The world is fucked — for very obvious reasons, for reasons so clear that if you can’t see it, you’re not looking. It seems as if the Western World is doing everything in its power to shit itself, out of a fear that White Supremacy may not stand the test of time. I’ve become so numb to the crazed normalcy of day to day life. Headlines terrify me. And as much as I’ve always imagined that I would be a warrior in the face of injustice and evil, I stand as helpless and baffled as anyone could be. Trying to believe in goodness, trying to believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” is hard because it all sound like bullshit. Tell that to Orlando. Tell that to Flint, Michigan. Tell that to every Black person, who lives with the fear that every day could be their last — just by leaving the house. And I’m just talking about America. It’s hard to justify any hope.
I no longer believe in some ideal future, where love and peace win out; there is frankly no evidence to support that reality. And this isn’t me being morbid, the revelation freed me. Fighting for what’s right, not because of a light at the end of a tunnel, but simply because of a belief in light makes it all seem holy. It’s like faith, it’s like worship — it’s like finding God in the middle of a protest while holding your picket sign as tightly as a rosary. It gives our meaningless lives meaning, if only to ourselves.
My full name is Gregory Emeka Ochiagha Jr. I was named after my father, and my father was named after his uncle, Roman Catholic Bishop Gregory O. Ochiagha of Orlu. In my early adolescence, I wasn’t sure if I liked my name. I was looking for my own individual identity, and it was hard to do that, when you’re named after a strong presence in your life. In high school, I liked it because someone I loved liked the sound of it — Greg-o-ry, he would say, and Greggy, for short. And just like that, it seemed as if I was renamed. It finally felt like mine. And for a while, I wore it with pride.
But it wasn’t mine. And not for the reasons you think, it had nothing to do with my father. The more I learned about the world, and history and the history of violence, the more I became uneasy with the fact that three generations of African men, all born in Africa, could have have the same European male name. Greg-o-ry.
I remember reading Things Fall Apart for the first time and being in complete awe of it. It was the first book I read about Nigeria, from a Nigerian author. The 19th century culture described was both magnificent and disturbing. Women were treated like second class citizens, with the violence inflicted on them constantly trivialized. Hyper masculinity was praised and religion was used to justify murder and emotional trauma. I don’t know why it surprised me so much, because it’s all the same issues we are dealing with now, here in West and all over the world — even though the West has a baseless belief in cultural superiority.
I was disappointed because I was looking for purity, somewhere. I was hoping to find it in pre-colonial Africa. But this mythic theory that evil can only be found in the places that the White Man touched is untrue - Human madness is human madness. And I did think of Okonkwo, who was meant to be the total embodiment of that Nigerian culture. When the Europeans began to take over, and he realized he couldn’t defeat them, he killed himself. He would rather die than succumb to White power.
He preferred his madness Black, because at least it was his.
So here I am, feeling as if I don’t belong to myself. I am in a country that with every bullet fired, made it absolutely clear that I don’t belong. I am a grand nephew of a Catholic Bishop, expected to worship a white god that did not stem from African roots. And my name feels like a phantom chain on my neck, an audible reminder of British cruelty on African bodies, a tattoo on my forehead — marking I am owned by someone else.
I’ve decided to denounce the name Gregory, and from this day on, to only be known as Emeka. I choice to rebaptize myself. I choose to revision who I can be, with a name that corresponds to that new image. I choose to reject the stronghold of European colonization. Every time I say my name, and every time anyone else does, it will be a form of resistance.
In the Igbo language, Emeka means God has done so much. And I see God, not as a personified being, but rather as all the unconditional love in the world. So for me, Emeka means Love has done so much, and I can’t think of any truer words spoken.
And while all things do fall apart, it is in that name — Emeka — where God, and Africa and myself meet; in a matrimony quiet enough to be ignored but strong enough to transcend time and space, and give a life a new meaning.
— Emeka Ochiagha
For Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who will never know how much Americanah changed by life.
Cover photo by Shirley Chervil