This week’s column is in response to TV presenter Ayo (Andy) Akinwolere’s article for The Huffington Post, ‘Why I decided to change my name’
First of all, let me express how excited I am to see one of my favourite CBBC faces write about a topic I adore: names. Anyone who knows me well is aware of the peculiar situation with my name. I am called by my middle name Itunu. Everyone, everywhere calls me Itunu. My first name, however, is Elizabeth.
The decision to be called by my Nigerian name to many is a strange one. “Elizabeth is your first name’. ‘Elizabeth is much easier to say,” “You won’t have to have long conversations about your name if you just went by your Biblical name,” are just some of the responses I’m used to hearing. So, taking all that into consideration, when I started secondary school and had an option as to which name I wanted to go by, I did what anyone that had been called one name for long enough would do; I asked people to keep calling me Itunu.
Sure, I had to go through approximately ten million conversations explaining to people that my name is both Elizabeth and Itunu. No Itunu is not a shortened version of Elizabeth (seriously?!) and yes, it reads Itunu, not iTunes. No matter how repetitive these conversations got, I was prepared to make every lesson that few minutes longer while the teacher tried to decipher the predicament that was my name because I loved the golden moment when they finally said Itunu.
I often get asked when I decided to be called Itunu, but I’ve never really seen it as a decision. At home, my parents call me Itunu and I guess I didn’t have the patience to be called by two different names. Since it was Itunu at home it was going to be Itunu everywhere.
However, I completely understand Ayo Akinwolere’s decision to go by his English name, Andy. Sometimes it’s just easier. It’s not necessarily a denial of your culture, rather it is the awareness that it’s simpler for the majority to get their heads around. To ‘fit in,’ you may feel that you have to choose a eurocentric name to avoid being treated like an outsider. But ask yourself- does that name fell true to you?
Akinwolere said: “your name is such a crucial part of who you are and I’ve always been seriously proud of my Nigerian heritage,” a point I completely relate to. Learning the origin of my name to mean ‘comfort,’ I awoke to so much beauty in the Yoruba language and the Nigerian culture which loves to bless children with meaningful names. I had to embrace my name wholeheartedly.
When I get called Elizabeth, I have no idea that I’m being spoken to. Chiming in “sorry Miss, you didn’t say my name” after a whole year registration, I was met with cries of “she said Elizabeth, Itunu.”
That moment made me realise a great deal. Elizabeth is my name and I love it but it doesn’t feel like me. I feel like, and I am, Itunu and I have every right to be called that.
I have always greatly despised the moments when a non-anglicised name was read in a register or said on a TV show and people would laugh. Why are you laughing? What is so funny? That’s just their name. Sure it may not sound like something you’re used to but aren’t our differences the beauty of our existence?
I feel like, and I am, Itunu and I have every right to be called that
Unfortunately, I know of people shortening their names to something almost unrecognisable, changing their names completely or feeling deeply embarrassed when asked to say their names. There’s even a culture where someone ‘baiting out your government name’ is the worst thing that can ever happen to you.
Well to that I say, erm no. All because your name is hard for some tongues to align to, does not mean it’s not worth being said loud and proud.
I have never been ashamed of my name; I absolutely adore it. It’s who I am. Sure I’ve had people misspell it, completely destroy it in front of large groups of people, but it’s alright. We learn we move on and we appreciate one another. Your name is a blessing and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
So I say thank you Ayo Akinwolere, for letting us see and say your magical name and for sharing your story. I, alongside all the little 8-year-old boys called Ayo, agree that Ayo really is a SICK NAME.
Smile and Slay