Frankly Put: My Name Is…

Several posts later, I’m still battling with myself on introductions. Thinking, “Is it necessary to have one?” and if it is necessary, to me, “Where do I put it?” “How do bring it out organically or authentically me?” This thought process sparked some… well, thoughts so let’s talk introductions.

Having being raised in an African household, more specifically a Kenyan one, introductions have been part of my life for as long as I could remember. I mean, putting it aside that it is in the very “nature” of my people (well half of me, technically) to breathe greetings. Thinking back to all those family gatherings where you meet your cousin’s wife’s cousins, twice removed and having the little sessions where you all squeeze into a room or a tent and each has to stand, stating their lineage starting with your grandmother’s grandmother (matriarchal families and that) and finding out through faces and voices which branches make up your family tree, that honestly… never ends.

It is actually only just recently that I have began to see the activity as quite the intriguing process. Although, I can’t say that has always been the case. In fact, when I think back to my younger days it was extremely taxing, given the fact that I only just got to know my multitude of immediate cousins (who in totality could possibly be crossing into the 50s by number #justbigfamilythings). You’d think family reunions were church services or those political rallies but where names are shared, all the way through the family trees and relations. Which, in all honesty creates the little relatable moments where an auntie would call one name and like a hundred heads turn, then she has to correct herself saying nani wa nani (someone of someone).

As tradition dictated, we were to share the names of those that came before us, dead or alive. Which is kind of an interesting thing to think of in the sense of the value a name has, with each individual pouring personality into it as the names are passed down from generation to generation. To think of the number of times grandparents probably spot little similarities between their children and grandchildren. I can call to memory one such instance, though not as fondly as she probably holds it.

It almost seems like when you are given a name, you are programmed to share some behaviours with those named like you, maybe there should be some research to it. Could it be that we are treated in a certain way because of the history of the name and it unconsciously causes the behaviour? Could it be that we naturally just gravitate towards those behaviours because of the name? Could it just be a coincidence … that happens too often but can’t be sure if it is correlation or causality? I digress.

This only meant that in our little big reunion sessions we would have the same names thrown across the room differentiated only by different voices. For example, I would stand and introduce myself per my middle name (rarely first) and family name and my uncle, after whom I was named, has his entire family introduce themselves by that very name but as their family name. A typical introduction line would be, “I am B of the house of A who comes from the house of Bb of the house of Aa…” — add more variables when taking into account the greater extended family.

Originality in names is … scarce. Also, it is more often than not, usually expressed in the first name. Those of us, ahem, who inherit all names and don’t have any to ourselves (Except one or two— which we probably keep to ourselves) have to struggle a little bit to make our names ours. To own these identity capsules without being relation-based descriptions. Trying to figure out what our own names mean to us but these African names have meaning in themselves. I mean, ideally it is like finding meaning in the meaning. They already have beautiful connotations so it’s a matter of “How do I make this already beautiful thing my own?”. Then on the street we see some walk around with names like “Sunshine” but are shady. “Warrior and protector” but are the imposters (cue Among Us reveal sound). “Growth” but are poisoning and stunting others’, let alone their own… like what is you doing?

If the name doesn’t hold the same meaning to you, what do you really introduce yourself as when doing your own introduction? Because technically you aren’t your name. Listening to the Wazi podcast by Daisy Nduta the episode, “Introspection featuring Morris Mwangi” (available on a streaming platform near you #shamelessplug)there was a point where they talk about introductions and how we introduce ourselves by what we do but not who we are. So it’s like… Who are you really? Beyond your accolades. Beyond your titles. Beyond your hobbies. Beyond your career. Beyond your investments. Beyond your “checkpoints”. Is there substance to the person behind the name?

Although, there are those of us who identify as our achievements. We cannot take that away from them because they probably worked their butts off to get there and you know, they are within their right to introduce themselves as that. You can only work on something so long before people begin to associate you with it and it forms part of what people identify you as. Do we really even need to separate ourselves from the achievements to know who we are? Or do we find meaning and identity in the achievements?

What about those of us who don’t? How do we choose to identify ourselves? Are we our personalities? Our quirks? Our ideologies? Are we the meanings behind our names? Are we our names?

What is it to a name? What is it to stand and say:

“Hello world, my name is…”

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Frankhie Muthumbi

Frankhie Muthumbi

Perfectly Imperfect || Human, Alexithymiac Poet, Writer, Musician