By Victor Ajihromanus
Her fan base is global. Her words are etched in memories. We first knew her as a writer, then an award-winning writer. Then the list of awards became hard to keep up with because they got so many, she evolved into a constant record-breaker.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not just a writer. She is a global speaker, a strong advocate for women’s rights and gender equality – a feminist icon, first of her kind in many ways. According to the British Vogue in collaboration with Meghan Markle the Duchess of Sussex, she is a Force of Change who is greatly admired by global leaders and influential personalities worldwide.
On New Year Day, Adichie surprised all and sundry when during her Black Box Interview with Ebuka Obi-Uchendu on Bounce Radio Live, she confessed that her parents did not name her Chimamanda. “I invented the name”, the woman of wonder let out the astounding secret.
She was named Ngozi Grace after her mother. Although this was the name she was identified with as a child, she stated, “I always felt like I wasn’t ‘Grace’ and ‘Ngozi’, to me, felt too common”. Fortunately, during the Catholic practice of Confirmation, she had an avenue to change her name and she chose the name ‘Amanda’ after the character in a novel she had read. But this name too, was discarded years later.
The name Chimamanda was birthed when she was about to publish her first novel Purple Hibiscus. “I was in my brother’s house in England, in a tiny guest room, lying on a narrow bed thinking about ‘My novel is going to be published and I don’t want to be introduced to the world as Amanda. I wanted an Igbo name and I didn’t want Ngozi because it felt too common… I remember just lying there and it (Chimamanda) just came to me”. She wanted an Igbo name that was similar to ‘Amanda’, hence, the invention of Chimamanda.
As at the time she changed her name, of course, it was very peculiar and one would expect that Adichie would always share the story behind her name but instead she kept it a secret amongst her family members. “The reason I did not want to talk about it is because I wanted to give it time to have its own legitimacy. Had I started talking about it early, it would have been very easy to dismiss”.
This has changed, according to Adichie, the name “feels legitimate now because half of the kids being born in Igboland are being Chimamanda”, some, purposely named after the inventor, others given the name out of its powerful meaning – ‘My God will never fail’. “I decided to talk about it because we say that culture doesn’t change. Do you know how many people in Igboland are called Chimamanda?” she asked beaming proudly. The author of recently released short story, Zikora also informed us that she has decided to write about the story behind her name.
Culture is a way of life and looking back from centuries and decades past, cultural practices such as female genital mutilation which were once heartily embraced are now being frowned upon by the masses and disregarded by those who are lucky enough to flee from them.
There are more native names being invented on a regular but Adichie’s move was audacious because as at the time she did it, such an action would not have been accepted then. In a time such as this, when the covid-19 pandemic is causing us to disrupt life and the world of work as we once knew it, Adichie’s words ring true now more than ever. “Whoever says we cannot change culture – we can”.