Why I Refuse To Change My Name In Senegal

I missed several days of the #30DayAfriBlogger and #BlogTemberChallenge, so I’m playing catch up! Day 3’s topics were ‘my totem’ (how one’s family is identified in Zimbabwe) and my heritage. I could write on both of these topics for daysssss, but instead I’ve decided to contextualize this combined post to focus on a reoccurring theme I’ve noticed here in Dakar: my name.

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Let me start by walking you through a typical introduction scenario.

Mamadou or Adama: Multiple greetings in Arabic, Wolof, and French

Me: Multiple greetings in Arabic, Wolof, and French

M or A: What’s your name?

Me: Chineme (Chee-neh-meh)

M or A: *visible pain on his/her face* China (Chee-nah)?

Me: Chinemeee (Chee-neh-mehhh)

M or A: Chinama (Chee-nah-mah). Wow. You don’t want to take a Senegalese name?

Me: Deedeet! (No in Wolof).

Other cute renditions of my name have been Cinema, Chima, and China (like the country). I’ve come to terms with the fact that my name is a rare commodity here in Senegal, and most people will have a hard time trying to say it. I’ve listed below four reasons why I chose not take a Senegalese name.

1. My name is powerful

Chineme is an Igbo name that literally means God does or God is doing. The full meaning my parents intended was God does good things – or Chinemema. I hope my birth marked a good thing in the lives of my parents, and this phrase has been the epitome of my life. When someone says my name (albeit incorrectly), they are acknowledging not only my existence, but also the favor and goodness that follows me everywhere I go.

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2. Le ‘partage’ (sharing is caring)

With the popularity of Nollywood all over the continent (and the world), many Africans know quite a few words in various Nigerian languages, such as Pidgin, Igbo, Yoruba, etc. Similarly, my name not only adds an extra 10 minutes to introductions, but it also forces people to speak Igbo by fire by force. #NaijaNoDeyCarryLast

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3. I’ve got the power

As a foreigner in Senegal, I’m constantly learning new things daily and acclimating to the various cultures and traditions here. I have to tread lightly in certain circumstances, but when I’m meeting someone for the first time the power balance shifts. All of a sudden the Senegalese person who is at home and on their terrain, finds themselves on unchartered waters. My name gives me the upper hand, because now the people I encounter are faced with a new language that they have to chew over and swallow (or in most cases spit out). Their smug face transforms into confusion as they fumble to pronounce my name properly. I bask in my newfound power, until they

A) give up

B) pronounce my name semi-correctly

C) choke on my name in which case I’m forced to intervene.

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4. Aunty Chimamanda told me not to

I attended one of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah book readings a few years ago. During the book signing session, after she gushed over my afro but before I almost fainted, she looked me straight in eyes and said, “Never make it easy for them.” I was with one of my favorite humans – Samah – and she, Chimamanda, and myself had all three been talking about names. Essentially, Chimamanda was reminding us, reminding me, that no matter where I go, I should never change my name and my identity to suit others. I quickly replied, “Yes ma” to which she and her husband chuckled. Her words have stuck with me over the years.

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While there are many lovely Senegalese names such as Khady, Awa, and Fatou, I prefer to remain original and true to myself. My parents raised me to be proud of my name and my heritage, and personally I think Chineme has a nice ring to it.

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7 thoughts on “Why I Refuse To Change My Name In Senegal

Add yours

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Omo! Girlll. It’s so interesting to me how my name is received in different parts of the world. People assume that wanting to change an “African” name is a Western concept, but it’s actually sadly a global phenomenon. Ignorance really is universal. 🙂

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  1. What is in a name? The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing. (From Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet.) Good you sticked to your name and didn’t bow to pressure. Arnold Schwarzenegger did same today it’s history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad that my parents raised me and instilled certain values in me.
      Right?!?! Even my last name doesn’t have that many consonants sticking to each other lol.

      Like

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