What Is In A Name?

Let’s discuss

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.
“Ohhhh… Lar?” Is that how you say it? 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. People often joke that I have the most “mixed-race” name ever! This I can laugh at because whilst the book-ends are very Nigerian, my middle names come for my Irish aunties lol.

I learnt very 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. This tiny fact really stressed me as a kid who really just wanted to fit in, I remember the dread when a supply-teacher would roll in. I would sit in my chair SWEATING waiting for them to of course pronounce my name wrong.
At the beginning of each secondary school year I would run to each class to meet the teacher and casually suggest they call me Yinka as “thats what EVERYONE does!”

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. But to save me the exhausting embarrassment of correcting people 5 times: not Linka, Yinka. No, not Jinka.. Just like that but with a Y.

Imagine if this were the same story with a different outcome ‘Hi my name is Lisa Bokinni’ Nahhh. *Throws hands up in relief*

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 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. But I do know that Black People on average fill out double the amount of applications than our white counterparts.
I remember my first ever job and after struggling for about half n hour I was christened Ollie. That job didn’t last long.

It is time to once again picture 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.
These examples don’t seem like a big deal separately but when all bunched together hopefully you can see why I was left feeling a little insecure.

Even now and then 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?

Don’t worry there is a happy ending to this tale. It no longer bothers me. I am proud now, 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 2019 and I want to stand out. I mean it is actually a blessing, with what I have chosen to do for a living having a name like mine is nothing but a plus. Now people are amazed, thinking its a show-name lol.

Having written all of this down and seen, on screen I feel bad about how bad I felt about something which was A. Out of my control and B. Actually something beautiful, It seems silly , but that is the beauty of hindsight. I say my name more times a day than you can imagine and I say it LOUD and PROUD. Every-time I hear the jingle that kicks off my show on radio or a promo for something I have done on TV I feel so proud and it was pride that was missing when I was growing up.

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!

My name (and this time I am proud to say it) is Olayinka Leigh-Catherine Bokinni, but you of-course can call me Yinkdaddy haha x


9 thoughts on “What Is In A Name?

  1. Amazing Yinka…. I so feel this post and in my younger days as a mixed race Nigerian boy (the only one at school) I just remember feeling like I don’t fit in as not one teacher could pronounce my name. As a man now, I understand the meaning of giving me a special Nigerian Arabic name. It shows who I am and where I’m from. I get it now..
    Thanks for posting this.


  2. I, with a four syllables name (Siphokazi) , should relate (at least a little). But I can’t because it’s so common here in South Africa to have such long names. I suppose it’s determined by the languages too .

    Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this read xx

  3. Wow, I never looked at it from this perspective. Great post btw. I’m Nigerian btw and although I don’t have a native name, my name is surrounded by two solid Akwa Ibom( a state in southern Nigeria) names from my dad that I’ve always been ashamed of. “NTUEN Daniella ASUQUO” I bet you’re struggling to pronunce them ha!

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