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31 May Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

Do We Need New Names?

A child born in April 2013 is named Augustine. Later in life he grows and discovers that his Roman name is somewhat anachronistic in Nigeria. He finds his name unbearable. There are longer, tongue twisting names but there is an archaic feel to this one. He adopts the shortened form, Austin, but as often as he introduces himself in the new variant, the unabridged version on his birth certificate reverberates in his memory. The name becomes a burden and a source of resentment towards his parents, educated, young at the time, man and woman. He wonders if all other names were taken at his christening.

There are other reasons to resent one’s parents for the choice of name. If your name equals a day of the week or a market day, it means it was decided by fate rather than a long introspection by your parents. They didn’t have to make a decision. You became Monday, Danlami, Bose, Eke, Ladidi, Friday, Afor by default. No pain was taken to search for an original, undecided name. A certain amount of nonchalance was expended in your christening and such minor injustices are hard to forget, especially if you have siblings with significant traditional names. However appealing some of these names sound, sometimes there is a feeling of awkwardness, embarrassment even, that follows when asked for the meaning of one’s name and all you can do is translate to another language. Ladidi is Sunday. It is what it is, nothing more. The incredulity of some questioner, as people often assume that names should have meanings, good meanings, makes the situation clearer: your name has no interpretation, only a translation.

These are hardly enough reasons though to prompt a name change in adulthood. To the point, mid-life name change is the pastime of overzealous Pentecostals. In a state of heightened paranoia, the name easily becomes the suspect for our failures and poverty. It is perceived not just as the cause of poverty, but well, as a curse. A change is effected for no reason but that our benign, given names are not auspicious enough. Hence the change from Friday to Favour, from Ibe to Miracle, from Tosin to Prosper, to Anointing, to Covenant. We are inspired by a couple of biblical examples: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel. A rereading of those portions of the scripture shows that these men had achieved some feats before the divine name change, or they were well on the way to some sort of significance.

Mary means bitterness, so I have heard said many times but never bothered about this little fact until a youth corps member, during my NYSC, took me to a closed room and made me sit through a lecture on The Etymology of Mary. ‘Mary means bitterness,’ she said, and was shocked that I knew and carried on like all was well. ‘As many times as someone calls your name, they are literally calling you Bitterness, Bitterness.’ Scare tactics. I was almost frightened into putting up a classified ad in the papers for a change of name. But no. She kept bullying me with ‘no wonder you always look forlorn’; ‘how do you expect anything sweet to happen to you’.

I have always had issues with the name, issues more disturbing than its meaning. You introduce yourself and people think it is a form of bantering to ask if it is Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene; and you think, didn’t they hear well, it is Mary, no prefixes, no suffixes. Or they simply serenade you, ‘take a message to Mary...’ This makes up one of three reasons I withdrew the name from public use. If my life had been bitter, there has been no sweetness here either.

Dog