What do you do when your Father-in-Law decides he’s going to lambast your heritage by poking fun at the length and supposed difficulty in pronunciation of African names?
That’s what happened this weekend as I sat there wondering what notions of colonialism I myself have begun to harbour being a first generation British-Born Nigerian and how those attitudes towards my heritage play out in my thoughts & actions towards my future children and indeed their own children.
“Don’t give your baby one of those long names!” He said whilst stringing together random sounds in an attempt to mimic what he thought African names sounded like. “Make sure it’s a name I can say!”.
At first I smiled along not wanting to offend or disrespect, an apologist complicit in compounding his comments. It’s the type of comments I’ve got used to over 32 years of life; usually at the hand of other children whilst I was growing up. It’s reminiscent of the constant sniggers in our classrooms as teachers would bastardise my name along with many of my African counterparts who shared that shrinking feeling and urge to make our names more palatable to the English dialect. Today I was reminded of that feeling whilst thinking how disjoint our cultures must be if we’re still ashamed of even our own names!
Granted myself and my wife have already had our own conversations and decisions about naming our forthcoming child; and that wasn’t without its own battles (if I’m honest I’d say for relatively similar reasons) but we’ve got to a place of agreement with regard to that and with the backdrop of the royal wedding I was a bit blindsided by my Caribbean Father-in-Law, drenched in the pride of being named similar to one of the British royal family (he’s had media coverage, so a mini celebrity because of it trust me) gesturing that somehow the names of my forefathers (and certainly his) were somehow unworthy. All said in jest but that’s the guise that many of these notions seem to hide behind so…
As the jokes came thick and fast I quickly begun to find that defiant pride I’d come to know as a child and that’s indicative of a people who’ve faced the same thing over and over during the years of slavery and since it’s abolishment.
As a child born to a stout Yoruba man I’d been raised to believe that our names had meanings and were a means of defining someone’s character, purpose, and destiny. As a result I have great pride in names which I know to be seeping with meaning; my own for example “Akinbami”, meaning “a warrior/valiant one came to meet me”. It’s a name I’ve tried to live up to and one that’s given me strength and purpose in the most difficult of circumstances throughout my life.
So as my wife tried to pacify the situation by assuring him he’d be able to pronounce our baby’s first name I can’t help but want to sit in defiance by flipping the script and forcing everyone to learn to pronounce Yoruba names which for me have a generational significance. I’m reminded of my own father and how he’d reel at us not embracing our Nigerian heritage and conflicted as with all of that alas my children will be both African & Caribbean, born in England and have the difficulty of learning what heritage actually means to them. I’m sure as time goes on it’ll be become markedly different from what it means to me and define for them, as mine is from my parents.
Almost poetically, a young child appears on our screen discussing Prince Harry’s links to Africa via the charity he co-founded, Sentebale. He introduces himself and I hear the following “You see…what kind of name is that? That’s not a name! Who’s named that?” I can’t help but reply simply.
“It is a name…it’s his name and if you want to address him you will say it!”. Royalty, charity, colonialism, heritage, inter-generational thoughts of life in the diaspora,
rolled up into fleeting moments.
My wife and I’s arrangement with regard to what we call our kids I’m sure will remain. But when they ask us what’s in a name?…I’m gonna say Everything!