My name is Soila Kenya and I have a confession. All the jokes you’ve just thought up in your head right now? I’ve heard them before. Every. Single. One. I promise.
I had a classmate in primary school, Class Seven I think, who used to call me a different country name each day. And he sat in front of me for the whole year so there was no escaping. The one I remember the most is Burkina Faso because he shortened it to Faso and was so proud of his genius. Anthony, if you’re reading this, the schtick was never funny at the time but it’s funny now. So thanks for the laugh.
Having an unusual name is an experience. Anyone can tell you that. But having the name of the country you were born in or are living in has an added dimension of hilarity.
I always take a deep breath anytime I have to introduce myself because as an introvert, I don’t really want the attention it’s going to bring. I used to rush through my name during introductions in group meetings or in class. I’m trying to stop that habit but it was developed for a reason.
“Kenya? Like the country?” Is the most popular phrase that follows. Whether it’s the M-PESA lady or event organizer or class teacher. Because what do you mean you’re called Kenya?
Someone in Germany thought I was the Kenyan president’s daughter (it was during the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency. I promise you, I’m not 😅). Then they’re those Kenyans who think I’m a foreigner, which I’m not. I’m half Nigerian but the surname Kenya didn’t come with or from my Nigerian mum. Which is a whole extra dimension. Because how am I a Nigerian called Kenya?! The fact that I’m not fully Kenyan bamboozles some people, but if you think about it, this whole situation was created by my dad, who is the one who came with the name. So my Nigerian side is innocent in all of this.
Another misconception is that some people think I’m the only one in my family name, but nope. We all share that surname. My parents didn’t just see my face for the first time and feel a surge of patriotism.
So then what is it about?
It’s a typo, apparently. My dad had the name Kenye and was getting his ID decades ago, and in the process, the data entry clerk changed the trajectory of generations of Kenyes to come.
I don’t know how true that is but that’s all I know about it. It makes for a good story, so I’m sticking with it. Because when you have an uncommon name, people always want ‘the story’.
‘The story’ is a great icebreaker for me and as I said, I’m an introvert. And an awkward one at that. So it’s something to use to begin a conversation in a natural way for me.
And having the name Kenya has made me have something great to live up to. I definitely have to write a book, because can you just imagine my name across a book? Or an award, or on a certificate. It may be superficial but it has made me carry myself in a certain way that could live up to such a grand name.
When the question on changing my surname if I get married comes up, it’s so clear in my head that I won’t because I can’t imagine being called anything else, and almost everything else will be a downgrade, let’s agree.
Though, don’t get me wrong, it has its downsides. The amount of times my name has been called out on a class list to answer a question I have no idea about is uncountable. I started expecting it and that made it slightly more tolerable.
And of course, the jokes, as I mentioned. All the “Oh so you’re Miss Kenya?” and “So your husband is going to be named Tanzania?” and such puns were tiring even by the time I became a teenager. As it turns out, there aren’t so many puns people can think up on the spot except the same three or fours variations.
Despite all the weird looks and questions I got and will continue to get as the years go by, I really love my name. Having a good name is a super power that some of us have and I think we should really take care naming our children. I’m not that superstitious but that’s one of the things I believe can contribute to someone’s destiny. Name your children good things so that they can begin life on a hopeful note and have something to aspire to, cause I certainly do.
You can call me Kenya.