Do Me a Favor—Get My Name Right

My name is Iyabo Ojikutu, formerly Iyabo Okuwobi. I'm originally from Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa. I'm now a proud Nigerian American.

My name is my identifier. It is unique. It has meaning. I love the meaning. It makes me proud. Truly proud.

Iyabode (my full first name) means the "mother has come back." Ojikutu means "wake up early in the morning." These names are me.

My passion is the well-being of our children. I'm a pediatrician, and from now till I depart from this earth, I will be an advocate for children in any way I can. So I do fully embrace the meaning of my first name.

I'm also an early bird. I've always been. From my primary and secondary school days, I would wake up early to study and get all my projects and assignments done and ready for school. I went to bed early during my school days and woke up early. I was very productive in the early morning hours all through my school and college days. I still do the same now as an adult. I'm at my best, sharpest, and most creative early in the morning when I wake up. It is my sacred time for myself and time spent with God. I also write best in the morning—most of my books and my blogs have been created in my early mornings.

So I also fully embrace the meaning of my last name—my father's family name.

These two names, Iyabode and Ojikutu, are my pride, my crowning glory, and my unique identifiers.

Please do not mess them up any longer.
Do not ask me if I have an easier name.
Do not ask if I have an English name.
Do not ask if I have a nickname.
Do not add in letters to make it easier for you to pronounce.
Do not take out letters to make it easier to pronounce.
Do not immediately change the subject because you would rather not pronounce it.
I cannot trust you or take you seriously if you do any of the above. Any of the above immediately creates a dent in the meeting/encounter.
I can pronounce any names.
I have to.
I will.
I must.
Because the name you tell me you are is your crowning glory and your identifier.
I cannot mess it up.
I must honor you.
I must respect your name.


Schwartz, Fitzgerald, Montgomery…just tell me. I will pronounce it.

If I'm having difficulty, I will politely ask you to please help me out. Because I just must get it right. It's super important.

Because it's important that I honor you as a fellow citizen of the world.

Our first encounters with people start with a smile, a hello, a hug, a handshake. Then comes the name introduction. I am Iyabo Ojikutu. I am John Fitzgerald. I am Francoise Janssen. I am Mohammed Al Jabir…
Then the titles. I am Mrs. Mary Williamson. Dr Aisha Suleiman. Professor Lian Niang.
Our titles are also our unique identifiers. We are proud of them.

These first encounters are extremely important in building trust, honor, respect, and connection with others. It is a crucially essential step in racial and religious reconciliation. In fact, it is a step in reconciling all forms of human division.

I introduce myself. I am Iyabo Ojikutu. You make a face—a confused face, a scared face, a demeaning face. You ask me, "Where is that name from?” You say, "Oh, Diablo." Or, “Oh, Pirayo.” Or, "Do you have another name? Can you give me an easier name?”
Or, "Sorry. I cannot pronounce that name."

Or worse still, you immediately change the topic and give up. And maybe even walk away and talk to someone else. The name is too complex for you. Not worth your effort or time to get it right. You would rather have a conversation with someone whose name is familiar to you.

That first impression was mishandled. The connection was never made. A missed opportunity with respect of others—a key step to world peace and human reconciliation. What a shame. That missed connection may have been the precursor to a great partnership. A great collaboration…missed because of an unfamiliar name that could not be easily made familiar. A name that could not be welcomed.

Since I left Nigeria to go to England, and then the US, my name has been messed up so many times, I am now numb to it. In fact, I expect it. It used to shock me. Now it makes me laugh. I find humor in it, because it truly is funny. Funny, shocking, and sad at the same time that people give up so easily when it comes to pronouncing other people's names. All it takes is sounding out of letters and joining them together. I believe we all learned this in first or second grade English and grammar classes. If you have completed a few years of primary or elementary school, you should be able to pronounce any names—at least after a few tries. Yet I have met college graduates and holders of advanced degrees who completely give up at acknowledging my name.

Quite astonishing that we will not take a minute to sound out a fellow human’s name and honor, acknowledge, and fully connect with that person.

No wonder there is so much hatred, violence, racial, economic, social, and religious head-butting in the world. No wonder we judge each other so easily. How could we not? When we cannot take one short minute, when meeting new people, to fully engage them by honoring their names.

It happens in person. It happens on the phone, and in cyberspace. People demeaning people by butchering their names and not trying harder to get them right.

At my daughters' school functions, as soon as the speaker or presenter pauses, makes a face, or moans and groans, I know it's my daughters' name he or she is trying to pronounce. The audience laughs and giggles.
It's actually not funny, the moaning and groaning. I never find this funny. It is demeaning…to me, to my daughters, and it should be to the speaker.

Fellow humans, let’s stop this. Everyone wants to feel honored and respected. It starts with that very first encounter—in person, on the phone, on chat online, and elsewhere. It starts with a name introduction. Please take that very important minute to get that person's name right. Ask them politely to help you out if you're having difficulty.

That person may be the person who may save your life one day, or your children's lives. Be respectful.

Example: "I'd love to get your name right. Could you please help me spell and pronounce. I'll say it, then please let me know if I got it right."

Wow! If everyone did this, imagine the giant steps we would take to love, respect, and honor others.

If you know me, please respect my name, and my daughters' names. It is my given name. Their given names. I identify with my name wholly and strongly. Please get it right. And if you don’t know me, I'll help you. Just ask!

Thank you.