What does your Name Mean to You?
African Community Learning Program looks back at the work under its October 2018 theme "My Name."
By Similoluwa Ayinde
What can a name tell you about a person? When we hear a name we can have an idea about the person’s gender, country of origin (if it is in a particular language), religion, and even family history and value.
At African Community Learning Program, we discussed the importance of names. Names are important because they can remind you of where you come from, your dreams (or your parents dreams for you). Because your name is yours, it is an element of who you are. I chose the word “element” because your name although special does not define you. I hope you noticed the question that I posed to you at the start of this article was, “what can a name tell you about a person” rather than “what does a name tell you about a person.” It is important to remember that just because you know a person’s name that does not mean you know his or her story.
Similoluwa presenting about her name to African Community Learning Program students and volunteers.
Now I am going to tell you my name and ask some questions. My name is Similoluwa Ayinde and I am from Nigeria. Can you guess the following based on my name: Where I am from? What languages do I speak? What is my gender? What is my religion? What are my dreams and wishes? Can you tell anything about my family history and values?
Similoluwa means Rest on the Lord and Ayinde means we praise (them) on arrival. I am a female who speaks English and Yoruba . I am christian, and I want to make a positive impact not only in Nigeria but across the world. My family values having integrity, being helpful, and showing love. I imagine that you might have guessed I am from a country in Africa but might not have guessed Nigeria specifically. I would be surprised if you could guess from my name that I am female or christian. Also I don’t think were able to guess my dreams or my family history. This is exactly my point, knowing a person’s name does not mean knowing his or her story.
By Daniel Akuma
My name is Daniel Chukuemeka Akuma. My family calls me Dani. Other people call me Daniel, Dan, or Danny. I was born in Okposi, Nigeria far away in West Africa. I am the fourth in a family of five children. Being the second male child, tradition required that I take the name of my maternal grandfather – that is my mother’s father. You may be wondering, “how come your grandfather has the English name Daniel?” Well, you are right; this is strange. My grandfather had another name in Igbo too, Okaji Nwanja Nwoge. But he liked the British people who colonized Nigeria and who taught us the English Language. So he named himself Daniel in addition to his Igbo name. When I was born, he insisted that my parents name me Daniel. I am the only one in my family with an English first name.
Daniel presenting about his name to African Community Learning Program students and volunteers.
When I first came to the United States, some people made fun of me for having an English name. They assumed that I would have an Igbo first name since Igbo was my first language. Sometimes, when I introduced myself they asked me again in an insulting tone “but what is your real name?” This made me sad sometimes, because Daniel is my real name.
Daniel is a name from the Bible, and it means God is my judge. In the Bible, Daniel was a prophet who interpreted dreams and received visions. Because of this special name, whenever I came home sad with a bad grade on my report card, my parents reminded me of the Prophet Daniel from the Bible who was very smart and was always top of his class. My parents reminded me that I have special talents like the Prophet, and that I should continue to work hard to make these skills come true. This helped me improve my self-esteem. So when people made fun of me for having an English name, I always remembered my parents’ kind words and became happy again.
By Aminata Sy
My name is in the Arabic language meaning trusted. My name is the name of Prophet Muhammad’s mother. My name is the name of my aunt who raised me.
My name is the name of many girls, women in West Africa. My name is the name of many girls, women in the diaspora.
My name is Aminata.
Aminata sharing her poem about her name at African Community Learning Program second annual Africa Celebration.
Similoluwa Ayinde is African Community Learning Program’s secretary. She is also a 2018 Howard E. Mitchell Scholar, and studies Business Management and Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania.
Daniel Akuma is African Community Learning Program’s intern. He is also an MD-PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.
Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a 2019 Rangle International Graduate Fellow, a multimedia journalist, and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English. She is also the founder, editor, and publisher of the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.
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Email Aminata Sy at firstname.lastname@example.org