One of my favorite quotes is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It goes thus;
“What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. “
Most Africans know that names are picked carefully before you are born, they are kind of a guide that sees you through life and predicts your future.
Name picking is an intentional process, not to be rushed. Every name means something that could potentially influence your destiny.
Every ethnic group has a set of unique names given to newborns based on the circumstances that surround their birth.It is not uncommon to see someone whose name literally means death.
I know someone whose family name is Mutuah, they are from the Northern part of Nigeria and it means death in English and yes, they’ve had quite a few tragedies.
Some would also pick names for children that signals that they -the children – are a reincarnation of dead loved ones. Names like Iyabo and Babatunde come to mind , originating from the Yoruba tribe.
My father named me Adesuwa, it is a Bini* name that means “midst of wealth”. He gave me no western names unlike my friends who had western first names and tribal middle names. I had none and I felt so left out, ashamed too.
I would quietly say my name to anyone who sought an introduction. I wondered why my father didn’t name me something “cool” like Jennifer or Eva I was just plain ol’ Adesuwa.
It plagued me until I decided to start telling people that my western name was “Eva” then I switched to “Christina”. It felt good and it was easier for people to pronounce I didn’t have to worry about them butchering it like they did Adesuwa and I didn’t have to feel a little pang of embarrassment when they asked if I had a western name and I said no.
Then one day, when I was at an event celebrating people from my tribe, the Bini tribe, my father who was speaking at the event told the story of a legendary princess who happened to have the same name as me.
She was a beautiful princess of the Benin Kingdom in the 18th century who caught the eye of the lustful Obi of Ubulu-Uku*, he had come to pay homage to the king of Benin and was arrested by her beauty.
She found him repulsive and instantly rejected him when he made advances towards her, she said she’d rather die than let him defile her. He took it literally and killed her.
To me it was deeper than a princess rejecting a man and losing her life because of that rejection. I was intrigued by her bravery and willingness to give up her life instead of going along with what a man wanted. She chose herself even though it meant losing her life. I heard that story when I was nine, I still treasure it now at twenty five.
But no, it wasn’t what made me accept my name. Truth be told I don’t know when I realized that my name is beautiful and I had no reason to cower when it was mentioned. I have been blessed so much that I sometimes feel like maybe I’m too lucky. Then I think to myself, my name means “midst of wealth” this blessings make sense.
I no longer feel ashamed when people butcher my name, there was no reason for me to feel shame in the first place. That emotion was never mine to feel , It belonged to the people who wouldn’t/couldn’t make an effort to say or spell my name correctly. They were the ones who should have felt shame, not the little girl who held her breath whenever it was time for roll call.
That shame belonged to the people who couldn’t believe an African girl had an African name that wasn’t diluted by a first or middle western name.
Thankfully, I’m not the little girl who loathes her name anymore. I am a woman who loves how it rolls off the tongue, how rich it sounds and when people ask if I have a western name, I proudly tell them no. I bear my name with pride and I enunciate when I am asked to pronounce it. My name is Adesuwa and I can’t believe I wanted it to be something else. My father was on to something when he christened me Adesuwa and it took me years to see it but I am glad I eventually did.
Seeing amazing women on Tv who bore the same name also made me feel good about it. As a child, the shining TV personality, Adesuwa Onyenokwe was someone I looked up to. She was beautiful, elegant and well spoken and we had the same name. Naturally I was drawn to her.
In my teens I discovered the Nigerian actress Adesua -there’s no W in hers- and I was also drawn to her. Her popularity also reduced the number of “I’ve never heard that name” I got from people.
It transitioned into lame attempts at flirting with me when I would introduce myself to boys. They would all use the corny line, “Can I be your Banky W?” (Banky W, real name Bankole Wellington is the actress’s husband).
Then their faces would light up, each one of them thinking they had said something unique to me. I found it amusing always.
Now that I’m older and dare I say wiser, I don’t think I would have thrived with a name like Kate, Cynthia, Anita or Jennifer. I cannot imagine being called anything other than Adesuwa, it really has a nice ring to it.
So maybe there’s something in a name after all and it’s the guiding force that leads you to your destiny. Also, with a name like mine, how can I fail?
*The Bini people are an ethnic group in Edo State, Nigeria.
*Ubulu-Uku is a town in Delta State, Nigeria
Iyabo – A Yoruba name that means “mother has returned”
Babatunde- A Yoruba name that means “father has returned”
Yoruba- A large ethnic group in western Nigeria.