As a Christian, my favorite verse in the Bible is Mark 9:24. “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”
This is my unbelief:
My name is Sarah Olumayowa Olamide Oguntomilade. I come from a Christian, Nigerian family where names are very important. It is believed that when you call someone’s name, you are declaring or prophesying something about them, because the words we say have power. Because of this, my parents gave me the biblical name of Sarah:, a woman whose womb was blessed by God, a name that means princess. I believe that my love for children and my desire to be a children’s educator was derived from this name, while my parents argue that my love for the finer things in life was brought about by them naming me princess. My two middle names are in Yoruba, the language spoken in my home and amongst millions of people in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. Olumayowa and Olamide. Olumayowa meaning “God Brings Joy” and Olamide meaning “My Wealth Has Arrived.” You see, these aren’t just names found in a BuzzFeed article or in a book of a hundred cute names for girls. My parents truly believed that by naming me this, they were telling God the desires of their hearts. Every time they call my name, it’s a prayer. A prayer for joy and wealth to enter their household. I wonder how good God’s Yoruba is?.
My last name comes from a bit of a different place. It was not one chosen but rather given, a name that has conquered the test of time. You see, before the missionaries arrived at Cape of Good Hope, before the Portuguese arrived in Western Africa, before Great Britain drew the lines of Nigeria at the Berlin conference, the Yoruba people believed in a series of gods. The god of war, Ogun, is one of them, hence my last name: Oguntomilade. A last name that has almost been changed a good number of times because “we no longer subscribe to those beliefs” and “we don’t want people to think we are violent people who enjoy war or revenge.”
Nonetheless, my name is Sarah Olumayowa Olamide Oguntomilade.
The first prayer that I learned was a classic. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” My little preschool mind struggled to understand how I had a father in heaven when my dad was the one to drop me off at Sunday school that day. Regardless, every day after that, one could hear me pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
In 2015, I moved to the beautiful city of Maputo, Mozambique. Now on the southern shore of Africa, a former Portuguese colony, I marveled at the number of women I met while working with the United States Agency for International Development, who mainly spoke their native tongue of Xangana. Yet what they could say in Portuguese was the Lord’s Prayer. Pai Nosso que estais no céu, Santificado seja o Vosso Nome. I wondered how good God’s Xangana was?.
Two years ago, my mom sent me an article via WhatsApp (the home of facts true and untrue) titled “Yoruba is now an official language in Brazil and can be taught in schools!.” The article described how there are enough descendants of West African slaves in Brazil who retained their maternal tongue of Yoruba that it can now be considered one of their official languages. “How cool is that?” my mother says. While I understood her amusement towards the idea that she could communicate with a significant number of people in Brazil in her mother tongue, I struggled to find the “coolness” in this fact. I began to wonder what it sounded like when my people were on the ships on their way to Brazil and Southern America. Did they sing:
Oluwa Eyin L’atobiju
Oluwa a a Eyin L’atobiju
(God you are the most high. God you are the most high. You see near and far, God you are the most high.)
I wonder if God heard their cry. I wonder if God would have understood it better in Portuguese. As I wondered, I began to wander in my studies and I found myself in a class last semester entitled “History of the Spanish and Portuguese Speaking World.” I began to contemplate how good God’s Nahuatl, Quechua or Taino was. I began to contemplate how good God’s Yoruba, Twi, Igbo or Creole was. Perhaps the god of war would’ve been more beneficial to them. Perhaps the god of war would’ve avenged them. Perhaps the god of war would’ve understood their cries.
My name is Sarah Olumayowa Olamide Oguntomilade.
MiC Columnist Sarah Oguntomilade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.