The very many shapes and forms of nicknames

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Many of us are not referred to by our given names, most of us answer nicknames, which are often times more endearing. So much so that some nicknames gain a life of their own and become more familiar than the bearer’s given name, this is the case for most of the Sunshines that I have met.

These days people choose the easiest nickname for me, the one that naturally falls out from my given name and call me, Kugsy/Kugsie, which I initially considered too sugary for my taste. In highschool, where my nickname was Akay or AK47 (which I loved, how sexy is that?) and sometimes Voltron or Biafra (because I was always defending other people and/or could go from 0 to 120 in 4 seconds flat >> I loved both of those names >> strong woman things); In high school, I really envied the beautiful and smart nicknames of my male classmates. I liked how they would shorten and funkify either their first names or their last names. So my friend became Deso from Adesokan or Fafmane from Fafemi or Sege from Segun. I also love how they would sometimes add Italian (to go with the whole loving the mob and fancying themselves dons) so that Kale became Carlito and Mahmood became Mamzi(to).

We recently found out that, unbeknownst to us, the boys also had secret boys’ dorm nicknames that had more to do with situations that they had gotten into; funny things they had said or done that they were now not allowed to live down. When these names were revealed they were hilarious and in many cases so apt, as were the backstories that produced them. In the same way, the truest of my nicknames have little to do with my name and more to do with judgements on my character. My dad has always given me the funniest and most truthful nicknames, here are some below:

  • When I was young, innocent and only lived to please him, he used to call me: Omemebelebiauwa meaning she took pity on me and came to the world or Nnepapaya meaning her father’s mother and a common name (as in Nnenna) or term of endearment in Igbo families.
  • During those immature teenage years, where *sigh* I was a cliché mess *hides face* my nicknames were so predictable and self-explanatory: Madame Phone (because I was always on the phone) or Born Idle (as I was usually up to nothing productive over the holidays).
  • Today, and I am so proud of this, he calls me: nnepapaya or my darling daughter or the best first daughter anyone can have or pray for (a mouthful, but you need to know my dad to understand).

Other people who have given me fabulous names based on my character include: my friend Nneka, who calls me Nwanyioma (meaning good woman); my mom sometimes calls me Onyechinemere (meaning the person who God shows up on behalf of and does for/someone full of God’s favor >> because good things always happen to me); and a special somebody called me Firecracker (I’ll let your mind wonder ;)).

Nicknames can be the unique identifier of a relationship, especially when only one set of people call you by a certain name. My really close female friends from ACO, and only them, call me eagle’s egg or Akwa (which means egg). In the same way, only two sets of people call me Akwaya, my cousins and a group of friends who found out what my cousins call me. Akwaya really doesn’t have a meaning, but I have taken it to mean, our egg. My granny and my aunty are the only two people in the entire world allowed to call me Ugoooo; the way they sing it is so beautiful that it totally doesn’t sound like Ugo at all.

Some nicknames, like the one that my siblings call me – A’wo, are borne out of laziness and denote a special relationship (they are the only ones who can actually pronounce this word). As children, they got tired of saying my full name, so they threw out all the consonants and turned it into a sound. LOL. They also at one point called me, “You are not even my mother”. I’ve also heard really cute nicknames that started when a younger sibling couldn’t pronounce all the syllables of an older sibling’s name. I can’t remember any examples right now, but it reminds of how my godchildren call me Aunty Cugo or Aunty Gogo.

Some names don’t need nicknames, they just make you sing or dance. Like my friends Gbolahan Shaba and Diana, who every time I say their names, I am compelled to burst into the popular songs bearing their names >> this legit never gets old. And always makes me happy to see or speak to them.

Which brings me to something else, the way guys greet each other with their nicknames >> how all the syllables are pronounced, drawn-out and exaggerated in glee, such that the point at which people meet one another is a performance. This always makes me smile and makes my heart full. It also reminds me of my dad, who is larger than life and full of joy, and as a result is the best at this performance greeting. I think it might also be a fall out of Igbo culture; when my dad sees someone and greets them, this is how it goes:

D: Our own Chichi

C: o Ndi o

D: Our own Chichi

C: O Ndi o

D: Our own Chichi

C: O Ndi o

OR

D: Galaxy (pronounced GAAAA-LAX-EEEEEEE)

G: Chiyelugo (my dad’s ozo title)

D: Galaxy

G: Chiyelugo

D: Galaxy

G: Chiyelugo

Watching these interactions instantly triggers merriment within me, outwardly producing a smile; unabashedly happy that a simple meeting can produce such joy and excitement just as a result of the manner of the greeting. My cousin does this nickname performance greeting with my brothers as well. I wish more people would do it. I saw a video of a popular Nigerian influencer greeting someone a couple of days ago and the first 30 seconds was straight nickname calling; they were so full of joy, I felt it through all the distance and the technology. In Igbo, this is called to afa and it is how we greet titled people (but not limited to only them). Even the apostle Paul recognized the importance of greeting when he mentions in 4 different letters: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” I know we have overused and abused that double peck on the cheek greeting in Nigeria. But to me it is important what and how we refer to and welcome one another. Life is full of seemingly little every day actions that can be used as opportunities for meaningful connections with others.

My favorite nickname, I probably share with most Igbo girls, and it is simply “Nne”.

My dad calls me Nne’m, my mom calls me NNEe O, my aunties call me Nne, I call my cousins nne and they call me nne.

This simple word is the ultimate form of endearment, it means mother, but to me it means someone that I hold in the highest of affection and someone I can depend on.

When I call my dad when he is out of town to say hello and find out how his flight was and whether and what he ate, he will answer with Nnem, almost like thank you for checking up on me.

When we are discussing his health, he will be like Nnem, I am ok, don’t worry.

My mom’s nne o is more like you are everything to me. And I know what she means because she is my one Nne and she is everything to me.

Of all the names we are called, what our parents call us probably matters the most in shaping us (whether in love or adversity). I have been witness to my Yoruba friends’ mothers singing their Orikis (praise names) with pride and celebration. I think that Orikis and the term Omo mi, like Nnem and Nnam, instill pride and a sense of belonging; remind us of our responsibilities to our families; and provide grounding and a solid foundation within the bearer. Our names are powerful, the terms of endearment that we apply to our beloved have meaning and can elicit impact and how we deliver it matters. It is in the little things.

What is your nickname? Do you have many? Which is your favorite? What is the best nickname you have every heard?