Teacher: "Good morning class! My name is Mr. Blah-Blah-Blah and this class is called 'Womp-womp-womp.' I hope you all had a terrific summer because the fun ends now! So the first thing I need to do is take roll. Okay, let's see here..."Since my maiden name began with an "A," I was usually the first person on the roll. And if I wasn't, it was only because there was some other Nigerian kid in the class whose name began with "Ad."
Teacher (looking at my name at the top of the roll, scrunching up their entire face as if they were constipated, passing a gallstone, or smelling the very potent flatulence a student just released, completely overcome with fear and trembling): "Whoooooa-ho-ho! Oh boy...um...WOW. Uh...MAN! Not really sure -- uh, not really sure what to do with this one right here. Is this? This can't be right. Is this a typo? Is this backwards? I mean, I can't even tell which is the first name and which is the last. You know, I think I need to put on my reading glasses. Nope, that didn't help. This list must be a mistake. Hm...okay...well, let's see how to do this. Geez louise! Why didn't they teach us about this in grad school?!At one point, hearing my teachers butcher my first name on the first day of school became so tiresome and painful that I started coming to school early on the first day so I could find them before class to give them a heads up about the phonetic pronunciation of my name to avoid the embarrassment. Yes, that's right, I would roll up into the teachers' lounge passing out cheat-sheets. Unfortunately most of them still forgot and I just gave up.
But by the time I met my husband, I'd gained a greater appreciation for my name, its meaning, and found it to be a great conversation piece at schmoozing events. So when we got engaged I planned on keeping my maiden name as a second middle name. But that plan was thwarted by the feds, specifically the Social Security Administration (SSA). Shortly after our wedding in Maryland, we returned home to North Carolina and I happily strolled up to a local SSA office to change my name. And it felt like the first day of school all over again:
Humble Civil Servant: "E'scue me miss! Yo name too long!"And thus began my life as Tinu Diver, going from one constantly mispronounced name to another, creating a lot of confusion about my ethnicity in the process. After several people began asking me if I was Indian -- apparently 'Tinu' is a common name there as well-- I started using my full first name to put folks on notice.
Me: "I beg your pardon?"
HCS: "I! SAID! YO! NAME! TOO! LOOOOOOOONG! It won' fit onna card! You needa sho'tin it!"
Or so I thought.
The 'Atinuke' combined with the 'Diver' actually created more identity confusion for most people meeting me for the first time: a lot of Africans/Nigerians give me a suspicious side-eye wondering why my first name is Yoruba but my last name isn't, concluding that my parents are American Black Nationalists who expressed their pan-Africanism by giving their daughter a Yoruba name (which of course means Diver is my slave name). And every now and again someone forces me to expend extra energy I don't have when they keep asking, "I know you were born in America, but what country are you from?"
My only comfort: I'm not alone. Even my husband has stories about people who confuse his last name for French instead of Irish, adding all sorts of accents and mispronunciations as they see fit. So now I simply appreciate the times when someone actually pronounces my name correctly the first time or I politely correct them -- that it's Diver, like river; it's Irish like Riverdance.