The Day My Name Got Murdered
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I had heard it all, Audi, Sade, Chiakezie, the various mispronunciations of the Nigerian name that had all but become common place. I eagerly anticipated what would happen to a name like mine that gave even Nigerian indigenes a hard time to pronounce. OKECHUKWU. That anticipation came to reality when I arrived in the United States to study Mechanical Engineering. The struggle began almost immediately, it was easy to spot, it started with a wrinkling of the nose and then the tightening off the lips. The finish however was always difficult to spot, it came in different syllables, stutters and pronunciations, almost always covered with the five words I have now come to dread “did I pronounce it right.” To which I almost always replied yes, to prevent the further mispronunciation of my name.
CRIME SCENE: It was the McKinney auditorium, an auditorium that was large enough to fit 100 students. Nothing quite prepared me for that day, the first day of class in a foreign country. To state that I was nervous, would have been nothing short of a mass understatement. I was literarily shaking. The professor was a white male in his late 40’s, his name, Bruckheimer, my first year Introduction to Political Science professor. He had that look in his eye that made you know he was one of those professors that prided himself in his personal knowledge. As it was customary on the first day of class, the professor pulled out the class roster and proceeded to read the names of the students on the roster. He ran through the list with relatively ease pronouncing all the names with majestic aplomb. Mark, Smith, Nguyen, Tracy…and then he froze, his eyes become dilated, his skin a little redder and lips curled…
I had observed this scene before, it was the same look I had when I was about to throw up or when the waitress in the check out line attempted to read the name on my credit card. The dilation of the eye was probably triggered by brain signals causing the eyes to allow more light in to observe the letters much clearer, the reddening of the skin was probably a defense mechanism for future and inevitable embarrassment and the curling of the lips was simply the mass confusion and paralysis that came when attempting to vocally comprehend my name.
Bruckheimer pulled the class roster further away from his eyes, he seemed to flip the roster backward and peer through the roster against the backdrop of the sun. Just in case the name was somehow written accidentally in Arabic and from left to right. Unfortunately it was not, he closed his eyes and said a quiet prayer…
“God this is your humble servant, I need your help right now. There is a name that I can’t pronounce. It’s from the Igbo Tribe of Nigeria and it means God’s gift.”
He opened his eyes and took one last look at the class roster, with his grip tightened he said Oke…Oke…Oke- Chihuahua. The whole class bust out laughing, including myself and probably God from up above (fortunately there was no way that could be my name that had just been sacrificed). But in the middle of the paralyzing chaos that consumed the class, came the words that would scar me for the rest of my life, “Ofili.” Oke-Chihuahua Ofili. And then I realized the impossible, Bruckheimer had indeed attempted to pronounce my name and had somehow converted Chukwu to Chihuahua.
In typical post-mispronunciation-trauma Bruckheimer asked if he had indeed pronounced my name properly. Of course not I thought to myself, but my embarrassment could not bring me to condemn the professor. I simply let him know (albeit falsely) he was close, but that he could simply call me Ofili in the future. “Ofili?” he said “now that’s way simpler.”
And that’s the story of how I somehow lost my first name on the shores of America and become known simply as OFILI…
Wishing You Extreme Success,
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