14 Oct 2020

Celebrating Black History Month – What’s in a name?

I was born jaundiced and struggling for breath. My parents watched on as the doctors tried their best to stabilise me and get me to breathe on my own. It was particularly painful for my mum who had suffered several miscarriages before I came along. A young couple who desperately wanted a baby.

After a final attempt to clear my airways with some firm coaxing smacks, I started to yell and was eventually placed in my mother’s arms. My dad took one look at his first born and instantly named me – Tioluwalope (Tolulope) which in Yoruba means, ’To God be all praise and glory’ – a name I wore with pride and honour throughout my youth and young adulthood.

It was a sad day many years ago when I had to give up that name. A recruiter ’advised’ me to use my baptismal name, Mary, instead. He said, “you have to do all you can to fit in and make it easier to get your foot in the door. No one will be able to pronounce this name and the moment recruiters see it, they’ll toss your CV aside. It’s a recruiter’s market.” I was sad but he convinced me it was for the best, and so, a week after we produced a brand spanking new CV, Mary Aluko got a job working for an information technology company and have been employed ever since.

Since then, I have lived this dichotomy – Mary at work and Tolulope (or Tolu for short) at home with my family and friends. I could never really make the two paths meet or reclaim the name that had become lost. But, then 2020 happened and along with all the horribleness we’ve witnessed this year, there has also been a rebirth, a reconnection and a reclamation. Though the conversations and reawakening have been hard and continue to be painful, there is a glimmer of hope, a renewed consciousness, a rallying call.

I heard over and over again how discussions were happening in the workplace around bringing your whole self to work and making the workplace comfortable for everyone. But this year, we’ve seen a renewed commitment to celebrating ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds. We’ve celebrated people for being people and renewed a commitment to be kind to one another and ensure workplaces are inclusive of all races and cultures.

So, in honour of Black History Month, this wonderful dichotomic year of 2020, I am also reclaiming and celebrating a rebirth and a reconnection. A reconnection with a name I was given as my identity when I arrived in this world and much like any of my other features, one that is mine to carry with honour and pride. Thank you 2020 for reminding me the importance of wholeness and authenticity.

Kabo Tolulope… welcome back.

Tolulope Aluko currently co-chairs our internal CIH equality, diversity and inclusion employee group that was recently revamped to further work that was already underway.