Friday, March 31, 2006

Conversation with my friend

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..."

"Okaayy and..???"

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....

7 comments:

Abby said...

Well I can reason with him, the frustrations that come along with looking for job can make you dive into doing the unthinkable. I was in his shoes as well, someone just advised I cut the name on my resume to my nickname from "Abi----" , to just "Abi", trust me, calls for interview came thru. Still yet, my name is very important to me, I believe, I wont sell that short.

Pilgrimage to Self said...

uknaija, a couple of years ago I also had friends (a married couple) who decided to change their surname from a lovely Nigerian one to a more 'English' and 'acceptable' name. I had been friends with the both of them for years and years and was very stunned and disturbed by their revelation. I just couldn't wrap my head around their decision. I too asked why and they said 'Having a Nigerian name will hinder their chances of progress'. I was so gobsmacked I couldn't think of anything decent to say in return. Although we still keep in touch, our friendship has never been the same. I was deeply affected by their decision for some strange reason and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

When they told me their reason for wanting to change their name, I thought to myself 'so where does that leave me?' I carry a very, very Nigerian surname (by marriage) and if you are a Nigerian, you'll identify exactly what part of the country my husband is from. I also use my Nigerian name as my first name and this has never hindered my progress in anyway.In fact, more often than not I am complimented on my exotic sounding name! To get ahead here or anywhere else for that matter, I believe it's what you carry between your ears that will move you along and not what name you carry. I will not sell myself short or ever be ashamed of my heritage. Which is what I feel was the motivation behind the decision my friends made. Am I being harsh? I don't think so. And neither are you!! Always be proud of who you are. ALWAYS

montecristo thinks said...

It blows my mind that someone would change their name for something like that. I have too much pride in my name and who I am named for(my grandmother) to ever think of changing it. I am sorry your friend feels this way but if he feels this is the way to get a foot in the door, he should ask himself if that's really a door he want his foot in.

d said...

my dad changed our surname to a european one for christian reasons. he did this when i was a teen, and you know how nigerian parenting works - it's a one man show, so i couldn't do much about his decision. but i was furious with him. same christians who carted off slaves, and suddenly my african name should be given up for theirs.

sky said...

I find it interesting that Nigerians change their names to "CHristiaan names" when there is no Language like christian. The so called Christian names are names that are hebrew, greek and latin and these were the names for many of the people in the christian times becasue that was the language they spoke. Now is christianity had originated in Nigeria you better believe that the names of the apostles would have been Femi, Yemi, Nduka e.t.c.

Ayo said...

Hi im a Nigerian, My parents are Nigerian I was born In the Uk but I like to belive Im a nigerian. The article on the name being Change complelled me to write. I attend a church here in London. The Pastor who is a Nigerian. Has informed me that my Yorba surname would have to be changed because its not in keeping with being xhitian. I have had sleepless nights over this. Now i can see other Nigerians have changed their names. I still do not wish to go ahead and change my name name, which I have carried for 40 years. I belive a man is not his name. But at the same time i wish to keep mine. In my case I have meet a woman in the church who I love but she is not willing to marry me if I keep my present name. what a mess we africans weave.

James Asuquo-Brown said...

I definitely understand feeling the need to shorten or change ones name for means of getting ahead. But the issue of names for Nigerians and other Africans in America can be touchy. All type of issues arise such as pronunciation, "fitting in" , and others. Sadly the trend of conforming to a more "usual sounding" English name is common.

For me as a Nigerian-American of Krio, Efik and Igbo heritage. I find myself shortening my hyphenated surname or allowing people to just call me BROWN because it's easier for all to say then ASUQUO and go through the routine of telling everyone out of convenience. I do however let people if I'm asked because after all my surname relays my history and heritage...