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By Chika Dunu
“Sorry if I mispronounce any of these names incorrectly. Correct me if I’m wrong,” were words that caused me anxiety on the first day of school every year. I am talking neck-hot-palms-sweating-stomach-turning anxiety. I knew what was coming…and I dreaded it.
“Check-a? Did I say that right?”
The raise of my hand indicated I was present and the nod of my head gave her confirmation that the pronunciation was correct. But it wasn’t. The massive gulp in my throat prevented me from telling her that she butchered my name. Heck, assassinated it. But the laughter from others assassinated any confidences in me to say “Um, its actually Chika.” (Pronounced chee-kah). So I said nothing and went with it. For years I went along with any pronunciations and versions.
“Chick-achu” (when Pokemon was popular)
I remember for years wanting to be a “Julie,” a “Sophia,” or an “Emily.” I remember yearning to be 18, so I could change my birth name to my middle name of Isabelle. Life would be so much easier. Wouldn’t it? It seemed that the only main issue common name folks had in terms of introductions, were having the same name. Mine came with mispronunciations, laughter and “who?” Oh, let’s not forget the people’s favorite: “Is that your real name?!”
Admittedly I allowed others to define who I was with their own versions of my name. It hindered my social life. I was afraid to meet new people. I didn’t want to answer any questions regarding my name. I was a shy girl and I didn’t want to live my life in such a way; for other people. I just had to accept what I was named and who I was. There were no other options. And that I did.
I AM CHIKA! Chika means God is the greatest in the Igbo language of Nigeria. For my parents, it was a way for giving thanks to higher power for my life after being born six months premature at one pound. It held great significance and meaning for my parents. That’s the MO for Nigerians, naming offspring with profound names. Nigerians aren’t checking the latest babies name list of the last year looking for their babies identities. Nope, they are saying screw the list and commonalities altogether! With names like “Oyenchi,” “Chike,” “Chijindum,” its safe to say you will NEVER see a Nigerian name of the top babies name list of the year any time soon. But that’s okay. Trust me.
I laugh at the thoughts of ever my wanting to change my given name or the fear in correcting others. I’m over it, because guess what? I LOVE my name now. Its a conversation piece. I still get the constant is that “your real name?” and I answer with a confident “YES!” Oh how times have changed!
So to all you creative name having folks with the “strange” name, it’ll get better. You’ll always have to deal with mispronunciations but you will (if you haven’t yet) confidently correct them. But this is more than a name. Its about loving who you are and accepting anything that is different about you, whether if its your name, look, or personality. Its okay to be something other than norm.
Oh and for the last time, I know the pronunciation of Chika means girl in Spanish…

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