Growing up as a “Natoya”, I am no stranger to the awkward struggle of when I am introduced to someone who has little experience (or puts forth little effort) in pronouncing ethnic names changing the “N” to an “L” (Like the Jackson, right?) or just completely butchering it altogether. In fact as I write this I am dreading next week when a new employee, who shares the same name as the famous Jackson sister, starts at the company and the string of incorrectly addressed e-mails the come my way by accident because colleagues fail to distinguish our names. Unfortunately for many people of color, and those from foreign countries, any name with too many vowels is automatically intimidating to many people. Orange Is The New Black star, Uzo Aduba recently shared that the intolerance or ignorance of others is no excuse to disown your identity or culture.
While participating in the International Day of The Girl festivities this week, Aduba addressed a audience of young women and shared that she wasn’t always the biggest fan of her name and at one point wanted to abandon it altogether until her Nigerian mother advised her that uniqueness is nothing to be ashamed of:
“I came home from school one day as my mom was cooking in the kitchen, as she was wont to do, the mother of five children. And I said to her, ‘Mommy, can I ask you a question? Can you call me Zooey?’ And she stopped and gave that mother look that only mothers have, and said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because no one can say Uzoamaka.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, then they can learn to say Uzoamaka.’”
Aduba continued that from then on she learned to accept her name and even further, celebrated it, encouraging the audience of young women to not “ever erase the identifiers” that are held in them, physically, mentally and emotionally because those unique qualities are for each woman to own.
Blackish star Yara Shahidi was also in attendance and shared with those in attendance the awesome power women, both in the past and present, have to tell our stories and create a safe space to support one another:
“Like our ancestors before us, and like the women in my family have demonstrated to me, we must make space for us. And when we look around, we’re surrounded by resources, a wealth of knowledge to be unlocked in everything around us—from Tumblr posts, to Instagram, and movies, and of course novels. Because within Frank Ocean lyrics are the same stories as in Toni Morrison’s tales of Pecola Breedlove in ‘The Bluest Eye.’”
“And finally, the most monumental thing that we, in this room, can do, is support one another. And with this support we can create a network so strong that no one, no textbook, no class, no policy, no man, no politician, can have the audacity to ignore us.”
If ladies like these are leading the way for the next generation of young women, we are clearly in great hands. You can check out Uzo Aduba talk about heading straight to the end of the alphabet while considering her name change below: