Identity

What Is In A Name?

What is in a name?.. A question that has been pondered since a fictional teenager was hanging over her balcony pining over the bad-boy.
Juliet will have you thinking that a name means nothing. That a label or title only has as much power as you give it. I am here to tell you that Shakespeare clearly didn’t think outside of the “roses smell sweet” box with this sentiment.

If we are going to speak about names and the power they hold I should probably introduce myself, you know me as Yinka. My full name is Olayinka Bokinni (with a few redacted middle names)
From the first moment I saw my name, all 15 letters and 7 syllables of it printed on my drawer at primary school, in font 12 when everyone else’s was in font 16? I knew we had a problem. My name didn’t fit.

On the first day of every term, right up until college and as far as my memory stretches back, I would run from class to class ensuring I was the first kid in the room, just so I could casually suggest to my teacher that they didn’t have to call me “Olayinka.”
That Yinka was much better for her, easy to pronounce, I mean everyone just calls me Yinka just like everyone calls Johnathon John, Yinka is the John of Nigeria, haha its nice to meet you Miss.. No big deal of course. I’ll take a seat.

Whether it was allowing colleagues to massacre my name because I was too embarrassed to correct them. When I worked in a hotel, I told everyone it was ok to call me “Ollie” that everyone calls me Ollie. Simply because they either couldn’t be bothered or weren’t willing to try to wrap their tongues around my name. For the record NO ONE calls me “Ollie” It isn’t my name.

Or being in the waiting room while the nurse calls “OHLARYINKI BOKINKAY…?” Whilst looking everywhere but in my direction. Confirming to the pushy receptionist that yes, I am indeed Olayinka but she of course can call me Yinka. No big deal of course.

My name was my burden. It was my embarrassment. I have never hated my name, not in the way you would describe traditional hate. But I have always had a problem with it. I envied the Sasha’s and the Danielle’s.  I shed the Ola before I was in Juniors but being asked “INCA? Wuz that? African? You DON’T look African!” Every time I spoke to someone new? Being made fun of by every 2nd person you meet because your name “sounds foreign” in this here England, was exhausting. What were my parents thinking?

I asked my white, Irish mother why on earth she decided to brand all of her kids with the names of our Nigerian heritage, I mean every other mixed race person I knew was called Jade or Jasmine and being honest, I wanted that too.

Her answer, while frustrating at the time, now speaks to how wise, aware and forward thinking she was.
My mum wanted us to know where we are from, for our names to announce to the world that we are African, we are black and we are not diluted.
My mum went out of her way to surround us with our culture, she learnt the language, she cooked the food and when she was out of her depth, she called upon the aunties.

My name is my identity, it speaks to the world before I get a chance to show you who I am. It isn’t just a way for people to catch my attention in a crowded room, it is the story of my family. Looking at me, it isn’t obviously that you are approaching a Nigerian woman. You could be forgiven for not having a clue where I am from. But not when I tell you my name. You will know and you will respect.

To put it bluntly, I wore my name like a badge of shame for a lot of my life. I even feel the prickles of shame telling you now, but growth is uncomfortable. Learning is necessary and boy have I learnt.
I had a brilliant of idea of turning 18 and then popping down to my local town-hall and making it official. Deed-polling it up and calling myself Lisa. It wasn’t an over-night decision to accept my name, I don’t even know when it happened. But I am glad that it did.

What once was a cringe “Yinka, like WHY EYE EN KAY AYE, a bit like Bianca” is now my connection to a side of me that is unapologetically African.

So what is in a name Mr Shakespeare? A whole heap, especially ones like mine.

 

10 comments

  1. This is so well written, growing up with a Ugandan surname the other kids at school used to make fun of me constantly. When I got married I changed my name with glee! Now I wish I took more time to enjoy my identity so I can completely relate!

  2. I love this post. I’m Nigerian American. My parents both have English first names and so do I. Both of my parents are Nigerian. I have a Nigerian middle name and I like it. My last name is one people stumble on and often times I don’t care to correct them. I know my name, I don’t care what people think or say. However I found your post refreshing as we are sisters on different sides of the Atlantic. Our Africaness is what makes us but not defines us. I personally love your name abbreviated, it sounds cute and Olayinka I’m sure has a powerful meaning. I knew one in school years ago and she would just pronounce it for people and keep it moving. I’m glad you wrote this post as many struggle with this. I’ve learned to be stronger about what people think about my name, me, or my heritage. We all should find pride in who we are and what we do. Again, I’m glad you’ve come to accept your name.

  3. What a touching piece, I think at a time like this it is so important to explore identity and what it mean, you have taught me a lot tonight without even trying.

    Thank you Yinka and Sister girls! Your platform is NEEDED

  4. Amazing story. And one that I can totally understand to the point that it could be my story, only that my name tells everything apart from who I actually am!!! I’m also Irish & Nigerian…only you would never ever know that from my name.

  5. Aside sounding powerful, Nigerian names actually have powerful and beautiful meanings.
    Hi, I’m Chukwudumebi but you can call me Dumebi.

  6. I love this post, my mum named us all from the bible, so traditionally the names are western, but I do get it, I’ve had friends that always give me the short version or “easier” version of their names! and it won’t just be Africans, it will be Asians and eastern Europeans. I make it my mission to learn and be able to pronounce their full name, because why should I have to change you, to make it fit for me!!!!

  7. Wow , this is such a beautifully written piece and one that will help a lot of people accept who they are, I related so much to this cause everything you said perfectly describes my life and what it’s been because of my name

    1. Literallly sums it up so well. I’ve never really liked my name, but things like this help me to embrace it 🙂

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