My name is Ayanda Joe Munikwa. I love my name, all of it, but that wasn’t always the case. If you’ve been here awhile you would know that this was once titled “Joe’s Blog”. There’s a reason for that.
I attended one of the most hyper-masculine high schools in my country. My Christian name, ‘Ayanda’, Zulu in its origin, isn’t native thus is relatively unknown to the Shona-speaking people that dominated the college. As a result by association people would often link it to the more popular ‘Amanda’. (By the way I just Googled the definition of the name Amanda and there is an article claiming the name is documented in a birth record from 1212 somewhere in England! That’s absolutely nuts.) Where was I…? Right.
So Ayanda was considered feminine and in that toxic environment there was a lot of ridicule directed towards it. The most popular guy in the year above made this painfully clear one afternoon. “Ayanda?!” he exclaimed with his posse sniggering all around him. “That’s the name of a girl I made out with a whiiiile back. She was ugly as sin!”
When you think about it afterwards it’s utterly ridiculous that he would call a girl he kissed in the past ugly as sin. But I wasn’t sharp enough to see the ruse for what it was and I allowed my feeble self-esteem defences to crumble. Immediately my name became a trigger point for self-defence so much so that when I left to study in London I intentionally introduced myself as Joe under the guise that it was easier to pronounce than my first name – and forbid anyone getting my first name wrong! Therefore to save them from righteous judgement I allowed them to use the single-syllabic name ‘Joe’ instead.
This went on for a while and probably would have done even longer were I not corrected one day by one of my parents.
“Why Joe? Why not Ayanda?” they asked.
“They can’t pronounce it right,” I lied.
“Well… then you teach them.”
I couldn’t come up with a suitable response to that.
Still, as stubborn as I was I needed a little bit extra. That bit extra came in the form of my Thermodynamics lecturer.
“It’s impossible for me to know everyone’s names,” he complained. “It’s all Alexs and Johns and Michaels and there are so many of you. See?” He went on to read the names of people in the register and they seemed to all prove his point until he came to mine – ‘Ayanda’. He asked who that was, I raised my hand. Ever since then he would refer to me as Ayanda but everyone else was just “you over there” or “the guy in the pink”. That’s when it hit me. In trying to hide my insecurity I had taken away a vital part of my identity. I thought I was shielding myself from ridicule but in actual fact I had shielded myself from prominence and significance. In taking the mantle of ‘regular Joe’ I had allowed myself to fade in the background, fitting in instead of standing out.
It needed to sink in. My name is my name. It is mine. Because it is mine – I should cherish it. I needed to increase in understanding, to increase in wisdom, to increase in the self-esteem I’d robbed myself of just because of childish ridicule. I needed to increase in a lot of things… which would probably have happened sooner had I embraced my name which means just that.
Next time you bump into me – call me Ayanda.
photo cred: CrossFit Odyssey