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What’s in a Name?

Siyonbola…Swagger to wealth? Stagger to wealth? It depends on whom you ask. I answer to many names. Each of them a reflection of whichever stage I was in at the time, my philosophy about life and culture etc. Some people think I’m running from the law or a 419er, but in actuality I was running from the false imprisonment that a wrong name can give.


I come from a land of poetics, Yorubaland, where everything has meaning. Words are not just said without cause. Every sound has a purpose and a meaning. Couple my philosophy of fluidity of names with my culture’s trademark of giving many names, and you have a recipe for identification disasters. Depending on where you find me, I might answer to one of four names.


I was born Ololade, the prosperous one—the owner of prosperity—has arrived. My father gave me a muslim name as well, which is why you may know me by Rukayat. Ololade is pronounced something like au-lau-laa-dei (not day, drop the y). I didn’t always like this name, I didn’t always understand what it meant, the power of it. In Lagos, any girl with a first name containing l-o-l-a will be called Lola (lau-laa). A beautiful ring and the name every Yoruba-speaking blood relative calls me to this day. But take that to the Western parts and you’re met with the high-browed translation Lola (Low-lah), which is what I was called by every non-African I encountered until I was 20 years old.


Whatever Lola Wants….Lola Gets

This was a song I could get with. The one I could not get with was There was a showgirl, her name was Lola, which a very privileged white kid in my high school insisted on singing to me every time he saw me. Which irked me in every way. By the time I was twenty, I had heard enough lurid stories featuring Lolas and Lolitas and decided to drop the shadowed label. So Rukayat came in. I started out pronouncing it like Nigerians do—terribly. Rukaiyaat, with an emphasis on the Ru. It sounded terrible and I shorted it to Ru. Then I met a muslim man who taught me how to say it…and write it.


And then, when I published my first book, my very African-muslim last name had to go. I didn’t want to be remembered as an Arab/muslim Nigerian 100 years from now. I needed to adopt something more Yoruba. Enter Siyonbola, my great-grandfather’s name and the name still used by half of my father’s family… In a future post, I’ll talk more about the power of names and the influence they have on destiny.

About Lolade

Lolade is an MA candidate at Yale University researching the relationship between migration and identity formation. She is the author of 'Market of Dreams' a poetry collection documenting her experiences as an immigrant, woman, lover, fighter. She obsesses over indigenous textiles, cultural preservation and innovation, and travel (land, air and time).

Categories: AFRiCKA, Blog, Culture

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