Friday, May 26, 2006

A rose by any other

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?

9 comments:

Opium said...

You're silly

culturalmiscellany said...

opium - i agree

However, i also have problems with my name. People are continually spelling Katharine incorrectly. Most people just say they'll use the spelling their friend has instead of the proper spelling (aka Shakespeare, Katharine the Great etc) - laziness akin to calling Nkem, Nick!! The thing thats really gets to me more than anything in the world though is when people shortern my name without asking me. I will tolerate Kate as a shortened version but call me Kath or Kat and I'm likely to hit the roof and stay there.

All this just because my mother and father thought the name Katharine was classy after hearing it on a record ?!! They claim they didn't realise it had so many spellings. Me, I always wanted to be called Lucy, especially after Lucy Robinson appeared on Neighbours.

ayoke said...

You can always change your name...

the flying monkeys said...

On the unisexuality of your name, I think you must be very special.

But do our names really mean a thing? Many years ago, seating in the company of my father, relaxed in this large dining room, around a huge dining table, having dinner with the late sage Awolowo, at his Ikene residence. In Yoruba, he asked me for the meaning of my name (Dapo). Unfortunately, I was unable to provide an answer. I remained silent, feeling slightly embarrassed. The sage smiled and explained it to me, in Yoruba: “ore baba ati ore mama odapo” (my dad then provided the English explanation, meaning a combination of my dad and mum’s blessings).

Please, tell us the meaning of your name (Nkem)?

the flying monkeys said...

Further to my earlier comment, I have a brother (funsho) and sister (shola) bearing unisex names although am not sure whether mine (Dapo) could be proven to be unisex. I have never met a female Dapo. Nkem, have you?

culturalmiscellany said...

My name means 'pure'. I like that :)

Dilch said...

Dude I know a guy called Nkem - and it's not you. I didnt know you thought your name was unique, I would have burst your bubble sooner (lol)

Akin said...

You let yourself in for this one. Supposedly, you now the new English Rose - Hehehehehe!

I very well understand the dilemma of name-calling that accompanies our real names.

For instance, my grandmother's "Christian" name was Sabainah and she only got that name along with others in her time because the lazy Bishop could not do the Ijebu names.

When I was baptised, it was with my Yoruba name, which I got from my Muslim grandfather - Akinola.

For simplicity sake, I am known as Akin, but I have only ever heard someone call it out right in all my working life in Europe.

I was so startled that I thought there was another Nigerian about, as I looked around, well, she was born in Nigeria, had a seriously Yoruba/English accent - mine would have passed for RP - and she was Caucasian.

You just cannot get them to nasalise the N in Akin - from aching to Hacking, I have heard it all.

However, having seen the variants of Martin in the Netherlands - Marten, Marteen, Martijn and Martin - we the English decided all difficult men's names would be end up being Dave and the ladies' names Sue.

So, I am not surprised about the Nick aspect.

As for the unisex-iness of the name, you could have fooled me - macho as you look.

Uju said...

yup ur the only male Nkem I know!