In a recent interview with Ebuka Obi-Uchendu the acclaimed reality TV host, writer Chimamanda Adichie got candid about her childhood on the university campus in Nsukka, relationships that shaped her teenage years, her recreational interests, her favourite Nigerian artistes and her thoughts on the creative scene in Nigeria. The writer went into detail as to how she came to bear the name “Chimamanda”, and it was not what we had thought all along!
Below is an excerpted transcript of the Bounce Radio Live Black Box Interview featuring Adichie.
It happened shortly before my first novel was published. I was born Ngozi Grace.
Growing up, I always felt I wasn’t Grace – Grace was my mother – and Ngozi felt to me common.
Being catholic, one of the joys of Catholicism is that you get to choose a name when you are confirmed. So I thought, what name will I choose? The priest said it has to be a saint. People were choosing ridiculous names like Bernadette. I was like, no. I had read a novel and there was a character called Amanda. So I thought, my name is Amanda.
I was Amanda from secondary school till the first year of university where I was studying medicine. Then I went to the US. It was about a month into my time there; I was an undergraduate and there were about five people in class with the name Amanda. It wasn’t that it wasn’t so unique anymore, it was the way they pronounced it. And I thought, this is so not me. I started thinking of how to change it. For a while, I would merge both [names], I would call myself Amanda Ngozi. It was a learning experience for me. I thought, this is nonsense; wanting an English name.
Just before my novel was published, I remember thinking, and I remember exactly where I was when it came to me. I am not a person who is given to this kind of Pentecostal talk, but it felt like a revelation. I was in my brother’s house in England, in the tiny guest room, lying on the narrow bed. My novel was going to be published and I did not want to be introduced to the world as Amanda. I wanted an Igbo name but I didn’t want Ngozi. I didn’t feel like Ngozi – Ngozi is a lovely name, but it is too common and it didn’t feel like me. I remember just lying there and it came to me. “Chimamamda”. Obviously, I could have just picked any Igbo name, but I wanted a name that had Amanda in it, so that I wouldn’t have to change my passport because I already had the identity. I had a passport, a driver’s license and bank accounts with that name.
So it was really just me thinking, how can I hold unto this name, but then make it Igbo?
The reason I didn’t want to talk about it – because I have actually decided to write about it – is because I wanted to give it time to have its own legitimacy. Had I started talking about it earlier, it would have been so easy to dismiss. In some ways, it feels legitimate now because half of the kids born in Igboland are being named Chimamanda.
Whoever says we can’t change culture?