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My name, Naliaka, is an icebreaker in and of itself and I’m quite pleased to have it. Other people with non Anglo-Saxon names who grew up amongst English speakers will know about the seemingly interminable five seconds after somebody has introduced themselves to you and are waiting to hear your name. You steel yourself to speak slowly and clearly but not so much so as to alarm anyone into thinking you may be having a stroke and then there is nothing left to do but to sound it out.

The truth is I haven’t always liked my name and I used to wish that I had at least one English name, instead of three Kenyan ones, to use in certain situations in day to day life. For instance the first day of class when a teacher is trying to learn everyone’s names and spends ten minutes on yours and everyone turns to stare. Or when you are quickly introduced to a friend of a friend of a friend at a party and know that you will probably never see them again and would rather not engage in the inevitable summation of your family heritage and backstory. (Parents: Kenyan; Upbringing: International). Or anytime that you have to reserve anything in your name. Or when your friend ‘Stacy’ bought herself a bracelet with her name on it when you were 10.

I couldn’t pinpoint one specific transitional life event in which I started liking my name. In all honesty I probably liked fragmented aspects of having my name and then one day found that the fragments added to a whole. For example I like that most people will have never met anyone with my name before me. I like that it is long and can be shortened into different nicknames. I like that it ties me so intrinsically with my family and my heritage. I even don’t mind the questions it leads people to ask, so long as they really want to know the answers.

So as an icebreaker, what is the story behind your name?

9 thoughts on “Introductions Leave a comment

  1. My chinese name is 黄可嫣(huang ke yan) – it was given to me by my Yeye (Father’s father). It was taken from a Chinese storybook and means “to be captivating.” In Chinese, boys names usually hold a legacy for their life i.e. my father’s name means “challenger of the universe”, while girls names describe a characteristic their parents wish for them.

    My english name is Joy – it was given to be by my father who found out about his promotion the same time my mom was pregnant. It was also a name that his sister considered for her daughter, but didn’t end up using!

    • “To be captivating” is one of the most poetic meanings of a name I have ever heard. It is always really interesting to see how people grow into their names, like a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. You are definitely both joyous and captivating!

  2. Does Naliaka , have any particular meaning? I remember not liking mine until i decided to be proud of its meaning.

    I was named by my grandfather and means ‘leader’ or ‘big person’ in kimeru which is the language spoken by the Meru, a tribe in kenya. I can totally relate to having a different name and i have even gone to the extent of asking my parents why I never had an english name. Anyway for me it took me years to have that pride. A western society forces us to lack respect for our names. Make us want to be like everybody else than loving ourselves.

    There are 3 people I usually meet:
    1. The one’s that ask for your name, repeat it to you and force themselves to remember – these usually end up being friends. Bonus marks usually when they get it first time.

    2. The one’s that ask for your name, repeat it to you and then forget. I usually respect these ones for at least trying.

    3. The one’s that ask for your name, dont repeat it to you and act like they remember and maybe even possibly judge you.

    For the 3rd type I often try and remember I am an african and that my name has meaning. Otherwise I usually find Im better of ignoring them.

  3. Does ‘Naliaka’ have a meaning?

    My grandfather named me Munene meaning ‘leader’ or ‘big person’ in kimeru, a language spoken by the Meru people in Kenya. I can relate to having a different name. I even remember asking my parents why I never had an english name. Took me very long to have pride in my name. Western culture often prohibits us from doing so. Makes it hard to ‘love ourselves’.

    There are 3 types of people I usually meet:

    1. Those that ask you your name, repeat it back to you and force themselves to remember it. These usually end up being friends – bonus marks for getting it the first time!

    2. Those that ask for your name. repeat it to you and quickly forget. I usually respect these ones for trying!

    3. Those that ask you your name, don’t repeat it back to you and act like they remember – in some cases even judge you.

    Most Africans I meet are of the first type. For the third type, I usually try and remember that my name has a meaning and that it was given to me not out of inadequacy but due to pride.

    • HI Munene, thanks for commenting! I’ve been told at various stages that Naliaka means different things but my father has always told me that it refers to a season of planting crops. I agree with SO much of what you said about being taking pride in oneself and the real reason why that is hard to do. For a long time I was a bit too forgiving of all the ways people refused to respect my name. Like you said, I don’t have a problem with people asking for it again so they can get it right. Some people even ask me to spell it out for them and I also love that effort. It’s when people don’t even want to try and then say “Oh that’s too difficult for me, can I call you something else?” that I get offended! Although I do always try to explain succinctly why that response is not appropriate.

  4. My family name Ndayihimbaze means Praise God in Kirundi, it makes me feel special as in that’s my life purpose. Very few pronounce it right however. So I’ve embraced the challenge of living up to it with the hope that atleast people will remember what it means in their respectives languages.

    My first name Elysé was intended to mean Elisha however the way it’s been spelt overtime has changed and consequently its meaning has been misinterpreted. First on the course of my elementary studies, it was spelt with two Es with an accent. Other times it is spelt without an accent or an i instead of a y and if done via e-mail, my response often corrects that for anybody :). It’s been hard for me to embrace this name despite how good it sounds when people say it right and its intended meaning. So one day I decided to stop writting and to only mention it (I figured it couldn’t be misspronounced if people only heard it. People still did  but they learned it faster this way. And those who were curious enough to know how it was written, I shared with them the correct spelling and none got it wrong afterwards).

    • Thanks for your comment Elysé! I’ve definitely experimented with introducing myself as different variants of my name! For a couple years I would say ‘Nali’ but people always thought I was saying ‘Natalie’ so stopped that. The good thing with ‘Naliaka’ is once people get it, they never get it wrong.

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