Author Luvvie Ajayi Jones talks to Tiffany Aliche about changing their given Nigerian names to more American ones in order to assimilate, and what their given versus chosen names mean to them today.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Where are you really from? It’s a question immigrants of color and their kids get all the time. But the answer is complex. It’s often not just about a place. The new NPR series Where We Come From brings us conversations from immigrant communities of color answering this very question. For some folks, it can be about family upbringing, food traditions, career aspirations, even their names. Here’s NPR’s Anjuli Sastry.
ANJULI SASTRY, BYLINE: This conversation, it’s between two close friends – Luvvie Ajayi Jones…
LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: I am New York Times bestselling author and a podcast host.
SASTRY: …And Tiffany Aliche.
TIFFANY ALICHE: Much better known as The Budgetnista, America’s favorite financial educator, self-proclaimed. You know you feel me.
AJAYI JONES: Yeah.
ALICHE: And I am a friend of Lovette.
SASTRY: Luvvie and Tiffany are both Nigerian.
AJAYI JONES: You know, rocking the green, white, green in our blood.
ALICHE: Mmm hmm.
SASTRY: And for both of them, their names carry symbolic meaning.
AJAYI JONES: Ifeoluwa – that’s like my first name. My family calls me Ife (ph). My name means God’s love. So the Ife part is the love. My aunt used to sometimes call me Lovette as a nickname.
SASTRY: Luvvie and Tiffany both realized something about how their names were pronounced as they were growing up in the U.S. It built a community among folks who could actually say their names right. And when people couldn’t pronounce their names correctly, they had to do things to take back ownership of their names. Here are Luvvie and Tiffany.
AJAYI JONES: So I was born in Nigeria. When I was 9, we moved to the U.S. Downtown Chicago is where we moved. So most of the kids didn’t even look like me. And they, for some reason, thought Jamaica was Africa. And I remember the principal walking me to my class…
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)
AJAYI JONES: …And kind of like pushing me in the class and the teacher being like, oh, welcome to our new student. Introduce yourself. And 9-year-old me was instantly like, my name is too different. The way I’m talking is too different. It’s not going to work. So I instantly – instead of saying my name when the teacher goes, introduce yourself, I go, my name is Lovette. And, of course, it came out real Naija – my name Lovette – because…
AJAYI JONES: Like, it came out real extra Strong because I was this girl.
ALICHE: Yeah. It’s funny that you said at 9 is when you make that transition because that’s when we made our transition from, like, the small little town of Roselle, mostly working-class Black and brown families, to Westfield, N.J., which was a bigger town and almost completely white. And I, too, made a transition with my name during that time. So up until 9, everyone – friends, everyone called me Adochi, which means God’s gift or God’s present, right?
AJAYI JONES: Yes.
ALICHE: And it’s – I remember we were going to move to Westfield. And my father decided – he said, we’re moving to this new town, and I’m wanting it to make it easier for you guys. You can choose another name to add to your name. And I was excited, you know? I didn’t think, you know, anything of it. I was like, yes. So he literally let everyone choose their name. And he said, you have the summer kind of like to decide. So my sisters and I would try out names. And I would say, OK, this week, call me Jenny (ph). That was one of – that was a viable option, Jenny. Oh.
AJAYI JONES: Jenny.
ALICHE: You will become Jenny the Budgetnista.
AJAYI JONES: (Laughter).
ALICHE: And then I remember I wanted Renee (ph). And I was like…
AJAYI JONES: Renee?
ALICHE: I liked Renee. I could see myself as a Renee, you know?
AJAYI JONES: OK. OK.
ALICHE: Right? But then, like, there was another Renee in class. And when I told her, she was like, you tried it. That’s my name.
AJAYI JONES: (Laughter).
ALICHE: And then – oh, thank goodness my dad said no. But I wanted Symphony. I was like, oh…
AJAYI JONES: Ma’am.
AJAYI JONES: Symphony though?
ALICHE: (Laughter) Yes. I said, it’s different. He said, too different. And then I – but I always liked the name Tiffany. And so I told him, I think I like Tiffany. And my friends loved it. I loved it. And so Tiffany I became.
AJAYI JONES: Yes.
ALICHE: But I just think it’s so interesting how…
AJAYI JONES: Take on this new name.
ALICHE: Yes, but in an effort to protect what we held dear, which is our true identity.
AJAYI JONES: Yeah because for me, it wasn’t even a matter of I was ashamed of my name. It was that I wanted to protect it from other…
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