I’d love to say I can’t believe we’re having this conversation in 2021 but looking back on the f*ckeries in the last year or so, am I actually surprised? 2021 has been 2020 with a laid lace, hair sleek and great customer service. COVID’s been releasing new strains like mixtapes so I’ve decided to just go with the flow. But one of the non-COVID controversies which caught my attention was courtesy of Love Island. I’ve literally gone out of my way to avoid watching it since it sprung up on our screens, but if you’re active on the socials then there’s no hiding place. A reality tv series where super-hot girls and buff guys are bunched together on an island and couple-up to do a series of tasks, with the winning couple receiving a grand prize. Okay, there’s a whole lot more permutations but I’ll let you read up on that. Season 5 dropped a couple of memorable characters including Yewande Biala, an Irish born Nigerian. From the moment she was announced as a contestant the trolls climbed out of their caves and gave her smoke. From that point on I knew she’ll be in for a long ride.
So, the talking point came with Yewande accusing an ex-contestant of purposely mispronouncing her name, following allegations of bullying. I know at a surface level this seems real trivial but coming from a fellow Nigerian, I know that feel. The thing I find funniest when it comes to ‘ethnic names’ is that people assume they can’t pronounce it just because. No effort, just vibes. Especially when it comes to African names, they’re so phonetic it’s unreal. Ye-Wan-De… how’re you getting tongue-tied over that? This is PTSD for a lot of African kids growing up. During secondary/college times we’ll be suffering from name dysphoria every-time our names are read out for the attendance register. Teachers will be butchering names left, right and centre and certain guys will be getting bantered as a result! Teachers asking if you have a nickname as it’ll be “easier to pronounce”. Fast forward to university and loads of guys were gentrifying their names to avoid further embarrassment. Kehinde turned into Kenny, Gbenga turned into Benz. People were even dropping their first names altogether and using whichever other name on their passport had the least amount of syllables.
I do appreciate that some names are a bit more straightforward than others, but my issue is when people don’t even bother trying. I’m a huge football fan so I’ve had those conversations with people who explain the link-up play at Bayern München when Goretzka feeds the ball to Gnabry who plays in Lewandowski; putting on their best German accents. Or the Game of Thrones fanatics debating over what would’ve happened if Daenerys Targaryen had married Joffrey Baratheon? Guys that used to count using their fingers in school are articulating these mythological names yet it’s Yewande that sounds exotic? Stuttering to pronounce it like its Egyptian hieroglyphs. I’ve literally gone out of my way to ensure my Nigerian name is present on any forms, documents or socials I have because why should I accommodate other people’s laziness? I didn’t go to school to learn about Beethoven, van Gogh and Michelangelo for my name to be where the line is drawn.
The constant mispronunciation of ‘ethnic names’ is one of the many microaggressions we’ve been going through since the beginning of time. Guys are having their CV’s pushed to the left because the hiring manager thinks their six-letter name is too tropical. People are being introduced to a third party with the wrong pronunciation and now the rest of the group are butchering their name too. Rather than trying to power through a name you’re unfamiliar with, ask the person how to pronounce it. I’ve been there waiting awkwardly as someone tries to ramble through my Nigerian name and I find myself spending more time correcting them. Even after you do, sometimes they just revert back to that mispronounced version of your name that they subconsciously stored in their head. Not today buddy, we’ll practice until you pronounce my name better than I can. Inclusivity has been the ‘buzzword’ over the last few years so having the courtesy of learning someone’s name is pretty rudimentary stuff.