I have never seen an episode of Love Island, I doubt I ever will, but having followed the recent story of the dispute between Yewande Biala and Lucie Donlan on social media, it’s safe to say I want to fight on Yewande’s behalf. As a child of Nigerian ex-pats, because immigrants is so last year, growing up in the UK I can wholly relate to Yewande. Entirely. At secondary school in North West London, my sister’s teachers wanted to shorten her already short name simply because they could not be so inconvenienced as to learn to pronounce her Nigerian name correctly, but a family friend insisted that they can call her by her full name if they were going to be teaching the works of writers such as Dostoevsky. They learned to pronounce it. I, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. Initially I used my Yoruba name at college, but teenagers can be dicks so they fucked it up any which way they could and after what seemed like the hundredth time biting my tongue at the risk expulsion, or pretending to be in on an asinine joke, I decided to use my catholic name from first holy communion. And still they get it wrong, but I derive pleasure in refusing to answer to anything but.
In Yoruba culture, my culture, and as with any culture in Nigeria, names carry meanings, deeper than the surface, it tells a story about who you are even before you are born, the circumstances of your birth, your lineage etc. It is your back story and your parent’s prayer for you and your surname is a celebration of your family tree. My name means I have been a treasured since before I was born. My middle name is after my grandfather who passed away long before I was born when my father only two years old, it was given to me by my grandmother who never remarried and died much later in life. A long time to be without a loved one, so my name gave her some solace. My oriki, a poetic rendition of my name, means beloved, or even more dramatically, people will fight over themselves to love me. There is a theme at play here. Much like words, names matter, in their tongue twisting, full mouth pronunciation, our names demand you stand on ceremony, it is not timid or said with a whimper. Therefore, you will get it right. Whilst I have gone through life in the west, using my communion name, to my family and friends, they know and call me by my Yoruba name. My mother drops my oriki if she is trying to butter me up. It goes a long way.
Disregarding a name you cannot pronounce or conferring a nickname on someone for your own convenience, is, besides racist, disrespectful, and propels the idea that whiteness is the only acceptable norm and everything else is othered. It is meant to further make one feel like an outsider, even in a place they call home. To further complicate matters, it places the onus on the othered person to make everyone else, who refuses to accord them the basic respect as learning their names, comfortable and at their own inconvenience. Any sign of irritation at this expectation is viewed through the lens of the angry black person narrative.
Stripping me of my name is stripping me of my identity therefore making me a nobody, just like my ancestors who were taken from their homes, stripped of their identities and sold off into foreign lands. If they made it, they became property, labelled with a different name and their history, diminished. My name affirms my culture and sacrifices my parents and those before them made for me to be where I am today. There is no other version of it, much like there is no other version of me. It is full bodied and beautiful, in any language, in any dialect it is wild and wonderful and a story of love.
In the words of Elisabet Velasquez, “to all the girls with heavy names, correct them when they say it wrong then watch their tongue stumble over its own discomfort as it tries to find its footing on a land it cannot steal.”
Your name is your home, your familiar, your grounding, your earliest and fondest memory, and so they must get it right, you must insist they do. Your name informs the world of your kin, people you belong to and are beloved by, people who will fight for you, whose pride is rooted in your life story, because you come from a long and beautiful line of wonders. You are not a bastard.