‘…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.