Yoruba names are hopeful.
They are prophecies, the mother, and the father, and the grandparents all divining as oracles.
They are pregnant with everything you wish for your child to be.
So when I confess to my mother that I plan to change my name to “Ife,”
I wonder how she feels.
Do my sisters ever ache, like I do, for this country, for this culture, which is nothing but a phantom limb?
All my life, my name has been mispronounced.
From “ee-fay,” to “ee-fuh”
The teacher called roll and ran over the syllables of my name in a freight train. I told her,
“It’s just Ife.”
And maybe my embarrassment caused sudden onset lockjaw from which the recovery process made me speak strangely, maybe I was misheard, maybe she couldn’t be bothered to hear; but Ife became /ee-fay/.
I was already mortified that my name was so foreign, so difficult, that it wasn’t easy to form on the lips, so I whispered “Yes,” my Yoruba identity floating further and further out of my grasp
Red velvet curtains are drawn closed.
Now this was my moment. This was when I would reclaim my name.
Teachers have never tried to pronounce my name. They spell it, or prefaced it with “I’m sorry if I mispronounce this.”
This time, I said, quietly, “You say it ‘Ife’.” Ife became /ee-fuh/.
Once again, I was ashamed of my name. I didn’t want the spotlight shining on me anymore,
I couldn’t take the heat and I couldn’t handle that blinding light glaring into my eyes and I retreated into the curtains and that deep velvety crimson closed once again and I found myself covered in blood red.
Finally, I grew tired of my identity being stripped away with each mispronunciation of my name. I grew tired of being washed in white. I grew tired. I corrected people. I wrote it down phonetically. I said “It’s like the ‘e’ in egg, in excellent, in Jennifer” This sound is in English, too.
But some people still wouldn’t get it. They wanted to keep calling me “ee-fuh”, because it was easier, because they were used to that.
NO. This time I did not curl into myself,
I did not retreat into the curtains,
I stopped cutting out my own tongue and holding it out as retribution.
I stood proud in the spotlight. I stood proud of my culture, of my people. Of my grandfather, with his gentle nature who would only pray in Yoruba. I wrote it down phonetically again. I corrected them again. I again gave them easy ways to remember. But I would not answer to anything but Ife. When you say bitch I do not go fetch.
This name, this body, my name, my body.
They may not be easy to swallow.
I am not easy to swallow. There is nothing “just” anything about me.
Maybe you will have to think twice. Maybe when you say my name you will remember.
But this is mine. I am the will of God. A person of wealth. From a family that spreads like water. I have a name that is Yoruba through and through, each syllable a prophecy. But I guess you can call me Ife.