• Tola Coker

Your Name Is Your Name

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Your name is the first gift given to you when you are born, it’s your identifier for the rest of your life. For some of us, our names have a deeper meaning behind it. But what happens when the names we are given set obstacle for us along the way?

Those of us that are born into immigrant families may also have been lucky enough to have been given a unique name. It’s interesting to think about what your parents were thinking when they came to the conclusion of what to name you.

In my case, my mum wanted something original – perhaps she did too good a job, it’s also a Nigerian tradition to have both maternal and paternal grandparents give the child a name...which is how I ended up with nine, my sister seven and my brother only three. I assume that by the time my parents had gotten to my brother, they thought it was better to keep it simple.

Though the name on my birth certificate is one thing (Eyitoluwase), I am referred to another; by my family, ‘Toluwase’ (I’m convinced the names on my birth certificate are just there for decoration) and by my friends, it’s ‘Tola’. So why is that I’ve decided to go by something different?

School year, after school year was spent anticipating the moments when it was time for a different teacher to try and pronounce my name and say, “Sorry if I mispronounce this” and brace for the incoming butchering and embarrassment that lead shortly after. Not to mention the constant correction of people, who for some reason, didn’t even want to try and pronounce it and so this is when you tell people to call you something else.

Secondary school came along, and I was still having the same issues. You get to a point where you don’t even give them the chance to verbally slaughter your name, and you just jump in – “it’s Tola”. And that’s how it is, every new person I meet “it’s Tola”.

But when you’re at home with family, you answer to a different name than the one you were given not the one you gave to yourself.

“Toluwase, can you check on the rice?”

For a while, it doesn’t bother you, but soon your parents make a point of how they disapprove.

“We gave you your name for a reason, it’s not that you’re going around as something else!”

“It’s not my fault that you gave me a hard name in the first place!”

That’s usually how those conversations went, nothing of the dramatics but there always tension and disappointment in the air.

Not so long ago, I was at a new job and struggled with what name to get on my name badge. I had pondered over it for a few days and had decided to go with my actual name – thinking about it now I definitely did that to get my parents off my back because I went by ‘Tola’ regardless; almost like a default. And with that came the question of how to pronounce the name on my badge and why it isn’t the same as what they called me. Those few months consisted of my co-workers calling me ‘Tolu’ and others ‘Tola’. Although I answered to both, only one of them felt right, not only that but there laid an underlying feeling that I was lying to myself and everyone else.

There have been a few times where there’s always one a*shole that has gone out of their way to mock my name (as I’m sure many of you have experienced). No matter how many times to “jokingly” threaten to push them down the escalator, still, they persist. So then comes along the question of ‘why?’ to which you don’t really know the answer to.

It’s not that I hate my name because I don’t. But sometimes I wonder if some parts of my life would have been made easier if I had been given a western name, or something more pronounceable at least. I do have to admit that I’m slightly jealous of my brother just being named Samuel.

The discussion on ethnic names is a nuanced topic, but I’ll just say this: Your name, is your name, easy to pronounce or not, it is a gift you must appreciate, whatever meaning or backstory it may have. I’m not one for taking my own advice but baby steps, I guess.

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