Thursday, June 12, 2014

Uzo Aduba Talks About Growing Up in America With Her Nigerian Name

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Nigerian-American actress Uzo Aduba plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in popular Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black", and in an interview published on The Daily Beast, Uzo Aduba talks about her childhood, growing up as a child of Nigerian immigrants in America.

She identifies with her character, Suzanne’s struggles to fit in as a child who feels different from others, and talks specifically about her Nigerian name. This is one side of the American dream for African immigrants that is not often discussed. How you name might be misspelt, mispronounced, or just plain lock you out of opportunities.

Uzo Aduba shared her story thus;

My full name is “Uzoamaka.” My family is from Nigeria—I’m Igbo—and it means, “the road is good.” They named me that when they came over to America because it was a journey that led them through a civil war, but it was worth it because my parents met and then they had me, so the road was good.

When I was a little kid, I grew up in a very small town in Massachusetts’s called Medfield, and I definitely identify with Suzanne’s experience because I felt like I was an “only” at times, and you want to blend in. We were the only Nigerians there. My name was the first in roll call and the teachers didn’t know how to say my name.

I’d come home and say, “Mommy, can you call me ‘Zoe?’” and she asked, “Why?” And I said, “Because nobody can say my name.” And she said, “People learned to say Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, and Dostoevsky. They can learn to say ‘Uzoamaka.’”

And that was it.

The meaning of her name and the story behind it is just so beautiful, but as a child, it wouldn't have mattered so much to her. All most children want is to fit in with their peers and not appear strange or become ostracized for something out of their control.

I have seen Nigerians who live abroad, they have got passports and everything, and then they say they won't give their children English names. I don't really see the sense in that, especially now I've lived here for a while. Give them a second name in your language, or teach them to speak their mother tongue, those I believe is even more important.

On the other extreme, I've seen grown adults who changed their name after they arrived here, and not to their second English name, but to something like Shawn, Ryan, etc. Really? I don't think that is necessary, but what do I know?

Who has found themselves thinking of changing their names because people couldn’t pronounce it? And if you will give your children only Nigerian names, why?


  1. So I moved here abt 3 years ago and had a son,I had a not soo good pregnancy and I gave my son a name dia to me in Igbo,though most pple pronuce the short version. Don't intend to name any of my kids English first names. How many foreigners name their kids our local names?

  2. You don't see the sense in that? So if a Nigerian family immigrates to Germany or say Honduras, their child's first name should be in the language of that country or it has to be specifically English? If your reason is assimilation, what then happens if they live in France?

  3. My child has an English first name, I have an English first name as well. I am as Nigerian as it gets.


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