This post discusses the good, the bad and the ugly experiences of having a non English name. From having a name that has a beautiful meaning to strangers demanding shorter versions of your name.
Most of us living in the UK with non English names know too well the dread of introductions. Trying to regain composure in the lift after sharing stomach clenching laughter, a colleague fully turns around to face me,
“It’s my floor next, it was nice meeting you. What’s your name?”
“Do you have a nickname or what can I call you?”
Some shorten their names to easily digestible syllables to suit an English palette. Some change their names completely to English ones. I do neither, opting to teach each new person I meet how to say my name.
Almost all who hear my name initially are shocked to hear it. They proceed to refuse to say my name worried that they might butcher it so much so it will offend me. I then have to reassure them that I prefer them to butcher my name as it means they are in the process of learning how to say it correctly.
I used to shorten my name to ‘Nozi’ until I realised no one would learn how to say my name fully. Worse, some people would make a rhyme, “is your name Nozi because you are nosy?”. In my mid twenties I decided to put a stop to this by using my full name, Nozipho. I felt my name was too beautiful to be shortened into a meaningless word. I also felt it was the least a stranger could do as a sign of respect towards me. Saying all 3 syllables of my name.
It is soothing hearing a British person say my full name in the correct accent. I feel legitimate and have a true sense of belonging in my adoptive country.
Nozipho is a Zimbabwean Ndebele name literally translating to ‘goddess/mother/deity of gifts’. I am not too sure whether it means, I am gifted academically, I give others gifts or that other people give me gifts. I like to think it represents all three.
My artist name is ‘ibizo lami’, the Ndebele translation for ‘my name’. I named myself this as a reminder of the phenomena I experience when introducing myself as Nozipho in the UK.
Whilst non English names often carry with them profound and beautiful meanings, most of us who carry them feel pressure to change our names or shorten them to make it easier for English speakers.
Do you have a non English name? What is your strategy when introducing yourself? I would love to read about it in the comments.
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