Monday, October 5, 2009

What's in a name?

Recently I have been contemplating changing my name. Well, maybe not changing it but adding a new first name.

I've been meaning for some time to blog about the difficulties that present itself when your name is totally foreign and, at that, difficult for many Americans to pronounce. It's like a running joke--any time someone pauses or gets a quizzical look on their face, it's my name they are trying to pronounce.

And now you're like, "Chi-Chi isn't hard to pronounce."

Well, Chi-Chi is only my nickname. My given, formal name is really a mouthful. Even the hubby can't get it out without stumbling and we've been together almost 7 years.

And I love my name, I do. It's elegant and full of meaning. It sounds beautiful. But practically speaking, it is a handicap. Since most people can't pronounce it easily, I'm often forced to give my nickname which often gets chuckles or makes people think of a stripper or a little cute kid. Or I have people call me Ms. (My last name), which is sometimes formal and stuffy.

If I were to change my name, it would still be something Igbo but something a bit more pronounceable such as Chioma or Amaka. But I don't know . . . re-naming myself doesn't feel genuine. I know a few African-Americans who have changed their names to throw off the name the slavemaster forced them to take and re-connect with their African roots. I get it. But changing a perfectly good name for convenience? I don't know.

And Igbo people do not name their children lightly! For Igbo people, an name is really a prediction and a prayer. My mother almost died giving birth to my baby brother who was born prematurely. The names they gave him reflected the fact that God did a miraculous thing in that both of them are alive till this day. And my name, which means God abides with me, is a testament to the fact that when I was born, my parents had only been in this country for only a few months. They knew no one and could rely on no one except for God. My middle name? "The one God has given me". My parents lost their first child, a son. In Igbo culture, names are extremely important. Very significant.

I suppose that even with a name like "Chi-Chi" most folks still do take me seriously. But I also realize that I do work hard to make sure I am taken seriously right off the bat. I don't giggle along when folks laugh and I'm quick to say it's a nickname which generally prompts the giggler to ask my real name. Then all the giggling usually stops.

Well, my name is really, really long as it is since I chose to hyphenate instead of drop my maiden name. I mean, how long can a name really be? But it would pain me to drop any of my names. And it would be a huge dishonor to my parents.

So what's in a name? Plenty.


Anonymous said...

Actually I changed my name a number of years ago, not legally but basically because my given name is so hard to pronounce that I got tired of having to correct folks.

My given name is also sadly one of those made up names Black Americans were naming their kids in the late 60's early 70's so not only was it difficult to pronounce but it had no meaning. It also didn't help that in the early 90's it was too close to one of the characters created by Martin Lawrenece on his show so I got a lot of jokes.

I actually didn't think about changing it, it just happened. My best friend used to call me Shay Shay and from there I started using it first as a joke but realized it worked.

In some ways I have evolved into Shay but I am still very much my legal name though very few folks use it anymore. Generally just family members and official folks.

I used to say I was going to legally change it but now I am glad I didn't before my mother died she confessed she was sorry she had given me such an unpleasant moniker. At the same time it is the name she gave me so I kept it...I use Shay but still keep the legal name.

Look for a balance that works for you. The only thing that is hard about changing names is when you have kids. My son of course was already old enough that when I started using Shay all the time about 10 years ago it wasn't a huge deal for him.

I find though its hard to explain to girl child that she must know both my names, the one folks call me and my legal name. Since I figure God forbid something ever happens she needs to know my whole name and since I have a hyphenated last name its a bit much for her. LOL

Anonymous said...

My son has a hyphenated last name that is 17 letters total. Sometimes I feel bit guilty about that but I think it's important that he has my last name, not just his father's. Not to mention the fact that my last name is frequently misspelled and mispronounced in the US and it's not even a difficult name. When he's older he can change it if he wants.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and your readers that names are so important. Not only do they have spiritual meaning because I really believe that we begin to embody the meaning (formal or contextual) of our name. I take names very seriously and try to teach my students to never settle for a nickname to make things convenient for others because a name is a source of identity that no one should compromise. Instead, people should choose their own identities. Even still, I have a very difficult time calling people by their new names when they change them because, for me, their name is as much of their identity and relationship to me as their spirit.

I absolutely love my first name, though virtually everyone mispronounces it at first, and I was annoyed when a singer came out with the same name (different spelling and meaning) because I loved being unique. At the same time, I do understand the burden of a name. For most of my life, my last name was a reminder of my deadbeat dad and I couldn't wait to change it when I came of age or got married. However, when I finally turned 18, I realized how much of that name was *me* because I made it so.

Sorry for writing a blog-post in your comment section, but I did want to let you know that I understand the complexities of naming, and I hope you reach a decision that resonates in your soul.

Dee said...

I'm yet another person with a name that while not difficult to pronounce, is hard to spell, so I usually go by Dee. I go by my full name at work and figure if people can't take the time to learn to say and spell it correctly, that has nothing to do with me. IME, it says a lot about a person when they take the time to learn your name. I have thought about changing it, but I know it would hurt my mother's feelings. While my children's names are unusual, we gave them names that were fairly easy to spell and say. They don't ever get teased about their names, but I did as a child and completely hated it.

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...

Shay, I also think about an emergency type situation and my kids being able to correctly say my name. Yikes!!

Navelgazingbajan, I think I'd be okay with my son's wanting to change their names when they get older to something that reflects themselves more. It's cool that you wanted your son to have your name too. I like that.

LiberationTheory, no thank you for your blog post which wasn't a blog post but an excellent comment. I didn't actually get to choose my nickname which irritates me at times too . . . basically, in Nigeria, almost any girl whose name starts with "Chi" is nicknamed Chi-Chi. My parents and relatives rarely use my full name and in a room with all of us, when someone says "Chi-Chi" about 4 or 5 heads turn and they have to clarify "Chi-Chi child of so and so". My name really is all intertwined with who I am and even though my concept of God doesn't necessarily match my name anymore . . . I don't know . . . it still matches me in some way.

Dee, you are absolutely right that it's telling when someone takes the time to learn your name correctly. When the hubby (when he was still the boyfriend) started to ask me to spell it out for him phonetically and practiced, practiced, practiced, my eyebrow went way up . . . I knew he was serious about me.

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