What’s in a name?

There’s a lot that can be said about a person when it comes to their name. In fact naming is quite important in everything. For example in business and branding the name can make or break the company. Let’s take #IssaMovement for example, that is the embodiment of the team and what we are trying to achieve, creating a movement to change mindsets in our community, provoke change and empower future generations. The name simple conveys that message. There really issa movement occurring (get it 😉).

Today’s post stems from a tweet I shared with the team that sparked a very interesting conversation about names (English names to be specific), identity and nationality. You can always rely on Twitter to spark a plethora of conversations!

A Nigerian father was questioned as to why he did not give his children English names to which he replied he wasn’t English and that English people don’t give their children Igbo names – this to me seemed like a fair point. Arguably, Africans giving their children English names has become the norm to us. Therefore, when someone chooses to not do so often times this is questioned.

I understand that to some, giving English names may be easier in terms of breaking into the institution set against ethnic minorities i.e. because they’re “easier” to pronounce. There are also the underlying issues and causes of colonialism that meant that Africans had to give their children English names. This occurred a lot in South Africa during the time of apartheid.

There is an episode on Black-ish (season 3, episode 14) where Dre and Bow discuss the name they want to give to their kid and while Dre is determined to name him “Devante”, Bo is worried that giving him a “stereotypical” black name like Devante sets him at a disadvantage even before he is born. In fact one of his colleagues replies with “so you are not going for *insert English names* just going straight for NFL free safety black men territory huh”?. Insinuating again that it is better for one to hold a name that “whitens’ their identity. Although the show is fictitious, it depicts the society that we live in today and highlights how important the names we choose are. But how does this link into our nationality? We live in a world that decides our worth of getting a job among other things just by our name which tells of our identity. Therefore we conform to choosing names which conceal our identity in the hope of having a fair chance. This is an example of institutional racism. But this post is not about that so we will have to leave that for another day.

If I apply this post to myself, I was named after my great grandma when I was born and her English name was Jane and I go by that. However, I only started going by that name when I moved to the UK. It wasn’t exactly intentional, the teacher introduced me to the class by my first name which I never went by either at home or when I lived in Ghana. I didn’t even correct her. The eleven year old me didn’t see the point. To be honest, I didn’t even like the way my middle name (Nana Baah) was being pronounced. My mother and whole family have always called me Nana Baah. I love that name. However, both names in their own way convey my identity and sometimes the conflict within my society. Nana Baah is too Ghanaian to be English, and Jane is too English to be Ghanaian. The joys of the diaspora.

But is it, in laymen terms, even that deep what your name is? Shouldn’t a name be just a name that parents love and want to give to their kids? Why should it be conflicted with nationality, identity and the likes mentioned previously? I have names that I like but they are based on nothing but the meaning behind them and the character of those I know that hold that name. Some of them are English, some are Hebrew and some are Ghanaian. However, I strongly believe that generally we live up to the names that we are given and it truly is a big part of our identity.

You may be thinking, so what do I take away from this post? Even before I wrote this I never quite understood the importance and the message we send by the names that we pick. I hope that this post will encourage you to hold with higher regard peoples names (no matter how ‘different’ they are spelled or sound) and respect it no matter where it comes from. Also do not feel the need to use names that make you ‘more’ acceptable in society but instead be proud of your heritage. Unless your mother named you sorrow then perhaps consider changing it…..

Jane T

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