Stuck In The Middle Podcast


My African Name

“How do you say that?” they ask,  Pointing to my name tag.

It's pronounced Nchuyekeh, -IN-chU-yE-kUH-

Taking their time, they would slowly enunciate -Nin-chew-ye-kayy-“Did I say that right?, can you say that for me one more time please?” 

I work in a pharmacy, when I meet new patients picking up or dropping off prescriptions or just simply asking a question about anything, their prescriptions or medication is never the topic at hand. My name tag, the pronunciation of my name, origin of my name, and everything in between about my name. I am happy to offer them a little education on the pronunciation of my name, but everytime I hear the American tongue try to embrace my name, it takes me back to a time when I tired to hide my name from the world.

Please, please, don't get me wrong, my name is a priceless gift bestowed to me by many who came from far and near to see the 6th  Mba be born. My name represents many women who have carried it with dignity and pride, women who worked their way in life to proudly say their name and command attention and praise. My name is a true representation of a very African name.

So here's a little physiology for you, when the Ameircan mouth draws their breath converting the air pressures from their lungs into audible vibrations, which is called phonation, that air passes through their  elastic vocal folds or vocal cords which causes them to vibrate, this type of phonation is called voicing. Next their mouth; hard palate lips, tongue and teeth shape and form the best pronunciation their brain thinks sounds best , my name.

Don't take this the wrong way, I am not offended, upset, or embarrassed. These moments are a deeper realization of how beautiful my name is, I am blessed to have the name I have. I may not be Amy, Shaniqua, Sarah, Laquisha, Jane, Rohondra or Molly, or any simple name that comes easily to the tongue. 

I am Nchuyekeh.

I had a hard time finding love for my name growing up. Things were different when I was a kid growing up in Cameroon. I felt happy when my mom called me Nchuyekeh, though in some cases she was calling my full name because she was mad at me, but it brought me joy to hear it said, right. Then, I moved to America, naive me then saw the world as one, we just had different skin tones, it never occurred to me at the time that we all had different tongues, that we all spoke differently. 

Then, I started school and the nightmare of my very African name began. When the teacher did roll call s/he would breeze through other students names, till he or she got to mine. They would choke up on my name, run every possible pronunciation in their heads, till they would say “last name M B A. oh yeah, my last name was impossible for their tongues to pronounce too.

I would raise my hand, with a million eye on me and say “its -IN-chU-yE-kUH- “

Their tongues untied and the weight of trying to pronounce my name was lifted off their shoulders. “Oh okay, would you like to go by anything shorter?” They would ask. At that point it all went downhill from there. I created a new label, a name that didn't fit with me.

At the beginning of a new school year from 3rd grade to high school, I  relieved the choocked up teacher who tried to pronounce my name, students laughing, and me casting a darker shadow over my real name. By high school I got smart enough to be one of the first  in class, so when role call came around, the teacher was briefed to call me shu shu, sparing me the embracing look on my face, the many eyes looking at me, and the silent giggles from other students. 

Over time Nchuyekeh just disappeared, it was no longer a name I bared in public, hell it didn't even show on the teachers records, their roll call list had been edited to “Shu Shu”. I was bearing a false identity “shu shu” and I was marked as the student with the hard to pronounce name. “What a bizarre name” one kid said, what is “shoe shoe”? “What is your real name anyways?”. I didn't fit in, I remember begging my mom to please change my name. She would always give me this long story about my name being a blessing, I should bear the name that I have, my name is a gift from my aunts who would be upset if tried changed my name, and how I should be happy to have my name. Her words of encouragement didn’t change a thing, it only made me resent my name even more.  I asked again when I held my citizen paper work in my hands, I begged my mom to please let me change it to anything, something simple, something the American tongue can pronounce. I got a stern NO, this time without the history of why I should accept the name that was given to me. 

Then I moved again, this time to Michigan. I had to start all over again. They couldn't know me as chu chu or shu shu, I got bullied for that and I would get bullied again.

A.K.  short for Akweseh (my middle name.)

Call me A.K, something simple it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. But that didn't change a thing, a new school with the same puzzled teachers who rolled and folded my name in their mouths, the same teacher who looked for the easy way out instead of trying to pronounce my name. “Last name M B A”, the cycle repeated itself. “Is there anything simpler you go by?”

Now I am an adult, growing, and molding into a more informed and accepting individual. I'm more culturally aware of my American and African surroundings and I have come to the conclusion that the American tongue will never understand, pronounce, or embrace my name. 

I guess I never knew till now, my name is the very reason I am who I am, it represents where I come from. Without my name who would I be? I spent most of my child years trying to hide someone who was filled with potential, enough to educate and inform others of how worthy a name like mine is. Instead  I was so busy try it “fit in” and have a name that sounded “normal”, or I guess not get bullied.

Having those changes was my escape goat from reality, It's the reality young naive me should've been living in. I am African and my name is very African. I couldn't see it any other way. 

If I could turn back time, I would be more easy on young me, embrace her, and teach the value of loving one of many roots that mold and shape who you are, one being my name. I would tell her to push through and stand tall when they made fun of my very African name. Those very changes I truly believe would have benefited me today. 

So I will no longer square my name for the tongues of Americans, either you say it how it is pronounced or you can ask for an education on how to pronounce it.  No, I don't have something easy for your tongue to roll over and yes it is a beautiful name. Its my very African name. 

I am Nchuyekeh.

Yes I can I say it one more time for you,


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