On one of the days while I was away from here, I took the opportunity of being in the West End for work to have lunch with an old Nigerian friend of mine who also lives in the UK. He's recently finished a professional postgraduate degree, and while I wouldn't necessarily describe him as intellectual, he isn't dumb either. So we're having lunch in this nice restaurant, and it's pudding time and I'm swirling the wine in my glass and scooping the last of the ice cream from the dessert bowl when he drops the bombshell
"Did I tell you I'm changing my name?"
Okaaaayy! Right! And what are you changing your name to?
I love his current name, it's replete with the heritage of the part of Nigeria he comes from and it isn't even one of thosee supposedly jawbreaking Nigerian ones that Westerners who have no problem with pronouncing Cholmondeley-Smythson or Condoleezza or even Freud complain about....
And so I ask again? What are you changing your name to?
"Well I'm changing my first name to use my English middle name..."
And I'm taking my mother's maiden name for my surname. Now his mother is from a part of Nigeria where they commonly have Anglicized or English surnames, and so my friend is going to transform himself from "Nigerian first name and Nigerian surname" to "English first name and English surname".
But why would you want to do this? I mean it's such a drastic step.....
Well, I think it will improve my chances with getting shortlisted for jobs in my professional area. I'm really struggling at the moment and I need all the help I can get.
But I point out- you will still have to go for interviews and they will still see that you're black and Nigerian.
Yes, but by then I'll have a foot in the door. What's happening now is I don't even get to interview.
But, but people have got jobs in your profession without changing their African names?
"I don't know how they did it, but I can only speak for myself. I've discussed it with my mother and she says I should do whatever will help me breakthrough in the UK."
He then went on to tell me a story about a friend of his from the Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria whose surname was something like "Nyong". Apparently this friend was shortlisted by a firm for a job under the impression that he was Chinese. I suppose the firm wanted to tap into the burgeoning China investment market. Anyways on discovering he wasn't Chinese, he was promptly given marching orders....
While the anecdote was vaguely amusing, I was more disturbed by the entire conversation and throughout the last month I've found myself reflecting often on it. I cannot imagine changing my name for any reason. It seems too integral to me being me and my sense of identity.....but perhaps I'm being too harsh....perhaps if I walked a mile in my friend's shoes I'd understand it better....but right now I'm really really struggling.... I've tried to dissuade him but his mind is made up and he's setting the process for the name change in motion....