What’s in a Name?

My name doesn’t have much meaning. In fact, I was almost a Stacy. My older sister Kristen and I have always said we should have switched names, for she is far more “Jill” than I ever was. I had lavish dreams of having a unique name-Azure, Jade, something that made people say, “one more time?” I decided if I couldn’t change my own name, I’d just have to live vicariously through my babies. At 8 I filled my diary with “V” names for my 5 girls: Violet, Vanessa, Victoria, Valerie and Vivian. When I was 10 years old, one episode of VH1’s Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous left me dead-set on naming my children Bentley and Bacardi, regardless of gender. Praise the Lord that phase was relatively short.

My next phase was unusual spelling followed by unnecessary letters. This continued until I met my husband, Oshiomogho. My husband is Nigerian and I was told when we first started dating that the grandparents name the grandbabies in his family’s culture. I’ll admit that at first I was a bit shattered. All my years of name planning and dreaming would dissolve before even fully forming-I was left feeling as if something dear had been stolen from me.  The first time I met his family, however, whatever fear hiding in me disappeared. I had arrived at the Mecca of unique names, and though the adults go by a shorter version, I was in name heaven meeting our nieces and nephews. Emike, Ozegho, Azumi, Onoshorere, Izenebu…the names dance on your tongue and make you wonder what they mean, where they come from, how they were chosen.

I spent my whole pregnancy worrying what our child’s name would be. Not finding out the gender created an extra set of concerns and nothing seemed fitting for our mystery child. I flipped through a hand written book from our family’s village and matched up meanings with names, often wishing I could mix and match the two. In late November, my father-in-law called and said he had picked out a name for my husband’s first born when he was just a teenager. He said he was just offering it up as a suggestion but ultimately we could choose whatever name we wanted from the book. The name was Oshiolema. Oh-show-lay-ma. Four syllables. Nine letters. A world of a blessing behind it. The name means “God has made him perfect.” The moment I heard it I knew that if we had a boy, it was the one.

I realize now how much time and energy I wasted trying to decide on the perfect short-version in advance. The sequence of letters is tricky and didn’t offer any predictable nicknames. I needed something cute and quick and fitting; I settled on Ollie. Now, six months later, I have called him Ollie less than 5 times. The thing about nicknames is that they have to be earned. He is my honey, my angel, my handsome boy, my stinker, my silly, my Lems.

I thought I’d jump on the opportunity to call him anything but his full name, to be honest. When I met my husband, no one but the occasional NFL announcer ever called him by his full name. His family calls him Shum, his friends call him Oj or Juice and I only knew him as Oj. At some point in the first year of our marriage, he made a hard-and-fast switch to owning his full name. Now, everyone he has met within the past 3 years only knows him as Oshiomogho (and legitimately has no idea who I’m talking about when I say Oj. Slacker wife award). His name, given to him by his grandmother, means God owns the day, only God knows my destiny. After sustaining back to back injuries and be if forced to retire from the NFL after just 8 years of playing when his life goal and dream was to play for 15, his world opened up to opportunities he never would have known existed if life had carried on the way he envisioned. My husband realized his name was a reminder of the truth over his life. I want our son to take pride in his name in that same way. To see that it may not look or sound like anyone elses, he may not be able to find his name on a license plate keychain at Disney World and people may never feel comfortable saying it. But it is special. It is beautiful. And it is his.

My in laws call him Oshiolema, my whole family calls him Ollie, some of my husbands friends call him Oshi and some settled on O. I love all of them. It’s such a cool feeling to see who he is to all those who love him. I have come to take more pride in his name than I ever thought I would. To be honest, if I look at him, Oshiolema doesn’t exactly feel like “oh yeah! That’s exactly what he looks like, an Oshiolema.” It’s a lot of name. But it is his name. His blessing. I’ve noticed that when most people ask his name, upon hearing it they respond with a “wow” or “that’s interesting” or even “you don’t say;” but most commonly, they ask “what’s his nickname?” This presents an issue for me. Why should it assumed that we don’t call him his name? With the same amount of letters as Elizabeth and Stephanie, the length can’t be the issue. Sure, it can be intimidating to sound out but shouldn’t be too challenging to repeat. It’s certainly worth a try.

The next time you hear or see an interesting (i.e. intimidating) name, I urge you not to ask for a shortcut. Instead, do your best to master it and inquire about it and repeat it until you know it. I can’t tell you how much it will make someone’s day.

(Please don’t feel like we’ll be offended if you don’t call him by his full name! We rarely do. But he will always be introduced by his name and as you come to know him more intimately you’ll find a fitting nick-name on your own. Gummy Bear is one our personal favorites 😉 )


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Comments (5)

  • Josie Ann 6 years ago Reply

    I need to have my sister read this post. It's very encouraging, and makes you cherish your name. My mom wanted to name her Ashley, but she ended up being an OangeRenee. Usually, when she tells people her name, the first question she's asked, "What do people call you for short?" Even though we call her Nay, I think people shouldn't flinch at unique names. Thanks, for writing this post!

  • Jill Kathryn 6 years ago Reply

    Thanks so much for this, Josie! Please let her know that she should take pride in having a name all her own! Blessings to you both!

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  • Aja 2 years ago Reply

    Just reading this older post and I love it so much! My name has been questioned and mispronounced my entire life but I love the uniqueness. We named our children after family last names (my oldest has my maiden name) and I think it fits them each so well. I love your children’s names! It’s a beautiful heritage.

    Jill 2 years ago Reply

    Thank you so much–I love how “unusual” names aren’t so unusual anymore and the importance of calling that fact to attention!

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