what’s in a name?

Poetry by senior Oluwatofunmi Jewesimi


My full name is Oluwatofunmi Ifeoluwa Jewesimi,
But I always introduce myself as ‘Tofunmi’,
Only 3 syllables long
Yet 3 syllables shorter than my full first name,
Yet more often than not,
Friends and teachers would say
“Do you have a nickname for that?” or
“I’m going to call you tofu instead!” or
“Can I call you t?”
And soon enough, I allowed them to reinvent me.
It was as though my name no longer belonged to me.
But had been taken to the slaughterhouse floor.
With each syllable butchered off
Taking with it more and more meaning
Until what I was left with
Was an ugly single lettered corpse of who I once was.

Oluwatofunmi Ifeoluwa Jewesimi,
I wanted to take pride in my name
Because it meant I was holding on to the remnants of my Yoruba culture and identity
I left behind when my family and me
Immigrated to the glorious ‘land of the free’!
But now, in this new country
that places a heavy emphasis on accessibility
When it comes to ethnic names,
It did not take long for me to realize how difficult it was
to take pride in something no one else could understand.

Oluwatofunmi Ifeoluwa Jewesimi,
My mother told me:
Oluwatofunmi is a testimonial of experiencing God’s faithfulness in her life.
It means my God is sufficient for my needs.
Ifeoluwa means I am God’s wish, God’s plan, God’s love.
Because she asked God for a daughter,
And had me.
Jewesimi was carried from my great great grandfather.
In our native tongue, it means “Let leaves rest”
Because as a famous apothecary,
He helped heal those in his village of Ijebu Ife.

Oluwatofunmi Ifeoluwa Jewesimi,
My name bears a weight.
It has a certain je ne sais quoi
That was not lost despite almost two centuries
Of European meddling.
Our tribal names are like a golden platter
Upon which we are served with
The stories, prayers, and battles of the lives that came before us.
Our names lie within the words of God.
They are divine.
They are black.
They are beautiful.
I am divine.
I am black.
I am beautiful.

This poem was published on Feb. 20 by senior Oluwatofunmi Jewesimi. Hear from her in a Humans of Seven Lakes interview.