When my mother was born, my African relatives rejoiced. There were prayers. They were tears.
And eventually, there was a name.
My mother, the apple of her parents eyes, was named Paula Ernestine Chiedu. Ernest from her father, an engineer from Africa who she would never have the opportunity to know once she left England. Still with the name Chiedu, she was reminded her of her heritage.
Roughly translated from the Igbo language from Nigeria, the name means “God leads”.
In its present-day usage, it reminds the recipient of the name of the connection to their faith and the God who continued to lead. And my ancestors remembered all, giving the beautiful name to a daughter who would not be with them for long.
Decades after returning to Barbados, my mother decided to bless me with the name she herself had been given.
On March 20th, thirty-one years ago, I would become Ramona Chiedu Louisa. Chiedu became an inherited name and Louisa was given in honor of a great aunt who had raised my mother and prayed for her pregnancy after years dealing with endometriosis.
As I grew up, I began to resent my name. I didn’t mind much that when people met me that they began to sing the Louis Armstrong song “Ramona”. My disdain for my name had little to do with the eventual comparisons to the childhood character Ramona Quimby.
It had everything to do with Chiedu, the name which in it purest form is a sacred reminder to the recipient that there is a higher power which should guide one’s steps
I’ve always hated my middle name. In school, it was hard to pronounce. It was reduced to C. as many failed to give my name the respect it deserved.
Growing up, the name Chiedu had become a heavy weight, making me the target of jokes and mean spirited jabs about how funny it was compared to the cutesy, girly-pop, aesthetic and cool names most girls in my secondary school had.
When I first joined the church, I never considered the complexities of the love hate relationship with my name. I would pronounce it haphazardly, wishing that the name could be removed from my life.
Over the years, I avoided receiving priesthood blessings as the lost boys from Utah butchered my name with each hands placed upon my head seemed to stray further away from the light. I recalled one such blessing while in Utah where a young man decided I needed to be renamed and made up a whole new name entirely.
A year ago, I stumbled upon a video by the actress Uzoamaka Aduba commonly known as Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes from Orange Is The New Black). I remember being pulled to this video as she spoke about her history with having an uncommon name and the beauty she was blessed with at birth.
Tears rolled down my face as I recognized that the feelings I had suppressed were so apparently common for most with Ethnic African names.
After typing my name into an African name generator, I learned after almost thirty years, I had be pronouncing my middle name incorrectly. In the months that passed, I worked hard to nail the pronunciation until it became second nature, knowing that on my graduation day my name needed the respect it deserved.
On graduation day, I strode across the stage with tears in my eyes. The reader pronounced my name with sincere respect and while I’m not quite sure it was intentional, I could feel my grandmother’s warmth around me reminding me of the sacred meaning.
I look back at my name, once marred by the world’s slim worldview. I take comfort in my name knowing that it is not simply the gift bestowed to my mother but future generations will know the name.
I am Chiedu. My children will be Chiedu.
We are Ernest’s posterity even if the sands of time believed we could survive life without the culture and the influence of his spirit.
I pray for my future children. My sons Chinedu and my daughters Chiedu. And for their children as well. They will be led by the beauty of the name. By the pride in holding on and being led by something higher…someone higher.