My name tells a story. What story does yours tell?

Yesterday I was watching the Texas/Baylor basketball game. When the star watch came across the screen, Baylor had a player by the name of Lacedarius. At first look I thought he had a Greek name but as I looked further I came to the conclusion that his name was probably a mixture of two names: Lacy and Darius. Now I know with a name like Tunde, most of you are probably thinking that I have no reason to be talking about Lacedarius. This is what I wrote on twitter yesterday:

i don’t. i know my name is different but it actually has a deep rooted meaning. lacedarius sounds like a combo of 2 names.

Most Nigerian names have specific meaning. My niece’s middle name literally means “born on sunday”. My brothers (twins) names mean: “eldest of twins” and “youngest of twins”. My youngest brothers name means: “born after twins”. So while Nigerian names may seem hard to pronounce to most Americans they actually have some type of meaning and they are hardly ever made up. This morning when I woke up I checked my email and got a very interesting email from brother.

So we’ve all been there. First day of school, substitute teacher, work, even our every day lives. We’ve all been through it. We sit there, watching the individual with the list of names, just awaiting the look of panic and the pre-apology for mispronouncing our name. We know that they are about to butcher our names, so we raise our hands quickly, so in an effort to prevent both our embarrassment as well as theirs. What does it mean to be African in America? Well, it means many things. But one thing that I believe is constantly overlooked is our names. What’s in a name?

Due to the constant mispronunciation of our names, we are forced to do four things. One, we begin to go by nicknames. My best friend growing up had the last name Ayarinola. The unforgiving students called him granola bar until the day he graduated. For a long time, instead of calling me by my last name, Awoniyi, I was called ADub, AW, and A&W rootbeer, Awana-eat, I wanna wewe. The only thing that they have in common is that they all start with an A. Close, but not quite. I guess with nicknames it helps the individual over compensate for their lack of pronunciation ability.

Second, we go by the meaning of our names. My good friend, Ifedayo, went by love all through middle school. Good thing her name was not Joke.

Third, it forces us to get tired of cringing every time our name is slaughtered and we just begin to pronounce it however it will make it easy for them to say. Tomi become Tomy, Lara to Laura. Will it ever end? I have to say, though, out of all these, the fourth is the worst.

We change our names all together. For the first ten years of my life, I was called Seye, or rather Sheya as the average American pronounced it. Then after that, I began to be called Mary. Now to the African community, I’m Seye, but to everyone else, I’m Mary. And you all know exactly what I’m talking about. How many Graces or Josephs do you know?

Through my short life, I have begun to realize what slowly happens to us when we change our names in order to accommodate others. We slowly being to conform. We slowly being to forget who we are in hopes of making them happy. Although it is merely a minute change, our name is our identity. Our name is who we are.

19 years ago, Funso Awoniyi gave birth to her second daughter. This child almost did not make it; there were doubts concerning not only her survival, but a successful birth as well. But after labor that lasted for what felt like forever, the proud mother was able to hold her baby in her arms. She named that baby Oluwaseye. Oluwaseye. God has done this. God has done this. Not Nancy, not Beth, not Jessica, but God has done this, Oluwaseye.

True, being an African in America means that my name is constantly slaughtered. Yes, it means that I constantly have to just shrug off the fact that at times it feels like the individual is not even trying to pronounce my name correctly. But you know what? It also means that I am unique. It means that my name is a large part of who I am. It means that my name not only represents me, but it represents my family, my people, and the struggles that we have overcome. It means that my name is part of something bigger than I am. It means that my name is well, it’s my name. And I take pride in that. Oluwaseye. Oluwaseye. God has done this. God, has done this. My name tells a story. What story does yours tell?

Written by Seye Awoniyi


I can relate to this email because I also dreaded the days when my teacher would call my name for roll and horribly mispronounce my name. It still happens to this day but I just politely correct whomever mispronounces my name. I take great pride in my name which means “he has come again”. In Yoruba culture, there is belief in reincarnation. When a loving grandfather dies, and soon after, a child is born, they believe the father has reincarnated. I also understand that my name is a foreign language and it would unfair for me to expect people to pronounce it right the first time. What I won’t stand for is for people to make fun of my name or mispronounce it on purpose. My name is not THAT difficult (pronounced Tune-Day). Even though my children will probably not have Nigerian first names (their middle and last names will be), their names will probably be biblical in origin. A name means a lot and it’s not something that should be taken or given lightly.


20 thoughts on “My name tells a story. What story does yours tell?

  1. Ebuka

    Story of my life! In just 2 months of grad school, Professors have called me everything from 'A Book', to Eubanks, to even something as far off and non related as 'Ibiza'!!! And to think that 'Ebuka' is only short for 'Chukwuebuka' which means 'God Is Great'…

  2. chayoma

    True talk…I have been called shona, to God knows what else…Spelling the name n breakin the names in two halves helps (well those who care anyways)N i noticed that peeps who bear the same name, now pronounce their own names funny too hehehe…P.S. My name is Chioma which means "God is Good" which he is all the time…

  3. Ni_Ti

    I know the feeling!! It urks me when people mispronounce my name intentionally and don't even try. I know when I learned to read and I came across a word I did not know, I'd ask myself, "what does it look like?" and then try to sound it out. So…. My name looks like Titanic or Titanium. You telling me that you have never seen or heard about either before? Fine if you haven't the first part of it is Titan… Sheesh. I really think some people just don't wanna try. People commonly confuse my name with Tatiana and the only way I can understand that is if you have dyslexia. Now on to answer your question: What story does your name tell? The story behind my name. Of course I could come with some elaborate story or meaning about Titania but truth is my mom misspelled something else. Some think that it has a specific meaning? Nope, not that I know of. If you find out let me know. Otherwise I shall set the meaning. =)

  4. Ms.Minx

    Yup. My name means: "my wealth has come", & my middle name: My joy will last forever". I am QUICK to correct people when they mess it up. I know too many Nigerians who "anglo" their names, and I don't judge them for it (ok, I do, a little, lol), but I sure as heck make sure no one imposes one on me.I went to HS & College outside Nigeria, and for a long time I used my nickname, but I let people know my nickname is a derivative of my name, and my parents made it up, it was never because I was bothered about my full name. Now, only certain friends & my fam are allowed to use it. Everyone else gets corrected. And fast! lol

  5. Miss Sia

    Reiterating my point about parents actually thinking about the legacy they leave their children with naming them, it is the last thing on their minds unfortunately. Usually keeping up with a trend or a made-up name is thrust upon the poor baby and they have to deal with it. My name is common, I think, but the spelling is not. And my grandmother named me, my sister on the other hand didnt get so lucky. I will contemplate that as I have my own children (faaaarrrr in the future)

  6. Anonymous

    I envy cultures that traditionally choose names mainly for their meaning, rather than, as is commonly done in the West, by what they sound like or their popularity. I have three biblical names from the Old Testament, but I doubt that my parents knew the meaning of any of them when they gave them to me. I like their meanings ("beloved", "God gives", "God increases"). One of them was my grandfather's, but the other two would be more meaningful to me had my parents chosen them for me because of their meaning.Interesting how names in so many languages have God in them. I suspect the suffix/prefix "olu" and "chi" are among the most common in Yoruba and Igbo names.

  7. Ms. Sylaneous

    Nice post "TUNE-DADDY" LOL. Okay okay okay.. TUNDE. I did a blog SIMILAR to this one a while back. Not so much on not taking pride in your given name, but I questioned how society (the work force) views different names, from different races, cultures, and back grounds ( My name, I think, holds pretty true to 'me'. It's found pretty equally in Latin names, Greek names, and Hebrew names– (either my name or some variation of it). It means 'True/honest image. Purity. Biblically, a woman by my name handed Christ her handkerchief on His way to Calvary.My middle name is KINDA made up, a little. I'm the first grandchild, so I was named for my moma's youngest sibling. But it means Variant of Faith, Confidence, Trust, belief. I'd say my parents did well with some how giving me a name before they even knew me and it's amazing how I 'grew into it'. My nick name is just the very middle of my first name. No particular reason that I know of…

  8. Tisha

    I can absolutely relate. This is one reason that I, a 70's baby with what I knew to be a made up name, hated it for so long. Beyond my parents thinking it sounded pretty, it had no meaning, no ties to any culture beyond or other than the faux African movement in my area during the 1970s. I got over it. But not before years of having it slaughtered, picked on, poked fun at. I vowed not to do my baby that way. And I didn't. 🙂

  9. Ade

    I needed to read that today. Being an African in America can be difficult. My name first name means my grandmother has come back, the female equivalent I guess to Tunde. My middle name means precious crown. The first day of classes are now funny to me but gone are the days of being ashamed of having a difficult name to pronounce. I hope to give my children yoruba first names and biblical middle names but we'll see if that will ever come to pass. Great Post!!

  10. Reina

    I think I have one of the most boring names known to man. What's funny is that my teacher would look at me, look at my name, and then attempt to put a Spanish sound to it. Hilarious. This was a great post, yours & hers.


    Before there was Google, my mother said she made my name up….but then I got to college, and low & behold, someone else had my name!!!When people asked me what my name meant, I would tell them everything from beautiful, to a deriviation (sp?) of my mom's name (that's what she told me)Of course I google and facebook my name, and it's a common name in other countries *sigh*oh well, it's still pretty!!!

  12. Miss Jenkins

    I have a very regular and (too) popular American name. I remember being in school when I was younger wishing I had a name that was more special and unique that people couldn't say so I could correct them. #dontjudge lol. When I went away to college, I met a lot of people with names native to where ever they or or their parents came from. Within those people, you had people who altered the pronunciation so as to not have to correct people when they butchered it, and then you had those who would not alter their name or let people get by mispronouncing it. I respected the plight of both, and have encountered so many (mostly Nigerian) names that I love and admire. I may borrow one if I have kids of my own some day 😉

  13. bumight

    story of my life, especially now that every new rotation starts with a new set of attendings and residents trying to learn your name. PLUS i have to wear a name tag with my full name!I used to go along with the flow before, but now im getting a knack of correcting people till they say my name properly.

  14. MsღLotus

    If I told anyone on this blog what my real name was, they would not believe me. I use to cringe in my seat the first couple weeks of school because I hated the fact that my name was butchered. It took me years to appreciate my name. My name does not have a meaning but it has a very unique story behind it, I was infact named after my father. This year is actually my first year teaching and I was very careful not to mispronounce names, and did not mind being corrected.

  15. Dith

    lol but anyway, dude on d viddy was mad funny! And he's right. Some of these folks kill me, I mean they find it hard 2 pronounce even d simplest names. I can't say I blame all of them sha cos many Africans do hv long a** names. lol I mean even I can't pronounce all of 'em

  16. Satya

    I have grew up having a great deal of Indian and African friends and I hated when they would tell me their name was "mike, mo, mary, jane, etc…" I would always say to them "what's the name your family gave you". I wanted to call them by their name and say it correctly. I never thought they should have to adjust their name b/c I was too lazy to learn to say something different. I wish I had a well thought out name that had significance. Well, my middle name does. My bf and I have talked about this at length and when we get to that point our kids will have well thought out names… Guinean names… we'll meet in the middle


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