Hello my name is Ayọ̀kunlé

My parents named me Ayọ̀kúnlé Olúwafẹmi Ọlánrewáju. In Yorubaland, in modern day Southwest Nigeria, we say “Ile l’an wo ka to somo loruko”. This means, “We look at what’s going on at home before naming a child.” My first name “Ayọ̀kúnlé” means “Joy fills the house”. “Ayọ̀” means “Joy”. “kúnlé” means “Fills the house”. I love my name. Not only does it mean that my parents felt unbridled joy when I was born, it also means that I bring that all-encompassing joy into every home that I walk into. Every home that I build. I am so grateful for my name. Like Shad said, I’ve got a good name. I will never change my name, but I once did… for many years, and I didn’t even realize I’d done so. This article tells that story.

September 2003, my first day in Canadian high school.

New friend: “What is your name?”
Ayokunle: “Ayọ̀kúnlé”.
Friend: “Huh?”
Ayokunle: “Ayọ̀kúnlé!”
Friend: “How do you spell that?”.
Ayokunle: “A-Y-O-K-U-N-L-E”.
Friend: “Huh?”.
Ayokunle: *thinking* (should I go with Ayọ̀ or kúnlé? Ayọ̀ is shorter. Ok, that is what it is then I suppose).
Ayokunle: “Ayọ̀”
Friend: “A-yo”. pronounced A-yo, like in that 50-cent song.
Ayokunle: Sure… that’s close enough
Disclaimer: I love my friends in Canadian high school on the Alaska highway. They showed me so much warmth and love. Thank you Canada! This is a story of me changing my name, not people forcing me to.

It took me a few years and a large Nigerian community at my undergraduate institution in the Canadian prairies to reclaim my name from A-yo to a more Canadian version “IO”. Somehow saying my name is “Ayọ̀” still causes confusion. Attempts to spell it often devolve into “A-O-I-O”? I’d never thought a 3-letter name with only two syllables could cause so much confusion. So, I stuck to IO. Switched to IO. And gradually I saw myself more as IO — the foreign student, the black guy, the African, the socially awkward immigrant. Ayọ̀kúnlé, the vibrant, passionate, diplomatic, smart, and socially awkward Yoruba boy was still there, just buried deep down.

In time, even my family — my brothers and my dad — started calling me “Ayọ̀” when Canadians were present. Even though I don’t have a monopoly on the prefix within our family. My older brother is “Ayọ̀bámi”.

I lost touch with the part of my joy that fills the house. I just because a lesser version of joy.

Thanks to loving relationships and close friends, who insist on calling me “Ayọ̀kúnlé”, I have gradually started to re-unite the two parts of who I am. It is a work in progress but I can already feel the joy re-filling the house.

Now, like a truly joyful guy, I’m not gonna leave you all sad like that. Let’s go out on Jidenna’s “Long Live The Chief!”

Long Live The Chief!