I often find myself having to explain why I want people to call me by my name; and often, having uncomfortable conversations in which I have to insist that people call me by my name… Sounds strange, right?
So, if you’re reading this, you probably know that my name is Ndapewoshali. It doesn’t take much to gather that from a website titled “Ndapewoshali Writes”. However, for so many reasons, people will generally try to call me everything but.
I often find myself having to take a deep breath before I answer questions like “Do you have a shorter name?”, “Do you have a better name?” “Do you have a Christian (in Namibia, this is synonymous with any name that is either actually from the bible or from Europe – usually Finland, Britain or Germany) name?” Can I call you…?”.
Sometimes I say a little prayer to remain calm before I respond to comments like “Oh! That’s an ugly name!” “No, that’s too long/difficult. I’ll just call you…”. It takes everything in me to not roll my eyes (OK, sometimes I fail) when people deliberately mispronounce my name in order to demonstrate to me, how long and difficult it is and why I should just let them shorten it, whichever way they think it should be.
My middle name is Ndahafa so sometimes people will call me that…unprovoked. Which would be fine if I introduced myself as Ndahafa; which I have never done in my entire life. Not even by accident. Not even in an example. So maybe, don’t do that.
In my own little act of peaceful violence, whenever anyone tells me my name is too long/complicated, I gently remind them that I do not subscribe to Eurocentric standards of “normalcy” and Nda-pe-wo-sha-li has exactly the same number of letters and syllables as Co-lo-ni-sa-tion. 🙂
Finally, there’s always the super fun (Please, if it’s not clear, this is sarcasm.) interaction I have almost every day;
Me: Hello, my name is Ndapewoshali.
Person: OK Ndapewa.
Me: My name is Ndapewoshali, not Ndapewa.
Person: So, Ndapewa….
Me: *Internally screams*
So “What’s in a name?”
As I have conversations with the very few people who are respectful enough to call me by my name and even ask why I am so against shortening it, I come across so many interesting stories about names; why people change them, why they insist on not shortening them or shortening them, why people are named the names they are named etc. I am now convinced of two things;
- It’s never “just” a name.
- Call people whatever name they want to be called.
Trauma, Triggers and TIME
Sometimes people change their names because the name they no longer want to be called, reminds them of their trauma and/or acts as a trigger. For example, the manner in which their abuser would say that name acts as a trigger. Therefore, insisting on calling someone by a name that they have expressed that they do not want to be called not only invalidates their wishes but could also act as a trigger and/or constant reminder of their trauma. Let’s not do that.
Sometimes, changing a name gives a sense of hope. The new name can be a symbol of a new chapter or a “rebirth” of sorts. If, for example, in the case of the old name being linked to trauma, a new name can act as a symbol of freedom and emancipation.
A new name can also symbolise rebirth, whether spiritual or cultural. Perhaps one has converted to or has chosen a new religion. Perhaps one has rediscovered themselves after researching their cultural heritage and has chosen to either use an existing cultural name or revoke the name they had that was influenced by colonialism.
I’ve heard people say “Agh, why does he/she want as to call them Ndatoolewe all of a sudden when we’ve always known them as Portia all this time?” Well… maybe because apart from Portia being a name in a language whose origins I feel no connection to, Ndatoolewe is in my native tongue and it means “I’ve picked up a diamond” while Portia means “Pig, hog or doorway”. I promise, I’m not making this up. Here’s a link to the meaning of the name Portia https://nameberry.com/babyname/Portia If your name is Portia, please don’t take this personally – love ya girl! There are many factors that go in to the meaning of a name. You could be names after a loved one and that makes it special in its own right.
So… whatever someone requests you to address them as, remember this;