What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. “Romeo and Juliet”, William Shakespeare
So, I was the kid in school with the “special” name. Special as in, when the substitute teacher would take the roll call, I always knew when s/he reached my name because there would be a long pause before they would attempt to say it out loud in a way to suggest that “Hooked on Phonics” hadn’t quite worked for them.
My last name is “special” too. It’s long, full of vowels and consonants, and, like my first name, has a hyphen too – added for good measure – acting like a balance between the various letters of the alphabet on either side and anchoring those letters firmly in place. The hyphens in names first and last make me “double barrelled” – a term I love for some reason; perhaps because it too connotes the wild wild west and the brazenness associated with that era.
While I do like having a name that is a tad different from the regular list of names one can find in baby naming books, at times it comes with some minor annoyances. As a child, there were times when I wanted to find a t-shirt, or mug, or key chain that had my name, but I knew early on that the search was absolutely unnecessary. I would have to settle for a ‘Y’ emblazoned on a product, if I was lucky, as it’s a letter that never seemed to be very high in demand.
As an adult, I have learned that it is best to have a name in my back pocket that I can use when waiting for a table in a restaurant, or when ordering food; a name that can stand the “pizza delivery test”, i.e. a name that I won’t have to repeatedly spell for the individual – used to working quickly – who is taking my order. Perhaps I should use my real name just to teach others that there are names that go beyond the “Dick and Jane” variety, which so many are used to in the west, but, sometimes, I’ll take ease and anonymity over teaching someone a lesson.
With my burgeoning side gig as a singer – I say that slightly bemused as it is still so nascent – I considered whether I should have a stage name, a different name that I would go by. Something classic but befitting a songstress, and with just a hint of diva. I agonized over this because my name means so much to me – it’s my identity, it’s who I am, it’s who I want credited with any achievement, whether big or small. Any other name would feel – for me anyway – false and disingenuous and that seems antithetical to my art, which for me should be completely honest.
I do sometimes wonder what I will do when I am on the threshold of marriage. One cannot be triple barrelled – I’m certain that there would be no more room for additional letters to fill in the boxes on standard government forms – so that won’t be an option. Do I stand firm, rooted in the name of my family’s patriarchal line, or do I acquiesce, uprooting and then re-rooting myself in a new family tree, with a new name? In the move from ‘single’ to ‘married’, I am concerned about losing myself, as so much of me is wrapped up in my name.
My name roots me firmly in my family’s culture. It tells others where I’m from: West Africa. Ghana. It places me, as it also tells others in the know the exact day on which I was born. (Thursday if it is of interest). Despite being rooted in my family’s tradition, my name, interestingly, also connects me to other cultures, as I’ve been told that it sounds like it could be a Hebrew name, or Arabic, or Japanese. Somehow, I seem to be part of those cultures too. Although they are wrong about my origins, their error somehow connects us. How lovely.
Many Africans, for more than a century now, have adopted the tradition of giving their children “Christian names”, i.e. European names. My parents were of the view that their African children should have African names. But it could have been very different as my mother had considered giving me a European name: Bianca. Bianca is so different from my own. It’s short. Although it too is a three syllable name, far fewer letters bring it into form. There are not many Biancas in the world, it is not as common as Jessica or Jennifer, for example, but it is more common than my own name.
From time to time, I pause, thinking whether I would be the same person if I had been given a different name at birth. A name can impact your personality. It made me – and still makes me – feel different, unique. I like having an inherently inimitable quality. Parents-to-be agonize so much over names, worried that a particular name might cause their child to be bullied in school. They know that our names influence how others see us, but names also influence how we see ourselves. They shape us in tangible and intangible ways.
While, to borrow lightly from Shakespeare, me, by any other name might still be endowed with the same essence, I am so happy with what was chosen: the Thursday born queen.