‘…The one with the strange name’

I am sure you are wondering what today’s post is about so let me shed more light.

I was having a phone conversation this week and in the bid to describe someone to the person on the other end of the call; she says to me, ‘is it the one with the strange name?’

What comes to mind when you think of a person with a strange name? Are there any names you typically refer to as strange? And why? Do they have weird meanings or connotations or are they just names from people of different cultural backgrounds than yours?

In this case, the person I was trying to describe is of African descent and has a name that reflects that just as the person on the phone had an English name in line with their ancestry. And I seriously doubt they have ever been referred to as strange even by non-native English speakers.

You see, the word strange simply means foreign or unfamiliar and in a ‘pre-bias conscious’ world, it might not have meant much. But in today’s world and sensing the tone of the conversation, the word ‘strange’ seemed more powerful.

It meant an ‘othering’, a differentiation, an alienation, and certainly I was not here for it. So, I rebutted: what strange name? Of course, while knowing what name and who she was referring to. Perhaps, she must have sensed my disgust or disapproval and then made attempts to pronounce the name.

It was not that I needed her to pronounce the name but the fact that she sought to alienate someone without even meeting them because they had a non-English name.

It reminded me of an experience at my place of work where a client did not want to speak with me over the phone because I had an ‘accent’. Yeah, surprise surprise, you too have an accent; albeit Canadian or American.

He asked for my manager and after he explained the reason for not wanting to speak to me, my manager told the client that he was busy and transferred the call back to me. Lol

I am sure many of us have had a similar experience. Some people try to avoid it by coining some European names out of their native names. It’s interesting to see because I can’t tell if we are making room for others to communicate with us or if we are shrinking ourselves into the closet and ridding ourselves of identity.

Sorry to say but I believe it is the latter. As a Nigerian with two English names, I often catch myself rejoicing at the fact that when I submit applications online, no one knows where I am from till I get there. If that is not erasure of identity, I can’t tell what is.

Generally, I find that Africans are more open-minded and benevolent when it comes to learning pronunciations of names and cultures of others. I wonder if its because we have always looked up to a ‘Western Ideal’ or because most of our countries are so culturally and linguistically diverse that you become exposed from a tender age.

Heart to heart: What do you think it is? I’ll love to hear your thoughts.


8 thoughts on “‘…The one with the strange name’”

  1. It is certainly an erasure of identity ( can be unconscious) and it just comes from a place of wanting to fit in with western culture and not seeing the value in your uniqueness. It is a deeply embedded social construct that will take conscious effort to overcome . It also ties into other things… if nigeria suddenly became a booming nation with development and progress , oh trust me Nigerians in diaspora or anywhere else will remember their names…


    1. You are so right lol. If Nigeria starts booming, people for sure will want to be associated with it.


  2. i am often mistaken as Angela and i usually dont correct them since i have to speak to a number of customers a day. But if i am introducing myself over the phone or in person i say my name as it is pronounced and i dont shorten it for no one. The people that care will try and get it right. i am very thankful i do not have an English name, none of my siblings do actually even though my parents both have English names lol. i personally do not want English names for my own children either. Your name is everything so dont minimize it to make others feel comfortable.


    1. Haha, how do they get Angela from Adwoa. No way. And you are right that the people who care will learn to pronounce it properly. We should not dim our culture to make any one comfortable.


  3. I came across your blog from a mutual friend’s status post. I really like the way you write! To this post, I have a Nigerian, Yoruba name and people get so uncomfortable when I tell them my name, you can just see the grimace on their faces like ‘oh Lord, here we go’ and it is often deflating. After reading Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Americana’, it empowered me to be proud of my name and culture in the western society I live in. But moments like I described above make it really hard. I have to keep telling myself ‘your name is beautiful and unique, be proud of it’ over and over again to get myself back up.
    These conversations come to ahead when my husband (Ghanaian) and I are discussing baby names. He insists that our future children should have English names and I insist that they should have Ghanaian or Nigerian first names and maybe English middle names. His main reason is the not wanting them the experience same things that plague us daily because of our African names. I insist we should be proud of our culture and to let our children’s names reflect that. But unfortunately, I understand why we don’t want their resumes set aside due to their difficult-to-pronounce names… It truly is a struggle. Sorry for epistle haha, this got me thinking!


    1. Thanks Itunu. I can totally understand how you want to name your children after their heritage but also feeling like you don’t want to put them at a ‘disadvantage.’ I am in that same space currently.

      For me, my name never gave my Nigerian background away but I just got married and my last name will be fully Nigerian and I have to say that while I am excited to have a cultural name, I am also quite anxious about how it might affect me.

      But regardless, our names should never make us feel less and I can’t wait till the world starts appreciating our names in the same manner that they would appreciate a French or German name.


  4. I agree, I hope we can get to place in the world, especially the western world, where names from all cultures will be appreciated and embraced and not looked down upon or put the owner in a disadvantaged position. Thanks for the response! Looking forward to other interesting posts from you!


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