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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 a Gates Cambridge Scholar, starting her PhD in Sociology with the 2019 class. She recently graduated with her MA in African Studies [Sociology discipline] from Yale University where she researched ethnic identity formation among Nigerian immigrants in New York, Tokyo and Mumbai. She is the author of 'Market of Dreams' a radical poetry collection about love and freedom. She obsesses over indigenous textiles, cultural preservation and innovation, and intimately connecting the African Diaspora.

Categories: AFRiCKA, Blog, Culture

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