Food for Thought Nkem Story

What’s in a name?

September 3, 2017

I once again get to cheat because the #30DayAfriBlogger topic is very similar to the #BlogTemberChallenge by AfroBloggers. The first one is My Totem (which I actually had to have explained to me because it means how your family is identified in Zimbabwe) and the 2nd one is “What Makes You, YOU: Heritage, culture, clan, traditions.” (I’m actually starting to feel like those aren’t the things that make you, YOU, but that’s another blog post).

Below is a little rant synopsis about my thoughts on placing too much importance on ethnic groups (because in Nigeria…your name usually gives away your ethnic group), and my other reflections about my name about what it means to me.

Why I think Names Over Matter

I want to use this opportunity to talk about identity politics in Nigeria. Growing up in the U.S., with a Igbo mom and a Yoruba dad, I figured that maybe now-a-days in Nigeria, inter-ethnic marriages would be more common. And while a few more are happening than usual, they are still SUCH A HURDLE for many couples. Kachee on her blog, does a great job of highlighting couples that are facing that (her and her hubs are an inter-ethnic couple). But essentially, some families don’t even want their child to get married from the next village over…who you gonna marry, your cousin? Get outta here.

I’m hoping that this a good sign for our country because we can’t keep dividing ourselves over any little difference. I was hoping that our generation would be more hip, but based of what I experienced in camp, and just moving around Abuja or Lagos, I still think that Nigerians are WAY too obsessed with knowing exactly what ethnic group you’re in, which state, which town, what religion and on and on…will it make a difference in our friendship? (Again, why I say it’s not what makes me, ME). I elaborate on this annoying tendency of ours a bit more in this article I wrote for Face2FaceAfrica.

With us Nigerians, we can usually figure out which ethnic group someone is by their name (especially if it’s one of the three main ones: Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo). This is because a lot of names, mean something in the language that you’re saying them in. When people learn my name is Omolayo, it’s usually followed by a shocked “Oh, so you’re Yoruba,” or approving “Oh, Omo Yoruba ni e!” – “Oh, you’re Yoruba!” Then they can ask all their deep deep questions about where I’m from, if I’ve ever been there, if I know my language, what religion am I, what church do I go to…please, can I just sit in this taxi in peace??

What’s in My Name

So my name actually says a lot about me and I do a breakdown of my names here. It’s only recently that I started using my middle name: Nkem, regular (probably since senior year of university when I put my name on my honors thesis) and I’ve loved it. I think it better defines the multiple cultures and traditions I have behind and around me.

Most Nigerians are very surprised when they learn about my middle name. The fast ones say: “Oh, which of your parents is Igbo?” The really smart ones say “Oh, ok, your dad is Yoruba, right?” (My last name is very Yoruba). The ones that are still reeling from the news and can’t wrap their head around it say “How’d you get an Igbo name?” I plucked it out of the sky.

While I’ve picked up Nkem regular in signing documents and as my name on the internet (I typically just use Omolayo Nkem and hardly my last name), I still prefer to just be called Omolayo. Nkem, is short for Nkemakonam – may mine not pass me by, the tagline of this blog. In that way, Nkem embodies all that is meant for me in this world – my purpose, my mission, my destiny.

To me, Nkem is the woman I’m striving to be (the one I’m trying to find…according to this blog, lol). She’s my alter ego. She’s brilliant, thoughtful, graceful, disciplined, poised, strong, patient, focused and warm. She’s everything I hopefully will be one day. But for now, I’m just Omolayo: child is joy.

This post got a little deeper than I thought…I mostly just wanted to say: Nigerians – let’s all just love and be with whoever we want please. Our various names, ethnicities, towns, states, religions should bring us together, not drive us apart.

How can people tell what ethnic group you’re part of in your country and does it matter that much?
Also…what’s in your name? Are you particularly attached to one over the other? I’d love to know!

Also…what do you all think of the blog challenge so far? Have you gotten a chance to read other ones across the web?
The hashtags are #30DayAfriBlogger (fun fact: I came up with the hashtag…with inspo from the other members of the group of course) and #BlogtemberChallenge.

Here are my favorites from yesterday’s challenge (Top 10 House Rules & Growing Up African):

  • I love the Quarter Wife’s take on the challenge because instead of listing 10 house rules, she listed the beautiful and creative ways you can display rules in your own house. Check it out and let her know which one is you favorite!
  • The Zimbabwean Business Woman has a HILARIOUS take on the 10 House rules she tries to keep in her African home that relatives don’t always understand! The post starts like this: “It takes a whole village to raise a child. But that village should never be my home.” so you already know it’s going to be funny! Check it out for a good laugh.
  • Mwanavhu wrote an AWESOME post about his childhood memory of asking his parents to change his first name from a Shona one to an English one. It was really eye opening for me and reminded me of all the conversations I had – with Nigerians none the less – who wondered why I didn’t go by my Christian (aka, English) name: Christine. No matter how many times Americans mispronounced my names or Nigerians thought I should go by my English name, I didn’t care. I love my name and I’m proud of it and wouldn’t want to be called anything else.

If you saw this post via the brand new weekly (hopefully) letter, then yay you!! If you didn’t then make sure you’re subscribed so you get an update about all the posts I do this coming week. First installment of the fellowship series is loading so you won’t want to miss that! So excited to be bringing you all so much great (…I hope…) content this month!! Thank you for being around and reading my (verbose) words!



Omolayo Nkem

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  • Reply Masimba ~Mwanavhu September 4, 2017 at 05:19

    Wow Omolayo so beautiful. I can clearly see your name in you!

  • Reply Rutendo Matongo September 5, 2017 at 02:28

    Love your post!! Thank you for the shoutout ?

    • Reply Omolayo Nkem September 5, 2017 at 06:41

      Thanks so much!! Loved your post too!

  • Reply Kayode February 2, 2018 at 08:58

    Fantastic. I live in Nigeria and I’m highly irritated by this same thing. Though, growing up in a Nigerian home has given me some insight into why this is. The three major tribes in Nigeria, and the others, have had a quite tumultous history. A good percentage of the older generation grew up in communities and thus have very strong attachments to where they come from. That’s one explanation. Also, their differences breed a lot of mistrust. The north for example is so large compared to the rest of the country and have proven themselves to be a bit power hungry, so southerners feel cheated and deeply distrust them and want nothing to do with them. In the south, the Igbos have been reputed for their somewhat uncontrolled migration into the south west and the westerners feel they’ve come to take over what they work so hard for. These are just a few examples of what breeds these attitudes. In the case of our generation, a lot of us have grown up in nuclear families and in cities and with western education and we’re consequently more liberal. We tend to see people just as they are, and not what their ethnic origin is (in)famous for. We didn’t grow up in the thick of these historical issues so they don’t really mean much to us. We don’t really identify with our tribal backgrounds, we identify more with the ideals of the modern world. Now, I’m not supporting the case for ethnic biases, I’m just trying to give insight into why things are the way they are. I personally agree with you, I care nothing whatsoever where a person is/isn’t from; I mean I don’t use that to form an opinion about them. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be blind to why the older generation seems to be so close minded. However we all need to strive to be more accommodating, no matter what happened in the past. Progress will remain just a dream without a solid foundation of unity. Sorry this is so long!

    • Reply Omolayo Nkem February 14, 2018 at 13:24

      Hey Kayode,

      Those are all really great points and I think understanding our parents reasons for being ethnically bias is the MORE reason for us to NOT be ethnically biased. Being biased and inwardly focused leads to wars and misunderstandings. It’s important for us to learn from our past and strive to not repeat it. And for me, my Igbo mom lost her elder brother in the Biafran war (he was a solider) and her parents STILL let her marry a Yoruba man….so, I actually have no sympathy for that line of thought (the thought that oh look what XYZ did to us in the past, so therefore we can’t let our son/daughter marry XYZ). It also doesn’t explain people from Enugu who don’t let their child marry someone from Anambra.
      Nigerians have a problem with this ethnic division thing and until we acknowledge it, lebel it as wrong and strive to change it, we might be doomed to repeat the past.
      I think it’s great to love your culture and ethnic orgins, and celebrate it – in fact, I think it’s great…we need to be more proud of where we are from (which I think our current generation is faulted for not doing), but not to the detriment of being obsessed with it and not letting people marry who they want, or not befriending someone simplely because of their ethnic orgins.

      But thank you so much for yoru super thoughtful response! I think they are all great points and we just need more Nigerians that think like you and I and this country will be headed for peaceful greatness! 🙂

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