I’ve always loved queer names. Kenya. China. Wiggle. 😂 I guess it comes from having the most basic of all basic names. Officially my name is Chioma Deborah Ladi Njoku. All very common names. Chioma, common. Deborah, commoner. Njoku, commonest. Ladi is the only different name I have, not because it’s not common but because I’m an Igbo girl with Igbo parents and I have an Hausa name. Among the Hausa people, it’s pretty common. It’s a name given to a female child born on a Sunday. Now how common is that? Your guess is as good as mine.
I finished reading Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime and he talks about his name for a little bit. His mother named him Trevor because it was so out there. It had no meaning to South Africans and that was exactly what she wanted. Not a child with no meaning but a child not limited by the meaning of a then apartheid south Africa. A child not held back by his name so that he was free to explore. To do whatever. Be whatever.
Well Africans generally, we name our kids with an event or hope in mind. Black people don’t give names just for naming sake. It either tells how you were born, what you would be or some other thing. Think Jabez in the bible. Think of the Biblical Isaiah’s son. Hosea’s children. Too far away for you? Think Seven, Starr and Sekani in THUG LIFE. Seen the movie? Just in case you haven’t, this is what I’m getting at:
- Seven named that for perfection. His first child. And that boy was fine.
- Starr named that for light. Baby girl was meant to blaze up and shine. She did that in the movie.
- Sekani means Joy and boy was that child a joyful child!
By now you get my point. We don’t just call for calling sake. I’m trying really hard not to give you actual Igbo names and their meanings because then I could go on and on.
So back to me and my name. Chioma. Good God. I hear my dad wanted Chidinma. God is good. Same thing but there was a Chidinma across the street from us and my Mom won with Chioma.
Deborah. I was meant to be a bold child. I was that. A bold child. I’m not so bold as an adult. Probably because I do not like the name so much now. I don’t know why.
Ladi. You know what that means.
Then again, my name is Simi. When I was about 7 or so, another Anglican priest came to our house, got to know us and discovered that we were practically Plateau* people. If you know me, you know how I feel about Jos. When I’m going there, even from my father’s house, I say I’m going home.
Anyway, this priest sees all that and hears that we all have Hausa names. My dad says it’s ’cause we were born in Jos. Even my younger sister who was born in London, they carried her Hausa name to London for her. Jummai. The priest felt that Hausa was not indigenous to Plateau. When we say Plateau, we know how deep you are by the language that comes to you first. If you say Hausa, you flunked. I expect you to say Birom. Or Angas. OK, this test is only in my head but you see how I feel.
I’m sorry, I keep digressing.
This priest was Birom and he says we are to have Birom names. Not Hausa names and of course, we agree. So he gives each of us a Birom name.
I get Simi. Shim in local dialect. It means love. You could tell my closest confidants by checking those that knew about Simi. People didn’t even know about Ladi. Well, with this article, It’s no longer a national secret.
But then, growing up Ladi and Simi got lost. Simi was never official to begin with but Ladi? That name is on my freaking birth certificate! You try to register your child in school. Just give us two names. A first and middle name. We don’t need any other one. You try to open a bank account. Just give us two names. You try to do anything at all. Just give us two names.
So I became Chioma Deborah Njoku. Chioma because well, I was an Igbo girl. You can’t throw that name away. Deborah because well, it’s English. Yea and biblical too. Yea and we are still colonized to our teeth. Typical Igbo girl with all the typical names. But I was growing up in the North and I was the only Chioma around at any given time so I was cool with it. Then I didn’t feel like my name was too common.
Until I had to go to boarding school in the East and then there are Chiomas all over the place. What! I would hear someone call the name out and I would turn but so would 15 other girls and I am not exaggerating! It was so bad, I had another Chioma Njoku in my class! Can you imagine that? First term came and all our scores got mixed up. It wasn’t funny. I was already telling people that my name was Deborah. I still wrote Chioma as my first name when I had to spell it out but officially, I was now Deborah Njoku. Of course, there were a billion other Njokus in that school too but we are not here to talk about that.
Immediately I left secondary school, I got admission to University of Ibadan. In the West. I was like yay! Yoruba people. I was in bliss. In my class, I was the only Chioma. A class of about 135 and I knew that if I heard Chioma, there was only one person they could be referring to. Me.
But that was short lived. In my second year, Direct Entry students came in. I heard there was only one girl. I didn’t care. I heard she was Yoruba. What the hell was my business? I heard she was mixed, Yoruba and Igbo. I still didn’t care. Until I heard her name was Chioma.
Dear Iyanu, if you ever read this, just know that I laugh so hard as I write this. No grudges here but at first, I was mad! I flipped! As a child, I always wished my parents were from different tribes. That should have been a sign that I was going to get into the whole intertribal thing but that’s story for another day. Now here comes this girl who is living the life (the mixed life) and not just that, now I have to ask myself was that me or did they mean her?
It took me years to get over that. I couldn’t get why people couldn’t just call her Iyanu. Why the hell do you have to go and call her Chioma? I never did. To this day, I never do. You say anything about her near me and you say Chioma, I would just look at you and go, oh, you mean Iyanu? This time, I was not changing names for nobody and she was definitely more popular so you can imagine. At some point in class, when someone said Chioma, I didn’t even look up.
See for me, Chioma became me. It was my identity. Many times I would fall sick or get into some deep mess and I would chant that name over and over again. Good God. Good God. Good God. There are three popular Chioma songs, I have them all (AND NO! ASSURANCE DOES NOT COUNT!!!😏). I would be afraid or be needing courage and I would be Deborah. I would start to feel left out or ugly, and Ladi comes up ( you know what they say about girls born on Sunday…😎). And then each time I felt like I hated somebody and I wanted to do something bad to someone, I was Simi. Love. God is love. Each name is a security blanket to hold on to.
My children are going to have queer names. But names that have a story behind them. I hope my husband lets me. I’m not white. I’m not calling a child of mine Stone. But I can name Coffee. Be the wakening force that has a lovely aroma. Don’t even get me started on the Igbo names running in my head. Chimdeziri. Chimsimchia. Amara.😇
My kids are getting names from other cultures. I hope their daddy is not Igbo. Even if he is.
You would say, argh, don’t go getting all worked up for nothing. It’s just a name.
It’s an identity.
It’s where you are coming from. Or where you are going. Or both.
It’s never just a name.
Somebody: Yeah right! So you are just going to go on and on about how important names are and then sign off as Clandie? What does that even mean?
Me: Chioma Ladi Njoku Deborah. As for the I, I like to think it can represent the Is in Simi. All my names in one name and it’s cute too, what more can I ask for? Thank you very much.
*Plateau – A state in the North East part of Nigeria. Jos is the capital and Birom and Angas are indigenous tribes. Some would say the Hausa too, but I already told you, I’m biased.