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What's in a name?

I have always been interested in names and their meanings, so it is no surprise that we had names in mind for our children long before they were conceived. I was relieved when my five year old daughter told me that she actually liked her name, because I secretly feared giving her a name she would want to change! I hope she continues to appreciate the thought behind and meaning of her name as she grows older. Although it is quite common to give names for their meanings in Africa, where I was born, I have seen so many people in our generation, especially in the Western world, who choose names just for the sound or uniqueness of it. As someone who spends a lot of time spelling her name, I had no problem with choosing old and common names for my children. In the end, does it really matter what a child is called, as long as he/she is loved and raised well? Each child will have his/her own journey in life to make what they will of their names. 

I grew up to find out that my own first name means ‘Victorious’, as it is derived from the Biblical name, Eunice. I have to say that it made me like the name even more. I was also determined to keep my maiden name professionally after marriage, for several reasons, which my husband thankfully understood. As he said, what matters most is the quality of a marriage, not the name a woman bears. I have since met many women who could not wait to change their names after their wedding, and others who have done so and regretted it for years. It does make life a bit easier if you have the same surname as your children, but I think this should be a woman’s choice, not an obligation. I remember a time, years ago, when I contemplated using a pen name for my writing because I thought it might be easier to remember. One of the best pieces of advice I got at that time was to keep my real and uncommon name, and I am now enjoying the benefits of doing that. I understand that there are reasons why writers may want to use a different name for their publications, but it does feel good to be able to answer my own name everywhere. I have found that people do learn to pronounce your name correctly if you insist on it. Obama, Ejiofor, Lupita etc are names we can now pronounce comfortably, thanks to their famous owners who dared to be different. 

I often get asked to spell my name by patients who want to see me again, but cannot remember my last name. This week, I did something I rarely do. I told an 80 year old patient to just call me by my first name, because she was struggling to get my surname. I was surprised when she replied, "I dare not call you 'Niki’", and proceeded to learn my last name. It is common knowledge that the older generation are much more respectful of professionals, but I was so humbled by that comment. It made me realise that it is not about how long, easy, common, meaningful, double-barrelled, posh or foreign our names sound, what matters most is who we are. You hear of people hating certain names because they once knew someone with that name who was horrible. I am sure that others have made certain names sound so much better by how good they are to people. There is nothing more disappointing than to meet a trouble-maker called Peace, or a mean person called Mercy. 

Names do contribute to our identity, but it is our choice what we make of our names. You do not have to be the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), as sportsmen say, to have a good name. One Bible proverb says that 'a good name is better than riches'. We can build a good name by living lives of integrity and kindness, being the best we can be with whatever we find to do. What emotions does the sound of your name evoke in the people who know you? Is it comfort, inspiration, love and respect, or sadness, shame, anger and disappointment? You cannot please everybody, but it is never too late to turn things around for the better if your name has been associated with more bad than good. Everyday is another chance to do better. This world will be a much better place if we all strive to be our best and contribute positively to society in whatever way we can. To quote Shakespeare, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Do not passively rely on or be ruled by your family name, whether good or bad. It is your choice and your life. What is in your name is you - make it a good one!

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