My name is Nokukhanya Victoria Ncube, twenty-three letters which play a huge role in my perception of my identity. I don’t mind if you call me by my full name; in fact, I love it because I think it sounds powerful. I might even use my full name if I’m having a particularly good day, but I understand that it isn’t ideal to use it all of the time. Having people use different versions of my name has never bothered me at all because I’ve become accustomed to it. I mean if you have one of the most common names given to a girl child born in the 90’s, you have to become adaptable to different ways of identifying yourself. My uncles have attached various shortened and endearing versions of my first name to my person. I don’t mind. If someone finds it hard to internalize my first name, I’ll let them use my second name. I don’t mind. If you feel like deviating from the norm, you can call me by my family name. I don’t mind. If I share a first name with someone, like I did for four years in high school, I’ll happily use my second name and its variants. I don’t mind. I never think twice when I introduce myself as Vicky because that is how I’ve chosen to be remembered for the past few years. I’m more than comfortable with using my second name so why didn’t it feel right when well-meaning individuals advised to drop my first name from my resume?
Sophomore year has been particularly challenging. The rose-colored glasses fell off somewhere along the way when I realized that measuring achievement using grades is real and immersion programs are great for learning more about your industry of interest if you can find the time to apply to them between assignments, extracurricular activities and social engagements. Job fairs rolled out and I sought the assistance of a valued mentor to polish up my resume. A couple of people, after taking a look at my resume, suggested that I go by my middle name and drop my first. At first, I took their advice wholeheartedly – they had already been to the same immersion programs I was hoping to get into so they must know something I don’t, right? Later I couldn’t help feeling uneasy about their suggestion.
I’ve mostly adapted to the different variants of my first name- besides Noku- because I chose to embrace the variants, not because someone else told me that my name was too hard to pronounce. When I received the advice to drop my first name, I felt violated somehow. Those instances made me consider adamantly sticking to my first name like many of my African friends have chosen to, but I realized that would be adopting another part of my identity because circumstances had forced me to, not because I felt the need to. I would slowly come to resent everyone who dared shorten my name or pronounce it with the rules of whatever language they spoke and that was not the trajectory I had in my plans. I didn’t want my name to impede the process of getting to know people and vice versa. My name is beautiful and I love explaining it to people who are interested, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to keep repeating and spelling it to someone who is annoyed by its perceived inconvenience. In my opinion, they wouldn’t be worth the time and effort of trying to get them to know me.
I have noticed that I have taken that approach to everything about me. My accent is what it is because I use the rules of Ndebele to speak English and that’s fine with me. I will take the time to explain that to interested individuals, but if the person is not interested. I will not change my accent to make them feel comfortable. That’s the approach I have adopted with my hair, my culture, my fashion choices and all other aspects of my life. Changing my identity so that it becomes more palatable doesn’t make sense to me unless it adds to my growth somehow. I choose to be happy in my own skin.
Nokukhanya Victoria Ncube is a sophomore at Wellesley College who attended John Tallach High School in Ntabazinduna, Matabeleland North Province, Zimbabwe.