OOREOLUWA: Experiences of a JSU International Student


(Photo Courtesy International Student Organization JSU)

Ooreoluwa Olayinka, JSU Student

My parents could have named me something else. They could have chosen something monosyllabic like Grace or something musical like Melody. Better yet, they could have given me something traditionally African like Ashanti. But they named me a five-syllable tongue twister with a handful of vowels. My name is like a random sampling of the alphabet noodle soup- lots of vowels and then very generic consonants like L and R.


Don’t get me wrong, I quite like my name- Ooreoluwa. Not only is it very unique (as I’m the only Ooreoluwa I know), but it also has a wealth of meaning. The name itself means “the goodness of God” and there’s a story behind how the name came about. However, we’re not here for an Olayinka family history lesson. (Again, do you see the alphabet soup feature in my last name?) In fact, I wish I didn’t have to shorten it to the four letter Oore which people still struggle to pronounce… (the nerve, the audacity).

As you know, it is back-to-school season. Imagine what I, along with the countless number of international students that equally have five-syllable tongue twister alphabet soup names, go through with new teachers murdering -oh sorry I meant- trying to say our names.  I for one, have a series of reactions- from the cringe, to the amused chuckle to the “okay let me end his struggle now by just raising my hand”.

The best part is, I have a game where I try to spot the exact moment a new teacher encounters my name on the register before he (or she because 2018 and equality!) tries to sound it out. There are tell-tale signs that my name is about to be gruesomely murdered like:

  1. The Awkward Pause

There’s a pause and then there’s an awkward pause. If I can count to 10, Mississippi-ly, then that pause became awkwaaard. 11 times out of 10 this extremely awkward pause is because my new teacher has come across the overdose of vowels that is my name. Because most of the time, new teacher’s Eurocentric brain has never come across an African name, her brain hits a blank. Which translates to the awkward 10 Mississippi pause.

  1. The squint

More often than not, the pause is accompanied by the squint. Said new teacher now scrunches up his eyes and takes a closer look at the roster as if Ooreoluwa will somehow rearrange itself like a possessed game of Scrabble into a familiar and easier to pronounce name. I really wish it worked like that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, which brings us to sign number three.

  1. Take Off

This symptom only manifests with teachers and professors of the glasses wearing community. This basically means that newbie will then take off her glasses and bring the roster closer to her face, in an attempt to decipher the alphabet soup name that seems like a crypted message.

  1. The nervous chuckle

I think the concept behind this is to laugh at yourself to diffuse the embarrassment you feel? Either way, the next symptom is a nervous chuckle. At this point no one, I mean no one, is amused, especially not me. Actually, I lied. At this point, my amusement has only just begun. Because I’m 100% sure it is going to get more amusing because the final and favorite sign is about to happen.

Which brings us to last but not least…

  1. The stutter

This is my favorite symptom because wow people are creative! I have never seen such creativity before as they try to figure out my name. Bear in mind that they have stalled so long with the many previous signs and the inevitable is here. They now HAVE to try to say the name. There’s a lot of oohs and ahs and stuttering. At this point, I’ve reached peak amusement with watching Eurocentric battle Afrocentric (and lose, might I add). So I have to step in.

I usually step in and offer them an alternative to the alphabet soup name which is Oore and is pronounced oh-ray- BTW! (And yes, I’m calling out all of you who have known me for years and still can’t pronounce 4 letters properly). I have even had a couple teachers settle for “O” which tbh, is cool because guess who’s getting a bad end of the year evaluation for not learning to say my name? (Ha-ha, joking, but maybe I should start doing that). All in all, no hard feelings. My name really is chaos and confusion, so I don’t blame anyone for having a hard time trying to say it.

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1 Comment on "OOREOLUWA: Experiences of a JSU International Student"

  1. Guilty as charged! I recognize everyone of these different reactions from personal experience. Thank you for saving me from too much embarrassment that first day of class. Well done and well written!

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