The Foreign Name Struggle Is Real
Yesterday was my post telling parents to quit naming their kids stupidly. It turned out to be EPIC, with 300 comments on it (now: 600) and counting (record for this blog). And y’all might have made my site crash for a good hour yesterday with foolery. Folks acted UP in those comments. I spent way too much of my day being horrified and outraged. Then I ran fresh out of outrage and cackled endlessly. The comments of that post win the internets.
Anywho, all those names were a mess because parents wanted to be creative (read: extra for no reason). But the real name struggle is the foreign name one. Those of us without standard English names because of where we’re from, have to live with folks mispronouncing our names EVERYDAY. And our names don’t mean “My parents loved apostrophes” so we actually have double right to feel salty when our names are butchered beyond recognition.
I sound elitist, and for this purpose, I’m perfectly fine with it.
Mind you, I understand that some foreign names are really difficult for others to say because of linguistic differences, and all of that. African, Asian and some European names ARE tough to say. I’m not saying that folks should KNOW how to pronounce them. People can at least try, though.
I’m 100% Nigerian and my full name reflects it (plus the fact that I have 4 middle names). Specifically, I’m Yoruba. I love my culture and people, and my name, which I wasn’t so fond of. And I’ll tell you why. *lays on Dr. Phil’s couch*
I used to hate the first day of school, when the teacher would be taking roll, and get to “Ajayi, *******”. He/she would not even say my name before I knew it was me because 1) I knew I was always the first on the list and 2) the teacher would always look up and just say “This is a hard name.” This is when I would say “It’s probably me”, and dread having to pronounce my unique name because all the kids had the same reaction. They’d all look at me with very interesting expressions, and eyebrows raised with curiosity. I used to wish I had a simple name like “Lauren Jones” because I got sick of standing out on the first day of school. AND my teacher would ask “Is there something else I can call you?” because learning how to say my first name correctly was just too cumbersome, I guess. This is why most people outside my family know me only as Lovette or Luvvie.
*gets up from Dr. Phil’s couch*
The crazy part is that my last name isn’t even HARD. It’s one of the easier Nigerian ones. AJAYI. And I always say “It’s pronounced just like it’s spelled.” Still, folks look at it and go “Ay-jay.” Don’t ignore my “i”, bro! I was on the phone with customer service the other week and spent 3 minutes teaching the rep how to say my last name. She said: Ah-jay. Ah-ya-jee. Ah-jay-ya. Ma’am, it is Ah-JAH-YEE. Nebmind!
This is why I don’t like for people to even touch my first name. You can’t say my last name right, you’re just gonna MURK my 1st name into oblivion. I still remember my high school graduation and how my vice principal butchered my name. He had no excuse, especially since he had the phonetic spelling written on a notecard AND we practiced the day before. He called my name and the only reason I know it was mine is because I was next in line. I might have looked around momentarily for the person who he just called. I was all “Dang her name is ugl… oh. That’s me.” (-___-)
I gotta say. Feeling like you have to go by another name so the world doesn’t make your beautiful real name some ugly version SUCKS. But this is the real foreign name struggle. We do typically choose to go by different names so we don’t spend all our days correcting people.
Yoruba folks have easier names to pronounce than Igbos. I REALLY feel for them. When your name is “Enwelumokwu,” I know that is MURKED.
Tips on dealing with foreign names:
* Act like you care to know the correct pronunciation
* Don’t shorten our name without getting our permission first (oftentimes, we’ll tell you if we do)
* The key to pronouncing long names (and really, any name) is taking it PER syllable. SO… “Enwelumokwu,” an Igbo name, is prolly pronounced “AIN-WAY-LOO-MOHK-WOO.” But most people see that name and just go “Ummm… yeah nawl.” Some of our names really aren’t hard if you break them down this way.
Or am I expecting too much of people?
In spite of all this, my kids will probably have Nigerian first names. I’ll just teach them to understand that they have it for a reason, and to be prideful of it. And if someone ever asks them “Can I call you something else?” they should
respond with a dropkick to their shins say “No. This is my name. Call me my name.” And then dropkick them.
I have a very rich culture, and I love everything it stands for. Our names tell a story and they speak about the path our parents want us to lead.
For those of us in the struggle, do you insist folks learn your name or do you go by an English one? For others who see foreign names, what are your thoughts?
P.S. For those who want to know how to pronounce specific foreign names (well, West African), leave a comment and I’ll break it down phonetically for you.