Your name should not be something to be embarrassed of, but instead, something you carry on your chest with pride. I wish this was something I was told 5 years ago.
In April 2016, I decided to re-apply to a film school in Cape Town, South Africa. This was after having a previously unsuccessful registration earlier in the year due to a lack of funds. I was a 20 year old at the time and for some reason, I felt like I needed some sort of change. So, during my application, I decided I was going to start using the name Thanky, instead of Laudika. The name everyone back home in Namibia knew me by. It was an ‘in the moment’ decision and did not seem like anything too deep at the time.
However, there was clearly more to this decision than I’d ever admitted to myself. Five years later and everyone who had met me since 2016 now only refers to me as Thanky. When they did discover that my second name was Laudika, they would call me that instead, and for some reason I’ll always cringe. I’ve never actually tried to look deeper into why I felt this way, I just knew it slightly annoyed me. But this is the name everyone who’s known me my entire life called me by, so why was I embarrassed by it? Why did I choose to hide it from the rest of the whole world?
The reality of being a black or POC child with a traditional name, that caused internal embarrassment is nothing new. I would even go as far as to say that it is a product of colonialism. Several studies have actually indicated that easier to pronounce names are judged way more positively than names that are harder to pronounce, especially when looking for a job. “Laudika” is not a difficult name to pronounce, but in my insecure mind at the time, it was and it did not sound cool either.
Famous people such as Uzo Aduba from Orange is the New Black, who is born “Uzoamaka Aduba” and British Actor Ben Kingsley, who is born “Krishna Bandit Banji”, have all admitted to changing and shortening their names due to mispronunciation and common stereotypes. Imagine having to change a name like “Krishna”, while there are names in Hollywood like “Saoirse” that exist so effortlessly.
Zimbabwean Actor, Kudakwashe Nyasha Matsangaise puts it best,
“People typically just don’t go out of their way to accommodate others and their customs, so they’ll double down on their own cultural preferences whenever another is around.”
Namafu Amutse adds that there is this idea of giving your child a colonial first name that is seen as more beneficial, because
Namibian Copywriter Nalitye Shaninga says that,
“…it’s a thing of wanting to get your foot through the door by folding yourself to fit in.”
It was only up until recently that I realised just how much I never really appreciated my African name. In 2016, I was a 20 year old from the North of Namibia, who was about to leave his country on an airplane for the first time. I was heading out to one of the biggest cities on the continent and it felt like I needed to rebrand myself. Thanky felt right, because it was “easier and catchier” than Laudika. This then brought me to the realisation that I wanted to make it easier for foreigners in another country to pronounce my name.
In the same year that I was making the decision of being referred to as Thanky, an 18-year-old high school senior was making a completely different decision. Before she was known as “Namafu”, the 23-year-old photographer, filmmaker and writer was known by everyone in her life as “Saara”. Namafu recalls a time in primary school when teachers would read out the learners’ full names and ethnicities, “I used to dread those days, because when my names were read out, the other children would laugh and make fun of them.”
In 2016 however, Namafu decided she was done conforming to the negative imprints that society had associated with ethnic, traditional and/cultural names. “I think a name can say a lot about how someone has evolved and Namafu was that for me.” She began to refer to herself as Namafu in every single aspect of her life and if ever someone came along asking whether she had another name or a nickname, her answer was a simple ‘’no’’.
For months I have been thinking of changing my preferred name back to Laudika and the conversation I had with Namafu was a catalyst. I however feared that I was too far into my career for it to make sense. This was until I understood that changing my name back to Laudika was not about showing off my African name, but about accepting that part of my life that I have been hiding from myself and the world. As my dear friend Namafu puts it:
“The world makes us feel as though we need to reduce our black identities for their convenience, but I was done conforming to such ideals. So, say my name and say it right”!
My name is Laudika “yaNdangi” Hamutenya and I am a young African writer and filmmaker from Ohangwena, Namibia. Say my name and say it right.
I would love to give a special thanks to Namafu Amutse for guest editing this blog with me. You can catch her socials here.