I am sure you have heard that earlier this month Raven Symone made, what can only be described as silly comments about people with ‘ghetto’ names.
These comments didn’t anger me, they did however get me thinking about how I feel about my name and the effect that has had on me.
My name is Olayinka Leigh-Catherine Bokinni.
My name is the thing that defines me instantly, before you know anything about me.
My title, the thing that makes people stop and stare as if not quite knowing if I’m serious.
Bokinni? Like bikini? What girls wear on the beach right?
Yep it is a mouthful, and up until a few short years ago I was not ok with this.
My name was given to me by my dad.
My dad: a proud Nigerian. His theory was that by having a Yoruba name I would bear my heritage ‘properly’. Show the world where I am from and be proud of my history. This, I can admit has taken a while.
I learnt early on to introduce myself as the shortened ‘Yinka’ so as not make others feel uncomfortable trying to pronounce the full deal; my name is so long that on my primary school draw (where a school kid keeps all of their most prized possessions i.e. loom bands, bottle caps and last weeks unfinished homework) my font was smaller than everyone else’s, I’m talking font size 8 when the rest of the class names are written in a 14.
I was more than aware of the funny looks I got at the doctors/ dentists/ any kind of waiting room when the person with the clip board would struggle to read out my name, eyes would dart around the room, mouth contorted into unnatural shapes trying not to choke on my four syllabled tongue twister and then the look of confusion when I: a teenage girl with a South London accent would answer an not a Nigerian auntie.
My plan was very simple; wait until I turned 18 and head on down to the town hall, singing all the way, and change that bad boy. To Lisa of course, never planning on telling my proud father so as not to hurt his feelings.
Imagine if this were the same story with a different outcome ‘Hi my name is Lisa Bokinni’ Nahhh.
I became used to carefully writing out job applications so that my potential employer would know I was from England. Now this is the tricky thing, you want to use just the right amount of spelling mistakes so that it doesn’t look like you have copied words out of a dictionary but also not too many so that you make it clear you can actually speak English.
I would like to take a break and tell you that I know my name isn’t ‘ghetto’ and I know that Raven Simone wasn’t taking about names like mine when she said what she said, however that isn’t the point, the point is: throw away statements like that make it seem ok to discriminate against people and it isn’t in any case, a person with what she may describe as a ‘ghetto’ name is no different to me with a Yoruba one, they’re both ‘different’ to the norm. Right?
Now where was I?
I have no evidence of the amount of times my application must’ve been discarded without being really looked at because my name was deemed unpronounceable, or foreign, only hunches. Which again reminds me of school.
This time please, if you will picture an 11-year-old Yinka getting more embarrassed each time a teacher failed to pronounce my name properly.
One teacher actually gave up before I had a chance to explain my name is spelt phonetically:
OLA as in OLA – YINKA as in YINKA.
On the first day of each school year I would go around to all of the teachers and remind the old ones that they could just call me ‘Yinka’ and explain to the any new ones that Yinka is ‘easier to pronounce’ so they can just call me that! I used to panic! Sweaty palms, butterflies, the lot.
Even now, when I introduce myself to people I either accept that they hear Bianca, I don’t say Bianca, I’ve never said Bianca, my name is not Bianca! But that is what they’re going to call me or I have to literally spell it out before they get it:
Yinka like: WHY EYE EN KAY AY you know?
It no longer bothers me. I am proud in a way, as proud as I can be of something that I didn’t choose. I am not 7 year old me, nor am I 11 year old me- desperate to fit in. I am current me, in 2015 and I want to stand out.
Having written all of this down and seen, on paper how bad I felt about something which was A. Out of my control and B. Actually something beautiful, It seems silly almost as silly as the comments which inspired this post, but that is the beauty of hindsight.
When I left school I took the stance that a name is nothing, I went all (Romeo and) Juliet and decided that if my name was Rose I would still smell as sweet, I would still be the same person I am now, there would be absolutely nothing different about my personality, my looks or my life choices. I came to the conclusion that my name meant nothing.
But I believe I was wrong there too.
My dad was right all of those years ago, my name is my heritage, it is my culture and my stamp on the world, telling it I am here I am (half) Nigerian and I am ready! All twenty-nine letters of me!
Maybe having a name that is different is a good thing, and this is coming from a person who has spent most of their life feeling embarrassed, slowly I am realizing that it is good to be different to not fit in with the mold, no my name doesn’t automatically mean that I will be great but people will remember me. I am not the only Yinka (I know at least two others) but I am the only me. And at the end of the day, that is what counts right?
So what is in a name? To me it means everything but nothing, it carries so much history but has no bearing on my future. But it has helped shape me, and for that I am grateful.
So I write this for the Raven Symone’s and even for the Katie Hopkins’ (who is an arse and doesn’t really deserve a mention but hey)
My name (and this time I am proud to say it) is Olayinka Leigh-Catherine Bokinni, but you of-course can call me Yinka (: xx