My middle name is Isioma. It’s what I am called within my inner circle and family. It’s from my Igbo language. ‘Isi’ literally means head, symbolic of one’s aura and destiny, while ‘oma’ means good. Isioma, then put together means- one with good head on their shoulders and a good destiny. I have always wondered why I was given such a name at birth. It’s true meaning evades me at times. The idea of one’s name being their destiny is not only inspiring but can be overwhelming. So to are concepts of gender as a black woman in the US. That we are inspiring is often invisible, hidden or ignored, even though many of us are. Rather, what overwhelms mainstream discussions is our inferiority or ignorance, our marginalization or disempowerment. Yet concepts of gender, like our names, are critical not only for black women’s identity but also for the spaces that support and empower our existence.
Gender for example in Igbo thought, meant girls named Isioma, have a strong place within the society. Not only were we destined to be knowledgeable from birth, but our parents and ancestors knew for the beginning that learning, studying, even the gift of gab or ability to persuade others effortlessly would be our portion if we followed our ‘chi,’ our guide in Igbo cosmology. Our name is quite literally our destiny, with knowledge, intellect, placed at the center of our existence from the beginning. Therein lies the dignity of my existence, one placed on me from birth and not dictated by society. Before I crawled or walked the earth, before I spoke words or understood what they meant, my family radically saw me. They reoriented their consciousness to prescribe what they felt should be my guide through life, my desire. They informed me of my dignity, my knowledge, my intellect, long before society had a say in how I would describe or defend myself. What is in a name? With a name like Isioma, everything.
My name gave me permission to see myself as my people first saw and continue to see me. My name allows me to write, to tell the story of myself, and by so doing, my history. My name forces me to put words together, to uncover deeply buried ideas from my past, to tell the history and story of being a woman, to radically break the silence on what it means to be an Igbo woman, a black woman. The task of living out my name is one this blog fosters for me on a daily basis. I am propelled to pen my existence because my existence knew I would do so from the beginning. My existence knew I would work to push boundaries, forge new avenues, agitate or resist ideas, especially racist ones that seek to define my being. Racist ideas based on Western, Eurocentric standards of being, are and continue to remain antithetical to what I am destined to become. And my name set out to guide my understanding of self, long before the world had any say. That in essence is the power of one’s name, one’s destiny. Keep ‘Isioma’ in mind whenever you think of your unique journey through life. It has been and continues to remain my guide.