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Atoke’s Awkward Banter: The Name They Call You at Home



Atoke's Awkward Banter: The Name They Call You at HomeI met Baby at a birthday party hosted by her sisters. She was introduced to me as Baby, and there was no reason to ask for more details. Every guest that arrived called her Baby, that was that. Her name was Baby.

Then one afternoon, my friends invited me to tag along for a barbecue party hosted by their colleague called Nguyiman. We got into the subdivision where Nguyiman lived and I recognized it as the same one I’d been to a few weeks earlier. We pulled up to Nguyiman’s building and mused about the coincidence that my friend’s sister, Baby, lives here. Trot, trot, trot, up the stairs we went and Tosin knocked on Nguyiman’s door.


Tosin and I said in unison, as the woman I knew as Baby opened the door. Tosin arched his brows. “Baby?”

As someone who probably has to live with this every day of her life, she responded, “Yes, that is the name they call me at home”

Since the inception of BellaNaija‘s Beyond The Three, I have become extremely fascinated by Nigerian names and how diverse and beautiful they are. We’ve featured Tanchit, Kada, Zichat, Kandyi and other really interesting names. I have come to realize how much of a bubble my life in South West Nigeria was. It reminded me of the many times someone said their name and I wondered if it was Nigerian. Unfortunately, due to the Lagos limitation, one may be prone to make ignorant comments like “Is that even a Nigerian name?”

For people with non-mainstream Nigerian names, I can only imagine the irritation they’d feel at being challenged at the validity of the Nigerianness of their name. Imagine telling someone your name is Chat and they tell you it is westernized. Then they go further to ask you for your real Nigerian name. My friend Mnena gets this all the time. One time someone asked her if the way she spelled her name was a funkified version of Nnena. They’d never heard the name Mnena before; their  assumption was that she had abridged her name. There’s the other little thing about the pronunciation of her name. It’s that M and N sound that people don’t just get how to do, so they just call her Nnena.

It. Pisses. Her. Off.

The thing with names is that they’re such personal identifiers that they are often intrinsically tied to how people feel. And because it isn’t something you were consulted on at the time it was bestowed upon you, there’s the risk that you simply may not like the name you were given. It happens. However, when you’re old enough to change your name to something that you prefer, or maybe something that suits your personality better, you may run into some challenges. The challenges include, but are not limited to, people who insist on calling you the name your parents call you.

Also, what is it with people who argue with you over your name. You’re the owner of the name. You’re the one who wishes to be identified a certain way, but there’s always someone who would decide to spend time arguing with you on what your name is and what it should be. And I’m not talking about the ones who correct first-generation Americans on the proper pronunciation of their names o. I mean those people who will be arguing with you what your name is not your name.

You: My name is Mimi
Random person: What’s the full name?
You: Mimi
Random person: Ehn that’s the short form for what?
You: Mimi, is a Tiv name. That’s what it is.

No Sir/Ma’m. It’s not the short form for anything. She just told you her name. Accept it, call her by that name and keep it moving. Some people will go a step further to ask you if that’s your real name or an adopted name. Why? Why do you do it? Seriously.

Some people believe it’s a sign of closeness if they call you by the name you’re called at home. And it’s true, there are some times when the name you’re called indicates how far back someone has known you. It isn’t necessarily indicative of closeness, though. Sometimes it’s just a question of length of the relationship. For instance, my sister’s first name is Adeola. Her middle name is Adekemi. For some reason, my parents called her Adekemi and everyone at home calls her Kemi. When she went off to boarding school, accompanied by a bunch of her cousins, Kemi followed her to school – even though her class registers and all official documentation was Adeola Adekemi. By the time she got to University and shed off her cousins, she was back to being, officially, Adeola. So, now when someone says Kemi and they’re not family, we’re like, Ah, that’s a friend from Command.

Nobody drags real name or fake name with her, though, because both names are very Yoruba and very common (Isana eleta tingz), but not everyone is so lucky. Mnena’s first name is Jill and her middle name is Mnena. Having to navigate correcting the pronunciation of her name is so strenuous, she just tells you her name is Jill. But last year, standing at the bus stop on a rainy day, she met a Nigerian man, who after she introduced herself to him as Jill, decided to spend the next three minutes debating whether that was her real name.

Dearly beloved, it’s not so hard to call people what they tell you they want to be called, is it? Why are we so hung up on calling people the name they are called at home? Sometimes, names are associated with positive things; sometimes they’re not. Do you guys remember a wave of Pentecostalism that went through Nigeria when people with names that had Ifa and Sango prefixes were changing their names to Oluwa this and Oluwa that? If a Sangodara tells you they’d rather be identified as Oluwadara, why would you fight them on it? Sometimes we act as if we’re the ones who have been personally affronted when someone tells us they’ve named their child Jasmine Saffron Oluwaloleyimu. Why?

I think we should just let people enjoy things. Over the years, I’ve become more sensitive to being Yoruba, and in embracing my identity as a Yoruba woman, I’ve slowly shed my Hebrew first name. I write my name with the ami-ohun every time I can. I mostly prefer to be called by my oriki. That’s a personal choice because I’m in this state of discovering and embracing my heritage. Imagine if someone then trampled on that and asked me for an English name. URGGH!

Nguyiman tells work colleagues not to save her name as Baby on their phone, so they don’t get in trouble with their spouses.

My name at Starbucks is Sue. It’s just easier that way, for everybody involved.

So guys, what’s your name and what’s the name they call you at home? Let’s have fun with this. Do you have an interesting name? What’s the funniest reaction you’ve gotten to your name? Are you particular about what people call you? What are your thoughts on the general perception of Nigerian names. Do you believe that Nigerian names should have a modernized twist, especially within the context of globalization? Should we have names that are easier for westerners to say? (No! No! No!)  If you’re like me who objects to that, how do you navigate working with foreigners who unintentionally ‘other’ you, simply because of your name? And last but not the least, if you find someone’s name interesting, what’s the first thing you say?

Peace, love and cucumber slices!

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. JB

    October 15, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    At home my name is efe but outside they call me Jennifer all of them na my name

    • Marsala

      October 16, 2018 at 7:24 am

      My name is Nkiruka. But I HATE, absolutely ABHOR being called “NK”. I mean, I never introduced myself as NK, but Nigerians (excluding my family of course) automatically create these names. Lazy much? I don’t know, but it’s annoying.

  2. Anon

    October 15, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Beautifully whiten.

    I also have a friend called Baby. She shed that name and reverted to her first name ages ago which I call her now. She like some others I know felt they had outgrown their pet names.

    What of Junior? A lot of the Juniors I know, now use their names (named after their fathers.)

    Answers to your last paragraph –
    1) I don’t have a pet name from home, I have always gone with my name and no short form just my full Igbo name.
    2) Funniest reaction to my name is when people try to elongate it. No please. My name is how my parents gave it to me and how it was registered at birth.
    3) Not particular, because it’s just my name and never had a pet name.
    3) We have beautiful names and I take delight in knowing the meaning of a name.
    4) Hell no to a modernised twist.
    5) I do a pronunciation “lecture” on how to pronounce my name. then I go on about why Asians (South Asia and Far East Asia) stick to their names proudly and will happily tell you what god they are named after and/or the meaning of their names. Westerners have no issues pronouncing those names, why then should they have issues pronouncing our names?
    6) You have a beautiful name, what does it mean? (I don’t usually ask where a name is from except I am totally lost about the origin.)

    • Anon

      October 15, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      Lol! It is written*

  3. Kim

    October 15, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    At home I am Kemi. In work I ve heard different version from Kmei, Kim, Kimi, Kami,. It doesn’t bother me once its all relative

  4. Mrs chidukane

    October 15, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Haa, if I write my name here everyone who knows me will know its me. When I go to the market and those boys start calling names,I tell them not to bother cos they can’t call mine. I actually have a very masculine Igbo name. I used to hate the name but i embraced it in the university. I mean, lecturers don’t victimize male students do they? Haha. I love my name,I don’t like the meaning of the name though. Its my name at home,Church school, university, everywhere.

    • Sakura

      October 16, 2018 at 12:04 pm


    • Atoke

      October 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Lol Is it Chimezie?

      One of my best friends is Chimezie but we call her ChiChi. She now goes by her super OLDE ENGLISH name sha..

  5. Chukwuemeka

    October 15, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    My family and friends that know me from owerri where I grew up calls me Bobby down to my grandma. Upto today my pops man cannot explain how the name came to be. My Igbo name is Chukwuemeka so my secondary,university friends and work colleagues call me Emeka. Now my new set of friends call me Chuks short form for chukwu. So now if I hear someone calling me or referring about me to any of my friends the get confused because the don’t understand it’s still the same person??‍♂️??. One day some groups of friends that I was supposed to meet up with was explaining to each other about me coming over to meet them at the bar but with different names only for me to show up and all of them were very surprised because I was the person that the were all expecting. I now had to explain how I have different names for some very weird reason. So if you call me any of the above names I know where, how we met and classify you ???.

    • Sakura

      October 16, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      Oh wow, that’s super cool. I thought I had a masculine name. Yours is way cooler. My father named me Lotanna❤

  6. Dupri

    October 15, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    My name is Ijeoma,
    Immdiate family members call me Ije ( Ijeee)
    Maternal grandma- Ijesco
    Paternal Grandma- Ijefine
    General public – Ij or Ijeoma

  7. Baby

    October 15, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    I’ve always been baby since I left the hospital. lol

    After my naming ceremony, somehow baby still stuck. Very few people call me by my first name Nguyiman.

    In secondary school, I was Snr. Baby.

    As yankee folks can’t pronounce Ng, they call me guyiman. (don’t want anyone getting confused bout my sexuality)

    Now I tell folks if your significant other does not know me, pls do not save my number under Baby. I have gotten one to many calls of girlfriends tryna curse me out cos they found my number in their boos phone saved as Baby.

    I have an aunt who still goes by baby. So yes we call her aunty baby. And when she had her kids, we all rejoiced that aunty baby had a baby

    • M

      October 17, 2018 at 7:48 am

      The laugh I had reading this. Aunty baby had a Baby!!!

  8. YD

    October 15, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    My name is Yemisi, however none Yorubas tend to think it’s the same as Yemi. So must times I educate them about but if they still call me Yemi, I just ignore ?

  9. Chinma Eke

    October 15, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Oluwaloleyimu…….. lol. Did I translate that right in my head?

  10. Abiola Nneka

    October 15, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    I love this, my names are Abiola Nneka, I grew up as Nneka and evolved to Abiola (lol, I’m still one and the same human). When I was younger I didn’t like Nneka because of the movie “Nneka the pretty serpent” so when I got to boarding house in SS1, I totally dropped the name Nneka and took up only Biola. My waec and all has only Abiola and my surname.
    Interestingly, I’m called Boya at home (my younger brother couldn’t pronounce Biola, so my parents and cousin all call me Boya).
    Friends from junior school call me Nneka, friends from senior school uni till now, calls me Abiola/Biola. Onyibo people don help me shorten Abiola to Abi. Abi is my work name. My cousin’s kids call me Aunty Boya.

    Nneka, Abiola, Biola, Boya, Abi and other things that sound like it (Abimbola, Bola, Abolaji, Bisola). I answer to them all.

  11. Malomo

    October 15, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    My surname is Malomo and the first thing people do is ask if I am an abiku. For a very long time I did not like the name and couldn’t wait to change it. But now I have fallen in love with the name and wouldn’t be bothered about people’s comments.
    I’m not particular about the name people call me as long as it’s one I’ll easily remember.

  12. Special

    October 15, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    My brother is Opeyemi. We grew up calling him Yemi. He got to secondary school and he became Ope. He tells everyone his name is Ope. I always have to think when someone asks about my brother Ope,cause I know him as Yemi.

    The boy can’t be bothered.

  13. Omo

    October 15, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    Everyone has called me Kemi my whole life. It wasn’t until I applied to college that I found out I had a different first name. So now I have an easy way to know if we have a relationship or you ate just randomly calling and you only have my legal name…

  14. Ajala & Foodie

    October 15, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    On that name matter, uhn very sensitive something. My little sister is the only one my parents decided to give a Christian name as first name in the family. I remember when one of my cousin’s visited for the first time. For days, she believed my sister was a family friend. BTW, my sister is like a copy of my mum, but she could not see past the name. She just felt since she had a non- yoruba first name, she could not be a family member.

    When my parents were “exporting” us all out of the country my brother however, chose to use his Hebrew name has his first name, Hebrew name being his middle name. Interestingly, my sister that has the Christian name as a first name has decided to shorten her name. (Honestly, my parents did that girl wrong on the name front, both first and middle. All I can say is I don’t know what they were thinking). For both my siblings they totally dislike it when non family members call them by their first names. it is usually people who want to feel like they have known them awhile People that they actually recently met and somehow found out their names but want to feel close.

    My mum recently made that mistake with somebody else. The individual (who is Nigerian) had introduced herself as Blessing. My mum being the typical Yoruba woman ( bless her heart) decided to begin calling her the Yoruba version of the name. I had to pull her aside and tell her it was actually extremely rude to call people by names they had not introduced themselves to you by. I know her purpose was to appear friendly, which my mum naturally is, but doing that only defeated that purpose.

    As for me, My yoruba name is my first name, will always be. When I was asked to consider using my middle i.e Christian name during my “exportation”. I told those involved, no oyinbo will change their name because they are coming to Africa, so no I was not changing my name. My married last name is very English though, so if they cannot pronounce my first name they can feel free to use my last name. Only my dad has another name for and coming from ANYBODY else, it just sounds wrong and that includes the hubby. Hubby has 2 “first names”, the one every knows him by and another (which he uses as his middle name) that his paternal side of the family know him by.

  15. Physio Tinu

    October 15, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    Let each person be called by what they want. Atoke, what I’d like you to explore or write about is this trend I’m noticing in Lagos and “international” organisations. Raddlisson blue for instance has all their front desk staff bearing English names. Same in some other organisations. When I probed further, it seems that staff are being compelled/”encouraged” to use their English names. Excuse is that it’s easier to pronounce since they cater to international customer.

    It irks the hell out of me.

    Reminds me of the kinta kunte slave series where slaves were made to change their names.
    Am I being overly sensitive that in our own land, they are telling us what we should be called to make it easier for “them”? Aren’t names integral to an individual’s identity, history and heritage? Imagine the conversations about diversity that can open up when someone has a beautifully unusual name?
    While I’m still ranting, what’s all this hogwash about calling “groundnut” “peanut”

    Abi what do you think?

    • Mrs chidukane

      October 16, 2018 at 12:10 am

      I quite agree with you. What nonsense. If the name on the tag is not what they usually go by,why would you force it in them? Anyway, this is Nigeria. Because of the high unemployment rate,plus lack of relevant labor laws and non enforcement of existing laws, you can do anything with your employees and get away with it.

  16. Mz Socially Awkward....

    October 16, 2018 at 3:11 am

    Dead @ your name at Starbucks is “Sue”. Just dead.

    I started using my middle English name for work, when we all landed in “the abroad” and started sending out CV…. and my 13 letter first name was just not generating call backs. Have had both first and middle names on all my certificates obtained throughout my life but never used the second until I realized that, mayhaps, recruiters & HR people weren’t prepared to twist their tongues for someone who was looking for entry level UK-based experience…. anyway, it got easier to talk about jobs from that point on.

    And I’ve continued using that name professionally, even after returning to Nigeria. Just makes life easier as that’s what my LinkedIn profile is registered to as well. Of course, when my work life “jams” my personal life, the same situation which happened to Baby/Nguyiman tends to occur…. but I’m happy enough to be known by two separate names in each separate setting. So that it even helps me compartmentalize my relationship to you (professional or personal), depending on what you call me.

    Still don’t understand why people are get so het up about other people’s names, Especially incredibly jobless Nigierans. Once worked with a Scotswoman who joined the company as “Diana” and then one day, told everyone she wanted to be known as “Debyi” and we simply started calling her “Debyi” from then on. A person’s name is one of their most individual licenses and each one of us are completely within our rights to change it as we deem fit.

    Therefore, if I wake up tomorrow and decide that I now want to be known as Blonde Iroko, go out to court to swear my affidavit, inform all the required authorities and change all my certificates and passports to suit ….. who are you to protest?

  17. Diuto

    October 16, 2018 at 5:31 am

    I luv my name. It’s rare and has a beautiful meaning. My parents gave all of is igbo names and we use them proudly.
    I’ve been frustrated so many times because people couldn’t pronounce my name. In university I changed it briefly to my igbo middle name just for my classmates but never on my documents.

    Whenever I meet people answering their English names, I always ask for their native namesand the meaning. I luv native names, it shows our heritage.

    Even if I were to move to a foreign country, I would insist on my native name (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on my mind). Tara Durotoye once said if we can struggle and pronounce Salvatore Ferragamo, foreigners should learn how to pronounce our names.

    How many foreigners answer our names, yet we embrace their names with so much zest. I hope our beautiful names don’t fadeaway with time.

    I’m all for promoting our Nigerian names, maybe it’s because I have travelled & lived all around the country.

  18. Kay

    October 16, 2018 at 7:57 am

    My first name is Keirelumi, only family members seem to pronounce it well .Friends call me Kay or my middle name Faith .People take me for Yoruba but its actually an igala name .I also have an Igbo surname .The founders of my village (Ebu)were originally from kogi state ,they came to fish close to the River Niger and decided to settle close to Asaba .During the civil war been that they were close to Igbo speaking towns they adopted Igbo names .we don’t speak Igbo ,we speak igala but we have Igbo surname’s

    • Baby

      October 16, 2018 at 7:08 pm

      Such a beautiful name

  19. Deborah

    October 16, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Deborah, people at home call me opiotu.
    When I introduce myself as Deborah sabi sabi people would want to call me Debbie, Debra. If I want to be addressed as Debbie I’lld let you know.

  20. o

    October 17, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    I don’t like when ppl automatically spell my Sola as Shola. Ermmmm no ‘h’ please. And when ppl just assume and call me Adesola or Olusola. No please ask for my full name before feeling familiar and call me by my full correct name or just Sola will do.

    Also my mum somehow forced Monica on me as my baptismal name. Please note that my original middle name as on my birth certificate is Abolore (which I actually love). Being a Catholic then, when it was time for my baptism (8 or 9yrs old), we had to pick a name. All the fancy names I wanted, my mother refused. She insisted on Monica. For some reason, I didn’t like it but I had no choice. She didn’t stop there. After the baptism, she proceeded to write Monica on all official documents for me. Now Monica is now my unofficial official middle name. It was on all my secondary school and university documents that I had no choice but to include it in my international passports. Now only my birth certificate carries my real middle name. As if that was not bad enough, the panapana Monica don kill me song and Monica Lewinsky case just made me hate the name more. Ppl tease the hell out of me when they know that’s my middle name. Some say Monica, you like money and car. Lol. Once I transfer money through internet banking to a friend that never knew my middle name, I always expect a message. 9 out of 10 times they say Monica I got the transfer and proceed to make fun of me?? And there’s someone in my church that insist on calling me sis Monica despite my many pleas?.

    I went with Sola up till uni. Then I met my husband, his surname is a 3 letter name and my name sounded so short so I reverted to my full name Oyesola (I love love love my full name. So if you call me Sola we have know for ages. Newer friends call me either Oyesola or Oye. I however prefer not to be called Sola but if that’s what someone prefers to call me, so be it.

    My daughter who is almost 12yrs wants to start using her English middle name, Victoria, but she wants Vicky. I cut it off immediately. You will use your beautiful Yoruba name “Adeola” as you are a Yoruba girl. Lol. She doesn’t understand why tho.

  21. Jil Medon

    October 21, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Oh myy… Its so hilarious how I can resonate so closely with almost all that you’ve said. I’ve always been questioned about the originality of my name by almost every Nigerian I come across. Gotten so used to it.. now I get ready to give an explanation for why my first name is what it is.

  22. Nike

    October 24, 2018 at 4:58 am

    I don’t get it. I say my name is Nike and you ask if you can call me Nike like the shoes. NO. How hard is it to say Nike like it should be said? It’s two syllables!!!
    My father calls me Adenike when he’s feeling especially pleased with me. When he’s in a foul mood, he calls everyone including my mum “Aburo” ?

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