Pride In African Names

Image: Malawi Ace

During the weekend I was at a workshop for my new summer job in catering. As we were being groomed on etiquette and hospitality, we were reminded to always introduce ourselves to our table. This is to make it easier for the table members you are serving to remember you if they need something. I chuckled to myself. See, my name is one that I usually have to repeat three or four times when asked for it. Worse still, I never say out my last name. I spell it out when I am asked for it.

Now if you were to walk on the streets of Harare and shout out ‘Tariro’, I can guarantee you that at least five people will turn, obviously this is not the case in Birmingham. Just as I was chuckling to myself one of the girls asked an interesting question, one that would apply to me as well: “What if my name is hard to pronounce or remember? Should I give them a fake name then?” Well after I had left the workshop, this question was still stuck in my head. It reminded me of two separate occasions that I had gone to Starbucks for a coffee with a friend. As I spelled out my name to the barista (that is what Starbucks calls its waiters) so that he could write on my coffee cup, my friend looked at me and asked “Why don’t you just use Jacky?” (seeing as my second name is Jacqueline). On the other occasion my other friend asked, “Why are you torturing the poor guy, why don’t you just use TJ?” Now I know they meant well but this still got me thinking. How many times have I had to apologise for my name being ‘different’, ‘exotic’ or ‘unusual’? Now believe me you me, I understand that my name is not that easy for people who are not accustomed to it, I have a lot of Asian friends whose names I had to learn for quite a while before I grasped them. But should that make me opt for an easier choice? Should I not at least give the people I meet a chance to learn how to say it before I assume it’s too difficult for them?

The other day, my dad who is a high school teacher was telling me how when he started off at the school, he would not answer anyone who did not at least try to say his name. It did not have to be right, but what counted was the trying, and sure enough, five years later, the staff that he works with can say ‘Mandisodza’ without a problem. This made me realize that I should never apologize for my name to anyone especially myself. Now, I am not suggesting that those who opt to use their ‘easier’ names are not proud of them or anything like that that is their choice which is not mine to judge. However, this is mine.

Tariro, which is Shona for ‘Hope’ is MY name and I am proud of it! When my parents brought me into this world, they saw hope and my late aunt always reminded me that. This is why no matter where I am, I always give people the chance to hear and learn my name and not apologise for it. Even if they pronounce it wrongly, it’s still mine. and I love it!

About Teakisi 239 Articles
Teakisi (formerly ElleAfrique) is an English and French blogzine dedicated to challenging and changing the perceptions of African girls and women in the world today.

9 Comments

  1. great piece…I think the situtation is true for all the diaspora people.
    If people from Africa was able to learn English, French, Portugese, well, the supposed “superior” race should not be struggling to pronounce African Names correctly even after countless essays. By the way, this is not only a black vs white issue. I am from Senegal and I will be struggling with you name from Zimbabwe, but at least I will try to get it right the first time out of respect. Or I will ask you to pronounce before I take a go at it.

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