Say my name.
“give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”
― Warsan Shire
The frail man with a mop of grey curls pushes his glasses nearer to his eyes, and begins to call out the roster. My stomach does the familiar makossa dance I have grown accustomed to whenever a professor starts a roll call. There is something about waiting to hear your name called just so you can yell a perfunctory “present”, that gets me all jittery.
He goes through the A’s and the B’s, passes the F’s and the G’s, taking his time as if the ritual of roll call is of hallowed importance. I squirm in my seat, impatiently awaiting the N’s.
Soon enough, the moment arrives.
I can tell it arrives because I see him squirm a little. I see him squint as he tries to decipher the syllables of a word that doesn’t quite equal the seamless concerto of a Johnson or an Adams.
He stares up from his role sheet and looks around the class, a flustered expression on his face. It is the face of a man that doesn’t appreciate curveballs.
“I think what you meant to say is Nnn-nwoo-rah” a low voice replies, from where I am sat at the back of the class. It dawns on me that I have just spoken. It dawns on me that the whole class is now centered around this little piece of trivia. I have just drawn the attention of fifty or so unconcerned individuals to the correct pronunciation of a name they would fail to recall in the next three minutes.
“It’s a Nigerian name, cos i’m…umm…Nigerian. It is pronounced Nnn-nwoo-rah. See the full version is actually Nwa-Orah, so you have to take that into consideration when you pronounce it, else its original meaning would get lost in translation”.
I am rambling now, and I want to tell myself to shut up.
“Nnworaa? Is that right?”
I contemplate on accepting his half-baked attempt at a correct pronunciation, but there’s something about his patronizing smile that makes me pause in my tracks. It is an inside joke that I have been locked out of. It is an immigration officer dragging out the syllables of his queen’s english a little too dramatically as he talks to a bunch of foreign nationals. It is a fucking patronizing smile.
I should just let it go.
but I don’t.
I am tired of letting things go.
So we spend the next three minutes going back and forth about the correct pronunciation of my great grandfather’s name. While he twists and turns his naive tongue in a batallion of failed attempts to get the name right, I talk about a place called Umueze village. I talk about a town called Amawbia. I talk about Chieftancy titles and the importance of a name to the Igbo people.
By the time I leave him to be, he can order coffee in my father’s name.
I don’t apologize for making him sweat. I don’t apologize for demanding respect. It is silly, but not really. I needed that little victory.
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- January 21, 2013 / 10:24am01