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Harold Writes: Are Nigerians with All-English names 21st Century Slaves?

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I was at the recently concluded Art X event which held at the Civic Centre, Lagos and I attended The Talk session by Lemi Ghariokwu. Lemi’s session was an interesting one. He had the crowd on the edge of their seat throughout as he dished out thought-provoking, and I dare say, heart-wrenching words. I could gather that the theme of his speech was centred around self consciousness. Lemi was particular about Africans and our seemingly lost sense of self-consciousness. He paid tribute to the likes of the late Abami Eda of Africa, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Malcom X, Marcos Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and Peter Tosh. To Lemi, those were very self-conscious Black people who defied the odds of their time. If I were to rephrase Lemi’s words in street language, I would say he challenged present day Africans to be “woke”.

To Lemi, being “woke” requires undergoing a spiritual cleansing, which must proceed from the inside to the outside. Lemi was critical of 21st century African women who “add chemical” to their hair and styled it like a Westerner would, as against grooming the hair naturally. He was also critical of Nigerians living in Nigeria who dressed up in attires that are typical of people from Brooklyn, yet they fail to imitate the achievements (technological and otherwise) of the Brooklynites. The most fascinating criticism from Lemi was the one against present day Nigerians who still bear all-English names. To Lemi, this is a betrayal of one’s identity. Recounting his story, Lemi was sure to mention that, when he became self conscious, he changed his name from Emmanuel Sunday to Lemi Ghariokwu. He did this to properly identify with his roots.

The latest criticism from Lemi is the one that piqued my interest, not least because my first name, middle name and surname are all English. Actually, I have a first name and two surnames and they are all English names. (This is very common amongst people from the South Southern part of Nigeria where I am from). Notwithstanding Lemi’s criticism, I must say that, him encouraging Nigerians to have Nigerian names is not all together, misplaced, even though I don’t think this has anything to do with one’s identity as suggested by him. Rather, I think having a Nigerian name comes with certain advantages. For example, it could determine whether or not one gets a favour in certain Nigerian settings. I can attest to this because I have experienced several unpleasant receptions in Nigeria due to not having a Nigerian name.

When I first applied for my International Passport from the Immigration Office, I went through hell (annex campus) because of my all-English names. (Nigeria is already hell, so I suppose the other hell has to be the annex campus of hell). They would not process my papers unless I produced my parents. It took some “innovations” from me to get past that phase and get my passport done. Another experience was when I got admission into the university. One of the requirements during screening was the production of a Certificate of Origin. My very own local government chairman almost denied me this certificate because of my names. It took a special intervention to get it done.

I know it might be tempting for students of pan-africanism to argue that, an essential ingredient of the African identity is the African name. Despite how tempting the foregoing invitation is, I think equating one’s name simpliciter with one’s identity would be a nebulous venture.

There is no gainsaying the fact that, the African continent is a peculiar one. We have the history of being colonized by the West (except, maybe Ethiopia and Liberia) and this experience forever shaped our lives. Yes, there was (and still is) a cross-pollination of cultures and ideas, however, I do not think that colonialism completely eroded the essence and identity of Africans. We may have adopted certain foreign concepts and ideas, but what truly makes us African is still very much intact.

Studies in the social sciences have shown that, the question of identity is multi-faceted and it is usually rooted in issues of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality etc. In other words, it is a complex question that cannot, and should not be overly simplified. As an analogy, would the fact that a Nigerian who grew up in Nigeria, but loves and eats Chinese foods, make the Nigerian a Chinese person? Of course, not. He has already undergone a deep process that cannot strip him of his “Nigerianess”. In the same vein, the fact that, a Nigerian bears an English name, does not make him less of a Nigerian or a slave to the provenance of his name. That also, certainly does not strip him of his Nigerian identity.

Recently, Kazuo Ishiguro was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 2017. Kazuo was born in Nagasaki, Japan, but he is usually referred to as a British author simply because he grew up in England. Kazuo has refuted this claim of him being British and is reported to have even said, “I’ve always said throughout my career that although I’ve grown up in this country and I‘m educated in this country, that a large part of my way of looking at the world, my artistic approach, is Japanese, because I was brought up by Japanese parents, speaking in Japanese”.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s above quote inspires a befitting conclusion of this piece. We are not who we are simply because of our name, skin colour, choice of food, style of dressing etc. We are who we are because of a combination of different things, chief amongst which is our experience.

Photo Credit: © Kadettmann | Dreamstime

HaroldWrites is an extraterrestrial who uses words like floccinaucinihilipilificate and antidisestablishmentarianism to keep his readers under his spell, yearning for more. Visit his blog at http://www.haroldwrites.com and stalk him on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram @haroldwrites

13 Comments

  1. Mohammad

    November 10, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Tell dem for back. Being “woke” (whatever that means) is a private journey and does not give you a free pass to dictate what other people’s equally valid experiences and personal choices ought to be. In fact, quite the contrary.

  2. chi

    November 10, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    After watching what the Nigerian army did to Ipob members and how tribalistic yorubas and other justified the evil. I just concluded that Black people is a lost cause,no use dwelling much on this race..as for me , I have decided to just watch Nigerians suffer in pains and agony while I make the best out of it, Nigerians ( or black people in general)are not worth pitying until they start using their brains.

    • Loool

      November 10, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      You are always always spewing bitterness in your posts. Babe, you need help! Asap!!

    • John

      November 11, 2017 at 10:11 am

      If you cannot figure out why anyone is bitter about a situation they are living with, don’t you think it is better not to judge them until you do? Perhaps you would be less harsh in your criticism, if you walked in her shoes.

  3. Dust

    November 10, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Nigeria only exists on paper…

    You are your ethnic group first, accepting been a Nigerian means you have accepted to be recreated and redefined by foreigners whose main goal was and is to remove your ethnic identity like they did to the indigenous black people of what is now called America,

    they couldn’t do the same to the black people in Africa bcos Africans fought them and one of the many ways to stop the fighting was to call a truce, introduce “education” and sign “peace agreements” which then makes them “colonized” bcos the corrupt leaders who signed this agreements are the ones who allowed the maltreatment of their ethnic groups..

    the reason why you have English names in the SS part of Nigeria is bcos your leaders were and are ass-lickers of the brits, they felt inferior to the brits..

    No African country was colonized.. Yes foreigners were here, but they could only stay here bcos back then people obeyed their elders and thought that the elders were looking out for the interests of the entire ethnic group and not selfish interests… they could only stay bcos the indigenous people did not revolt.

    If Africans were colonized, you would not have your indigenous language but they introduced schooling as a way to make Africans be the ones to eradicate their indigenous languages themselves that’s one of the reasons they joined different ethnic groups together to make them adopt a common language and indirectly faze out their own language..

    • Ello Bae

      November 10, 2017 at 8:53 pm

      Trying to sound “woke” when you are still sleeping in a dustbin.

    • Cynthia

      November 10, 2017 at 9:33 pm

      Says the one bearing an Arabic name. SMH. Please go and take several seats.

  4. Cookie

    November 10, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    All these conversations will make much sense if we had other things going well for us as a country. Truth is, people are tooooo hungry to care. Why will we not feel inferior when every single thing is imported – we produce nothing, nada. Our economy is in shambles. We are living below the standards of human dignity. Even dogs in America have more healthcare than us. If people had to change their names to pave a way out of this poverty., they will. Call me whatever but give me food. It’s self preservation first. People who scream their names in conversations like Chimamanda and Uzoamaka have done well, but they are not in the hungry state most Nigerians are. Let us be woke by fighting our government and holding them accountable. Whites don’t really care whatever names we answer. Let us send a man to the moon first and then the world will know his name. Over 40 years after man first went to the moon and we have not even attempted to send our own man?

    I will name my child after the white lady who gave me a scholarship to get the quality education my government robbed me of. And the next child will be named after the anonymous white man who gave me my other scholarship through a foundation. I’m not obliged to be loyal to Nigerian names. As someone rightly said, there are no Nigerian citizens.. only victims, survivors and owners. Me, I no care anymore. My identity is human, and I am a global citizen. Oya flog me.

    • akama

      November 11, 2017 at 5:44 am

      Reads like a poem

  5. Ross

    November 11, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Your Lame Ghiarokwu may have a point, but I look at other African countries who don’t have half the self confidence or self awareness Nigerian’s have and to a large extent, they have 90% African names. Doesn’t add up. Doesn’t follow

  6. Mohammad

    November 11, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Cynthia you Dabi read so?

    • Mohammad

      November 11, 2017 at 11:42 am

      *sabi

  7. MurderSheWrote

    November 11, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    I love this piece and can relate because I’m in the process of changing my English middle name to my other traditional name. My own is just middle sef. And it’s a puritan name but i’d rather do my culture. On another note, I don’t think changing our names to our “African” names and what not would do anything to solve our plight. I agree with the commenter that said we there are no citizens in Nigeria. We are only divided by social strata (by wealth and lack thereof) into victims, survivors and owners (the evil political class and their “old money/new money” comrades who rob Nigerians of their birthrights and use OUR resources to make the lives of their wives, children and generations to come, one which the rest of us can only dream of).

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