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What’s in a name?

Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!

When I was about 8 years old, I decided to change my name to Chrissy. “Why Chrissy?” you might ask. Well, because it was a lot easier for Americans to pronounce than Bunmi. At 8, I wanted to fit in. I wanted the days of squirming in my seat, praying my name wouldn’t be mispronounced when the teacher called attendance to end: Bun-my, Bun-mee, Bunny? I had enough of that, my official name was Chrissy. I started introducing myself as Chrissy, signing my name on my school work as Chrissy…then, my teacher decided to inform my parents of my name change. At 8 years old, I never got why my parents were so upset about that until we moved.

My parents are Nigerian and I was born in the U.S., so I am a first generation American. At 8, I didn’t get a sense of where I came from; my parents had Nigerian friends but their kids were all like me; they were American. We craved hot dogs and hamburgers instead of the chicken stew and cassava our parents ate. We spoke English with little knowledge of Yoruba, our parent’s native tongue. We blasted New Edition from our stereos and shunned Fela.

A year later, when I turned 9, my relationship with Nigerian culture and my name would change when my parents decided to move our family back to Nigeria. We landed in my mother’s hometown of Otun, where I first met the matriarch of the family – my grandmother. She didn’t speak any English, I didn’t speak any Yoruba but we, someway, somehow, understood each other. My grandmother owned a general store and the first Petroleum station in Otun and I would tag along with her as she tended shop and looked after her station, along the way I picked up a bit of Yoruba and I learned the story of her life.

I learned that she was a princess who married my grandfather because she loved him. She had five children with him, my mother being the third child and oldest of two girls. My grandfather married two more times and had three wives in all (polygamy was not uncommon at that time in Nigeria). When my mother was fifteen, my grandfather died. My grandmother took over as the breadwinner of the family and provided for the other two wives and the all of the children within the family, making sure that every child received at least a high school education. Her shop that sold knick knacks and everyday items reminiscent of a bodega along with the gas station sustained them all. She was their iya agba or big mama, their matriarch, our matriarch, my matriarch.

After learning this, I embraced who I was and I said my name with pride. I was Bunmi, yes, with a silent “n,” pronounced Boo-me and my name represents my history.

Bunmi Esho is the director of education at Junior Achievement.