As written By Tonye David-West
My family is from Nigeria, and my full name is Uzoamaka, which means “The road is good.” Quick lesson: My tribe is Igbo, and you name your kid something that tells your history and hopefully predicts your future. So anyway, in grade school, because my last name started with an A, I was the first in roll call, and nobody ever knew how to pronounce it. So I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking, and in her Nigerian accent she said, “Why?” I said, “Nobody can pronounce it.” Without missing a beat, she said, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.
Oh yes, I’m on the case of the Nigerians in my neck of the woods again. Why not? They keep on giving me reasons to write about them. My goodness, they never cease to amaze me. This group of Nigerians are very clever in many respects even when it comes to abbreviating their fine and meaningful Nigerian names to English names in an effort to avoid identification as a Nigerian or simply to avoid been asked to pronounce their names over and over by their American host.
Most Nigerians with long native [first] names know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m one of those with such long names as Tonye is but an abbreviation of an eleven letter name. But the abbreviation itself [Tonye] is still in my language and does not compromise the meaning of the full name. I can’t afford that for obvious reasons. Ha! Ha!! Ha!!!
Sometimes, it takes several minutes before our American friends could pronounce our names and given the fact that some do not have the time nor the patience to guide these Americans through the pronounciation of their names, they resort to very un-orthodox English abbreviations which invariably eliminates the fine meaning of their names.
And that brings me to this story. As expected, the Nigerians here on the fourth of July, 2001, had a huge picnic where all the Nigerian families were invited to come and BBQ. Before this day, a good friend had told me that a new Nigerian from my home state has just moved into the area. Of course, as expected, I was excited and the friend told me that he would bring him to the picnic. I looked forward to meeting him. My good friend had introduced this JJC as Taribo and so I was expecting to meet Taribo at the picnic.
But lo and behold, Taribo tapped me on the shoulders and said, “Hello, I’m Terry, the new guy who just moved to the area…” Of course, I was confused for a while as I was expecting Taribo, not Terry. But he explained that Terry is actually an abbreviation of Taribo, his own abbreviation, that is.
Needless to say we both had a good laugh out of it, but it got me thinking about other Nigerian names which have been stripped down by their owners in an effort to blend into this society. The abbreviation of some of these names is indeed very funny as they can no longer be traced to the the original name:
So lets take a look at some of these names whose abbreviations I have heard over the years and which have been adopted by some of the Nigerians in my neck of the woods. I am sure you have heard them too:
1. Babatunde — — — — -Barry. This means the Jazz legend, Barry White, is actually Babatunde White.
2. Adebayo — — — — — Baylor. Come on, now. Is Bayo so difficult that we have to adopt “Baylor” as its abbreviation?
3. Chukwuemeka — — — — -Micky. Could you imagine, Lt. Col. Micky Odumegwu Ojukwu? Or Disney cartoon character called Chuwkuemeka Mouse?
4. Tamunoami — — — -Amy. Why abbrievate such a beautiful name?
5. Adenike — — — -Nikki.
6. Nwankwu — — — -Wanny. Could you imagine, the football commentator shouting at the top of his lungs, “O’ Wanny Kanu has just scored for Nigeria.” “Wanny who?”, fans would ask.
7. Kayode — — — -karl. So Karl Marx was actually Kayode Marx.
8. Taiwo — — — -Tyrone. God help us on this one.
9. Oladele — — — Dale. Oladele sounds sweeter, doesn’t it?
10. Oladapo — — -Daps. He must have gone off the deep end when he adopted this abbreviation. What happened to “Dapo”?
11. Tijani — — — -Tikki. Get used to Tikki Babangida of the Super Eagles.
12. Abdullahi — — — — Abby. Hmmmmmm.
13. Olusegun — — — -Lushia. President Lushia Matthew Aremu Obasanjo of Nigeria. Interesting.
14. Uchenna — — -Cheney. Vice President Dick Uchenna of the US. So a Nigerian is VP of the US. Very good.
15. Chinyere — — — -Chimerie. The owner of this abbreviated name was trying to make it sound like one of those African-American names. No wonder when I asked her what her name was, she said with a fake African-American accent, “Chimerie.” Her mother who apparently was unimpressed by this abbreviation told me her real name, “Chinyere.” Could you believe that? How about “Chichi?”
16. Seye — — — — — Shawn. It might as well be “Shenaynay”.
17. Adebanjo — — — -Baggy. What a laugh.
18. Garba — — — — — Gary. Why not just call it garri as in eba?
19. Haruna — — — Harry. This is not far-fetched, but isn’t Haruna a unique and sweet sounding name than Harry? There must be a 100 million Harrys in this world why add another?
20. Tamunokuru — — — — — Kerry. Now, this name means, “God’s power.” The abbrievation, “Kerry”, has done injustice to it.
Hey, friends, if you are one of those fortunate to have a Nigerian first name, I say leave it the way it is or abbreviate it to something meaningful like “Femi” for “Olufemi” or “Emeka” for “Chukwuemeka”, etc, and let others learn how to pronounce it. Afterall, if they can pronounce with ease jaw-breaking Polish and other names like the name of the head basketball coach of Duke University, Mike “Chef-Chef-Ski”, something like that or the general who led the Gulf war, Norman Shwa-something or movie star and husband of Maria Shriver, Arnold Sh…, you know the rest, why not yours. This might be the only identity you have, a reflection of your culture, value and meaning. So I say, don’t let them take the easy way out. Let them pronounce it and pronounce it right. They owe you that much. YEAH!!!