture.

There’s this video on Youtube featuring the Nigerian comedian Basketmouth joking about the way we respond to different names. Names like ‘Natasha’, ‘Sandra’ and ‘Latifa’ are considered more ‘tush’ than ‘Chioma’ and ‘Kemi.’ If you have the misfortune of bearing one of those ‘conc’ cultural names like ‘Atutupoyoyo’…

I think it’s high time we became proud of our names as an embodiment of Nigerian and African culture. Sure, most non-Africans would say ‘whatever’ when given a difficult name to pronounce. It’s ironic that they’ll most probably get annoyed if you call them ‘whatever’ when it’s your turn.

I’m proud of my name. I’m proud of my accent. I’m not exactly proud of my country Nigeria.

Sorry, I just had to rant…

Comments

  1. nilla says:

    wow… i remember cooking sand and leaves too as a kid..lol
    I have an english name (more like my baptism name..cos i was born catholic) too. And i remember in secondary school always using it as my middle name when filling forms..but my folks especially my dad didn’t want that. I guess i liked the english name cos it was easier to pronounce than my first name (even for fellow Nigerians).
    But now that I’m much older i prefer my first name for many reasons
    1. I love the meaning (it means nothing is impossible with God)
    2. I enjoy seeing people struggle to pronounce my name…LOL..thats evil of me right (evil laughter).

  2. nilla says:

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  3. Vera Ezimora says:

    lol @ Atutupoyoyo. Hehehehehe. That is one hella funny name. Hehehehehehe. I can’t stop laughing. So you’re Edison now ehn?

    Happy New Year, Azuka.

  4. Interesting post, Azuka.

    I know that our parents give us our names partly as a reflection of their aspirations for us. As far as I know, not many parents call their children ‘Loser’ or ‘Stupid’. But I think it would even be better if their names were descriptive as well as aspirational. This would have the advantage of not only making it easy for people to identify you, but it would also help them interact with you better (since they would have an idea of your personality).

    So if I had my way, I’d have the naming ceremony that takes place just after birth issuing a provisional name instead of a permanent one. This name could be something like “Person0315389” or “Hey, you over there” or something else. Then when the child reached her 21st birthday, she could invite her friends and family to gather round and give her names that were not only complimentary but actually were proper descriptions of her, based on what they had observed about her.

    Cheers,

    Mad-Idea Wala Wala

  5. nilla says:

    LOL @ AWW’s comment.
    Certainly a mad idea!

  6. Azuka says:

    Nilla
    Ha ha. Exactly! Let’s give them a taste of their own medicine.

    The good thing about our names is that we know the meanings and our parents did some thinking before giving us a name. Azuka means something like ‘the back is greater’ ie ‘those who’re behind you are greater than those who’re against you.’ Silly Vera says she thought it meant ‘the behind is greater’ (ie ‘the butt is the biggest’).

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

    Vera
    Happy New Year. I don’t like the Edison name :lol:.

    Atala Wala Wala
    I wouldn’t exactly dismiss the idea as weird outright. The Person0315389 name is a bit extreme. I think parents should give their children simple names and when they’re 21 [or at least have an idea what names they want], they can do a name change.

    Happy New Year, Monsieur Wala :D.

  7. Calabar Gal says:

    Hmmmn Edison. My parents werent too particular about English names too and we all have efik names. My Sisters have rechristened themselves but I guess I liked my name and still stick to it!!

    Happy New Year Edison!!!

  8. taureanminx says:

    Happy New Year Ed!!!! lol. I love my Nigerian name and never let anyone call me by ny english name…Jennifer.

  9. Azuka says:

    Calabar Gal
    Thanks. I’m glad you stuck to your Efik name. Happy New Year.

    Jennifer Taureanminx
    Why’s everyone calling me the name I don’t want to hear? 😆

    Happy New Year…

  10. biodun says:

    Ha, ha, u actually have Edison on ur passport, lol, its a cute story :). I love my name cos its easy 2 pronounce, but my sista’s name on the other hand, ha ha is bastadized everyday, nice post!

  11. Jem says:

    Hmmm, i also remember aasking my mom to give me an english name. I had already picked out what i wanted it to be … “Victoria” No Chistened names either cus i dnt understand the concept behind that. But now, i am just really glad i don’t have an english name. My name sounds sweet and unique as it already is …..and it means “beautiful.” what more could i want ? English names have no meaning.

  12. Elle says:

    diary of a coder hey… I like… thanks for dropping by my blog…happy new year

  13. Azuka says:

    Biodun
    Thanks. I think she should try to ‘bastardize’ other people’s names as well. They’ll try harder to pronounce her name.

    Jem
    English names do have meanings. Two funny things about ‘English’ names are that the bearers have no idea what they mean, and most ‘English’ names are not English. John, James and Samuel are all Jewish. Felix and Festus are Latin (I think), etc…

    Elle
    Girl, that was fast! Not even thirty seconds within making my post… Happy New Year!

  14. Elle says:

    honey… I am in front of this pc all day. working hard… hehehe.. i’m linking to my blog!!!

  15. Nkem says:

    Azuka, it’s hardly a rant. It’s well thought out and considered post. I never hankered after an English name, but I was curious as to why out of my five names that made it onto my birth certificate, none were English. I asked my mum and dad, and they’re answer was simple – I’m not English. For a long time, I’ve proud of my name, and evolved mechanisms to enable people pronounce it better. I won’t be giving my kids any English names either, after all I’m sure there are Nigerian saints for the Catholics to name their kids. A name that always fascinated me though, was “Gamaliel”, because I once had a hair cut, and put a parting down the middle – my mum said I looked like Gamaliel Onosode.

  16. Azuka says:

    Nkem
    Thanks.

    I’d never heard of Gamaliel Onosode prior to this. I googled him, and he does look very handsome ;-). You ought to be proud :lol:.

  17. Naijabloke says:

    Nice post ..mehn I almost slapped one oyinbo mechanic man for murdering my name,but I alway get frustrated to the point of letting them call me by my English name cos it’s frustrating hearing them calling ur native name for which I dont blame most of them ..

    Happy new year man

  18. i know exactly how you feel…. americans see little difference between african and slavic names….

  19. temmy tayo says:

    Edison is really nice name to be honest. Why didnt you choose something like Clement? Lol.

    I nearly killed my parents because i wanted an English name badly. My mum came up with AGNES and I decided there is no point!

  20. belle says:

    Whenever people ask me what my “christian name” AKA “english name” is, i always respond that my name IS christian. Just in another language.
    And you! i can understand picking Thomas as your name. I could probably understand Alva too (simply because it sounds different)… BUT Edison??!!! lol 🙂

  21. belle says:

    geez– that smiley face looks sinister

  22. Vera Ezimora says:

    errrr, mr. man, do i need to tell you that u have not blogged since last year?

  23. Azuka says:

    Naijabloke
    Th solution exists — deliberately mispronounce theirs, heh heh. But surely, you have a pet version of your name that can be pronounced easily?

    Nikita
    You go through it too? Wow…

    Agnes Temmy Tayo
    Urghhh. What am I going to do with a name like Clement? Agnes is a cute name, honestly.

    Belle
    Thanks for repping Nigeria, sister. At the time Edison seemed so cool. I wanted to be the greatest inventor in the world. Yeah, the smiley doesn’t look very funny.

    Vera
    Yes ma’am. I’ll be avoiding you until your crush on me wears off ;-).

  24. [email protected] I watched that on night of a thousand laughs.. I almost collapsed laughing… Ive always had an English name.. everybody in Naija called me that.. except maybe my grandparents.. so it’s funny when ppl in Canada ask me my name and i tell em and they ask me for my ‘real name’.. i’m guessing they figure everybody has to go by a native name(not that there’s anything wrong with native names… Azuka has a certain ‘royal’ ring to it.. lmao.. no mind me jare.. i’m just trying to make you feel better this 2007).. Happy New Year luv.. and update kia kia!!!

  25. Keshi says:

    Happy New Year Azuka!

    Keshi.

  26. Hmmm,
    Nice post! I could not help but giggle as i read your post cos i was in a similar situation, friends in my neighbourhood made fun of me that i didn’t have an English name; of course, i lied that i had, but just wasn’t using it. I gave the few that pressurized me a nice sounding name which i can’t remember now, but i couldn’t muster enough courage to do what you did o!

    It’s interesting what pressure can make one do. We sure know better now.

    I love my country, i no go lie….and my name too!

  27. Azuka says:

    Overwhelmed
    Azuka does have a royal ring. I like to tell people I’m from a royal family but that’s not exactly true. My Dad’s refusal of a title makes that null.

    Keshi
    Happy New Year

    Mrs Akinyemi
    It’s an honor to have you drop by. You know, all those funny things we do when we’re younger do sound foolish years later and we wonder, ‘Was I that silly?’

  28. Desola says:

    Lol…Atutupoyoyo! That right there is mad funny!

    Come to think of it, I actually don’t have an English name! well…maybe my last name.

  29. hell yea…… you have to remember that a lot of americans dont even know the difference between leningrad and stalingrad…….

  30. Azuka says:

    Desola
    Hmmm. You need to look at the ‘English’ names borne by the Niger-Delat people. Bluejack, Pepple, Longjohn, etc are some starters…

    Nikita
    True. We deal with the same issues. People only seem to hear that I’m from ‘Africa’ not ‘Nigeria.’

    My first roommate here used to ask me ‘Do you guys have […] over there in Africa?’ until I had enough one day.

    Africa’s a continent — in fact it’s the second largest continent in the world, even bigger than North America [with Greenland added]. There are more than 50 countries in Africa and within my country alone, there are over 500 languages. I’m a Nigerian — except you want me to start calling you a ‘North American.’

    He knew better than to ask me such stuff anymore and was I glad!

    Yes, I can tell the difference between Leningrad and Stalingrad. I used to be a Geography nut — Leningrad was once called St. Petersburg after Peter the Great, right?

  31. idemili says:

    I have five names and all are Igbo names. Long Igbo names. I have never considered changing them for once. My sister on the other hand wanted an English name so badly that she gave herself one. My mother almost killed her cos it was one of ‘other’ aunt’s names.Luckily it’s not legal so it’s all good!

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