Jaiyeola Omowamide. Two words, seventeen letters and 9 syllables of utter confusion.
For the longest time, I hated my name. It was something that I detested. It was like carrying a huge boulder on my back; nothing but a burden.
I didn’t always despise it. Maybe because I was too young to recognize the difficulty associated with it, but my detestation didn’t begin until I started elementary school. As a child, I was called many names; Zion by my mother, Jaiye by my father, Jaiyeola, by my grandmother, and even Butterfly because my mom described me as ¨being shy and always floating around¨ I recognized all these titles and had love for all of them...until I began school.
Throughout preschool and kindergarten, I had zero insecurities about my name. My mind was filled with the innocence of juvenescence, but when first grade commenced, I soon began to mature and with maturity, comes dignity and establishment of self identity. I became aware of how difficult it was for my teachers, classmates and even family members to pronounce my name. This made me very uncomfortable and in return, I developed a deep insecurity towards my name. An island of unconfidence began to grow around me where I was surrounded by Taylors, Michaels Ashleys and Brians, and then it was just me, Jaiye; alone, feeling like I was the only one. It’s a curse I thought. I felt like I didn’t belong and that inaugurated a shamefulness against my name , that would take years to overcome. It was then and there that I automatically ignored all of the love I had for “Jaiyeola” and replaced it with hate.
First days of school were always the worst, at least for me. Not because I was nervous to see all my friends but...you guessed it, because of my name.
It was the first day of fifth grade. New school, new teachers, different faces. I hesitantly walked into the classroom. About twenty faces stared as I walked in, face down, trembling because of the intense anxiety that dawned on me as I realized that the teacher would soon have to call out my name on roll. As I waited, I went over in my head fifty times how I would correct her once she pronounced my name wrong. Should I just interrupt her before she even attempts to? Or should I just tell her now before she starts roll call? It was like self torture. I could feel the prickly heat of sweat begin to to form. The teacher began to go down the list. I was completely unaware of when my name would be called next. As she read each name, apprehensive thoughts filled my mind. What if the class laughs? I was so distracted with the thoughts in my brain, that I hadn’t noticed that she had approached my name. I knew because she made a strained face. Her face became tense as she thought of how she would pronounce it.
“Jeyailoa?” she said. Every syllable that passed through her thin lips felt like nails on a chalkboard. That was nowhere close to how it was supposed to be pronounced. I could hear snickers in the background. I could feel the burning sensation behind eyes begin to form. Don’t cry I told myself. I forced myself to wear the most genuine smile.
“It’s Jaiye. Jaiye for short.”
“Oh...that’s different. Very different.” she softly smiled.
From that moment on, not only did I hate my name even more, but I hated first days of school.
Days that I had substitute teachers were even worse. With my normal teachers, they would learn my name after a week or two, so the stress eventually would be lifted off my back, but when a substitute showed up, it was like my life was rewinded back to the first day of school. And the hatred would suddenly came back. I remember cringing as the sub would try to pronounce my name. I wanted to shoot up from my seat and yell “ It’s Jaiye! Jai-yay! It’s not that freaking difficult!” But instead, a quivering hand would hesitantly, shoot up.
“It’s Jai-Jaiye,” I would stutter. “Jaiye is short for Jaiyeola.”
Even though there are people out there in the world, with more difficult names to pronounce than me, I felt as if I was the only person out there who experienced this problem. I didn’t have much as a significant problem with my last name because I didn’t identify with my last name as a first name, but I felt the worst towards “Jaiye” and “Jaiyeola” because those are names that people call me by. Other people that I knew had difficult last names, but easy ¨American¨ first names and I felt left out. Did my mom and dad not get the memo?
I was at the point in my life where I wanted my name change. I went through a list of names that I could get that was deemed “normal”. Christina? Or maybe Amy like my mother? My name was an anchor holding me back from fitting in. I just wanted to feel accepted. I wanted to feel like the standard white American. And that could all happen if I could discard this confusing, foreign name.
During the afternoon, in the school library, I was at the librarian desk waiting to check out some books. A white male librarian began to scan my books on the monitor. Since it was the school library, all of our names were in the database, so automatically “Jaiyeola Omowamide” popped up on the screen once he scanned the first book. I cringed when I saw the blue lettering on the computer screen. He raised his eyebrows at me in astonishment.
“ Wow, how do you pronounce your name?” he asked.
“Jai-yay-hola, O-moe-wah-me-day.” I replied.
“West African huh?’
“ Yes, Nigeria to be exact.” I smiled
“ It’s beautiful. Some of the most beautiful names are foreign to this land. Enjoy your day, young lady”
I walked out the library with a grin as big as the sun, that beams from ear to ear. It was the happiest I felt towards my name in a long time.
But how could something so incomprehensible and ugly be seen as beautiful? I felt as if he and others would just say that to be polite. There was this constant battle between what I heard, and what I wanted to believe. Do these strangers really think my name is as great as it sounds? I spent hours, days, months, and even years, thinking about this, and then it hit me. If these random people can tell me that they love my name, why can’t I?
Jaiyeola Omowamide; meaning a life of happiness and wealth and that a child has come to us. I was a child that my parents saw as a blessing so in return, I should carry great dignity with my name. My name is Yoruba, a language spoken in Nigeria. It means happiness and success, not depression and failure. It holds great amounts of history and heritage, and was given to me to be carried on to my future children and for those to come. Most African Americans, can never have their original names because their identity was robbed from them when forced to become slaves. I realized how lucky I was. Why hate it? Because it’s not “normal”? Some of the greatest people that lived didn’t become known because of being ordinary. They were unique. Distinct. Individual. And that’s just what my name is. One of a kind.
I now love my name more than ever. It’s something that I hold with considerable respect and I am forever thankful to my parents for giving it to me. And although, I still get people who mispronounce it, I laugh it off. We shouldn’t have to feel self conscious of ourselves, because we don’t fit the norm. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. And don’t let society deem what is and isn’t normal. This country isn’t just made of one culture, but many; a huge melting pot. Show pride in our heritage and what completes your identity.