Sitting in the library and I suddenly remembered- I planned on writing a blog today. So, that is what I am doing – writing a blog on my ten minutes break- hopefully it does not turn to fifteen or twenty.
What I want to talk about today is names, name-calling and its ambiguities. First, I should start by establishing that I am a proud Yoruba girl from Nigeria. My name is Ebun and it means gift. My full name is Ebunlomo which means a child is a gift. The beauty of most Nigerian names especially from my tribe is that it carries with it meanings which command respect. With names, you can get an idea into the circumstances surrounding the birth of the child. My great-grandmothers name was Otolorin which means she came/walked in a different way. Dig deeper- my mother told me that many of my great-grandmothers siblings had died during childhood or at birth so her not dying was something different. She actually lived very long and she died in 2012 with many many great-grand children including myself.
In my culture, we have names for everyone, to describe how you were born like Oke who is a child born in its amniotic sac; twins are taiwo ati kehinde and goes on and on- I only know up till quintuplets. Names can describe what day you were born on- a child born on a Sunday is Abosede which means s/he came with the beginning of the week. Names can describe which family you came from- the Ades come from a royal lineage, the profession that is commonly practised in your family- the Ayans are the drummers. Names can describe who you remind your parents of or the closest event to your birth. So, names like Iyabo mean the mother has come is given to children born after the death of one of their grandmothers. Then you have names like oyin which means honey and describe sweetness. It is such a beautiful thing. Whilst i have succumbed to the British way of pronouncing my name, I am very proud of what it stands for and why I was named Ebunlomo.
This topic on names came about when I thought of a person that I had met earlier this year. I wanted to write a message to him and I remember feeling guilty that I refer to him by his first name. He is from my tribe and he is certainly old enough to have children that are older than I am. This is important because my culture demands respect especially for your elders. It is very common place to have many mommies- anybody old enough to give birth to you is a mommy or a daddy. I know what you are thinking- how confused a child must be growing up in such a household. What is more confusing (only Nigerians will get this) is when you realise that there are some mommies that you cannot eat in their house. LOL
That being said, when I moved to England, I found it odd how we referred to lecturers by their first names, no Mr or Miss or Professor. This certainly was not the case for me when I schooled in Nigeria. It was indeed a culture shock to call Ben who has grey hair and is almost the age of my father Ben! I found the culture in England interesting- persons did not demand respect because they were older or richer, you respected them by the tone of your voice, being kind and using the golden words. This was different from me growing up, where you could be chastised for not kneeling well for a very distant cousin that you called ‘Mommy’ because she was older than you. I am not here to argue that this wrong- just saying that it is different.
So, when I refer to my lecturer Peter who is Nigerian by his first name, I flinch. I flinch because my culture dictates that this would only be done by a manner-less person. So, I am in a bit of a limbo not knowing whether to address Nigerians that I meet at networking events, university etc as Mr or Mrs. Certainly, it would seem weird to anybody else listening and would wonder why I am being overly-polite. What if other Nigerians refer to this person by their first name? What if I have been referring to the person on a first name basis, should I just carry on? One part of me always thinks that they must see me as a disrespectful child but I know this is not so by their actions. I do not want to lose my culture. Today, someone asked me if I was Australian and it reminded me of when someone asked if I was Canadian or Irish, I just want to tell them ‘No, my accent is simply confused!’ as is my view on things like names. Hmmm, names, names, names!