Nkemjika, Mummy had always called him; a dignifying pride in her voice devoid of anything less. She would sometimes call it like she says a word, taking it syllable by syllable like she wanted every sound to craft its own meaning. It was a thing of pride, the way she called it; What I have more. She would always call the name in full so people wouldn’t mistake it for lesser befitting names like Nkemdilim or Nkemakonam.
He would always remember the first time he heard her describe the name and its meaning; it was to Mama Chuboy. It was not much the meaning than the pride in her voice as she called it out so painstakingly three times like she wanted Mama Chuboy to feel jealous that she was not able to come up with better names like Nkemjika to name her children. He would remember the hazel brown of Mummy’s eyes lightening up, her lips assuming a coy outline, explaining the importance of good names, and his shoulders would rise even higher.
Don’t ever let people call you Nkem, she had always said to him. ‘It marginalizes the true worth and meaning of your name.’ she was the kind to artlessly use words like ‘marginalize’ and ‘neutralize’ like its meaning was meant to hold grave significance to a five year old. Mummy only called him Nkem when she was angry with him. She would call the name with so much carelessness that he could taste the disdain in her voice. Then, when she was calm, she would say in Igbo, with an Awka accent that Nkemjika had always hoped he could emulate, ‘You know I don’t like to call you Nkem.’ Like he needed to understand the grievous effort it took her to call him that.
The second time Nkemjika heard his mother talk about his name; it had lost all its vigor and pride. The tone of her voice gave it a whole other meaning. A meaning likening to justification, validation even. This time she was not taking pride in having named him Nkemjika; she was defending her reasons. “It is a unisex name,” she said with insignificant desire to stand a ground, like she was indeed saying it out loud because she wanted to hear the words out her mouth and perhaps, believe it. And Nkem will imagine Mummy’s face, her perfectly oval face austere in uncertainty, and his heart would break into severed pieces.
“But maybe if you had named him a more masculine name. Something like Nnamdi or Nnaemeka.” Aunty Ada offered, with a patronizing linger in her voice that completely betrayed her expression. Mummy said very little, and it was clear to him that the name Nkemjika had taken up a completely different meaning to her, Feminine. He shut the windows slowly, knowing she would never call his name aloud again with the cadence of a proud mother. She would think herself wrong having named her son such a feminine name.
One day, when she came home from one of her deliveries, she said, ‘Do you know the ratio of girls to boys that bear the name Nkem?’ And Nkemjika immediately wanted to become camouflage, to renounce himself and take up another skin, another name; a name more stronger; a name like Nnamdi or Nnaemeka; a name that could make him look and perhaps act more masculine.
Nna, Mummy called him one morning after devotion and he knew the new name had come to stay. Nkemjika, What I have more, had gone spiraling down just like the beam of pride she had once considered him. She would call him Nna, like Nna had come to mean Man, or perhaps an abridged version of the should-have-been names Nnamdi or Nnaemeka.