As can be seen from the profile, my name is Nkem Ifejika, pronounced, in-kem e-fay-jee-ka. Or as I try to explain to people on our first acquaintance, “Nkem, pronounced in chem-istry.” This tends to do the trick. But before I thought up “in chemistry”, my name would be bastardised severely. When new teachers read out the class register, they would get to David Johnson and then get a sudden bout of the stutters, choking while trying to imagine how on earth "the k can come after the n". Seasoned teachers didn't even bother, looking up to see if I was in class, and ticking me off. They probably thought, "It's 9am, it's too early to splice my tongue on account of pronouncing some obscure African name." Some felt an unfortunate need to add previously unseen vowels, “Nokem” and “Nyekem” replaced my beautiful name. Bless their hearts, at least they tried. But my absolute worst was a lazy twit who said, “Why don't we just call you Nick?”
I have enough names, thank you very much, five of which made it onto my birth certificate. We in Nigeria have a tradition where all the senior members of the family give the new baby a name. Passports are strewn with names from paternal and maternal grandfathers, paternal and maternal grandmothers, aunties, uncles, etc. Sometimes, even strangers who are in the vicinity when the news of a new addition to the family is received can contribute, so I have a name by an old friend of my dad's whom I've never met.
Like many Nigerian names, Nkem is a unisex name, apparently. In my many years, I have met many female Nkems, but not once have I personally met another male Nkem. There are rumours that they exist, but nobody has been kind enough to introduce us. Male Nkems are like the chupacabras of the nominal world: do they (we) really exist?
This lack of conviction on the unisexuality of my name isn't helped by my mother, who always tells me that she wanted a girl. So certain was she that she would have a girl that she never bothered to check what sex I would be while she skipped around London with her swollen belly. She stockpiled girls' clothes, but claims she never put them on me. However, I could swear the pictures from my christening show me wearing a dress, but once again, Mama says the christening clothes are unisex. On account of my delusions of machismo and certitude of testosterone, I'm inclined to believe her. Or should I?