My name is Boluwatife


My name is Boluwatife. Tife for short, or Bolu if you want. The correct pronunciation is Ti - feh. People I know from school pronounce it Ti-fee because of a misunderstanding I could never be bothered to resolve, but the correct pronunciation is in fact Ti - feh. I remember being stuck in a minor dilemma, trying to get Cortana, the personal assistant on my phone, to pronounce it right. I typed in 'Tife', Cortana said "Hi Tyf. Am I pronouncing it right? If I am not please type in the phonetic spelling". So I typed in 'Ti feh', Cortana said "Hi Ti-fay. Am I pronouncing it right? If I am not please type in the phonetic spelling". So I put my phone down, and I wondered what other 'phonetic spelling' my name could have that would enable the computer programmed Cortana to pronounce it with ease. I tried many; Tea feh, Tea fe, Ti fer, Tea fer, Tea fair but nothing. So I tried to stop for a moment, and to take my mind back to those grade 3 days, when the English born Nigerian phonetics tutor would come to class and teach little children how to speak Queens English, when we could barely even speak our own native languages. I tried to put myself into this teacher's shoes, and wondered how she would phonetically spell my name. What words would she compound together to form the pronunciation. Then it came to me. So I typed Tif air. And lo and behold, Cortana said my name somewhat correctly, but still lacking that Nigerian authenticity.


I love my name with all my heart, because of how much sentiment it carries in its meaning, and how much it means to my parents. However, there has been quite a burdensome struggle when it comes to explaining to English people its pronunciation.

I really do not blame English people at all for not being able to pronounce my name correctly, it is difficult, especially if you are not a Yoruba speaker. Even in primary school in Nigeria, my Cameroonian grade 5 teacher struggled with the pronunciation of my name. She could not call me Boluwatife, so she settled with Bolu. But when she said it, you could hear the Cameroonian ting in her voice, like she was pressing separate notes on a piano.

There is a certain story as to why people I know from school, or through school pronounce it Ti-fee. It was the fateful day of my first day of school in London. I was set to start year 5, and excited. Mainly because I had never seen so many white people in one place, at one time in my entire life. There was one Filipino girl in my primary school in Nigeria, who everyone adored because of her silky hair, and everyone considered her white, but that was it. So I was excited. To see and make friends with white people.

As I stepped through the, then fascinating, automatic doors of the primary school entrance, holding my mum's hand, it didn't yet properly occur to me that I would have to tell these English people my name. When it did occur to me, I went into a state of internal panic and frenzy. Do I say the full version? Do I just say Tife normally? Or should I say Bolu? Or should I make up a short version like they do in American movies and just say ' just call me T'? Shoot, what accent should I use, Nigerian or British? Ok British. But I haven't even practiced my British accent recently? Ok, let me try and remember how that blonde woman in the James bond film I watched last week spoke.

These questions and their answers flooded through my head so quickly, that I did not realise when my hand was no longer encapsulated within my mother's, and I was in front of a class full of white children, standing next to a long haired male teacher (this was extremely strange to me), shaking and unable to speak. I immediately gathered myself together and decided I was going to tell them my name was Tife, pronounced the right way. And then the long haired male teacher unknowingly and unaware of his actions, sabotaged my identity.

He said "Good morning 5C! This is your new classmate Ti-feeee! Make her feel welcome". He said 'Ti-feeee' slowly and carefully, whilst looking me in the eyes as if trying not to offend me. But how could I be offended, when I had no idea who this Ti-feee was? I was both confused and relieved. I was relieved that the long haired male teacher saved me from my internal dilemma by saying my name for me. But I was confused as to whether I should be relieved that I didn't have to say my name in front of all these white people, or whether I should correct his mistake because my name was not Ti-feee. Being the introvert that I was, and still am, you can probably tell that I didn't correct him. I just smiled, looked at my shoes, then proceeded to calculate the thoughts of the numerous blue, green and hazel eyes staring at me.

That is how my name became Ti-feee. But only with non Africans.

Now I look back, I feel like I should have corrected that long haired male teacher, because the pronunciation of Ti-feee, has brought with it many misunderstandings. I would probably need 20 extra pairs of hands or more, to be able to count on fingers how many people have called me 'Tiffany' in my time in this country. People have even asked me whether Tife is short for Tiffany, to which I answer "No, its short for something else" hoping they will not ask what, and spare me the hassle of having to break down the pronunciation of Bo-lu-wa-ti-fe for them. When I switched primary schools, one girl even went as far as introducing me to her group of friends and saying "Guys, this is my friend Tife, I think its short for Tiffany", to which I answered "No, Its short for something else". Even my own father even makes fun of me, he never misses the opportunity to say "Look at you! You are letting these people call you Ti-fee! When you go back to Nigeria everyone will start running away from you, when your name sounds like 'Tief' why won't they think you're a thief!".

As I mentioned before I love my name to pieces, but of course all the ignorant people in the world cannot disappear in one day. This is why whenever people saw my name of the class register, they would mutter under their breaths "What kind of name is that?" or "Haha I can't believe you don't get bullied" when I was in year 5 this boy even said "Were your parents playing scrabble when they named you?", which took me some time to understand because Boluwatife is not an English word.

I don't normally recommend google translate for understanding different languages, especially not African languages,
 but it tried this time.
I also love my name because of its beautiful meaning. It translates to 'how the Lord wants it', which is beautiful to me, because when I hear my name it makes me feel like I am complete. I am exactly how I am supposed to be.

I have decided to pronounce my name correctly to people now, regardless of their race, or whether I think it will be difficult for them to pronounce. I disagree with Juliet Capulet, "What is in a name?", well a lot actually. I have decided that my name and how it is pronounced really does matter.

What also helps is that I have actually found the correct diacritical mark to save me the trouble of explaining to people how my name is really pronounced. I will be using this everywhere, too bad its only available in two fonts.

                                                                                 Tifẹ

2 comments:

  1. I love your name so much. I adore names that have some sort of depth and meaning behind them. It's so irritating when people don't pronounce your name right. My last name is African and I was called up once in an assembly hall and the teacher completely murdered my name, gurgling some alien gibberish into the distance.I now just provide people with alternate variations of my last name so they can decide which one is easiest to say.It's a struggle but your name is unique and that's so cool. I must admit I loved reading this.

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    1. Thank you so much! I really think every name has a meaning, even English ones, you just have to find out what it is and make it meaningful to you. And I'm glad I'm not alone on the terrible name pronunciation experiences!

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