My name is Oyinkansola. It is a beautiful Yoruba name that roughly translates to honey drops into wealth. To a non-Nigerian ear, it sounds vaguely Japanese. To me, it sounds like home. My family call me Oyinkan, sometimes Oyinks and when they want something, Oyinkan baby. To the rest of the world, I'm Mariam.
Mariam came into existence at the age of nine. Kind of. It had always been my first name but I had always gone by Oyinkan up until the first day of school in the UK. From then on I was to be known as Mariam. Strange, unfamiliar Mariam.
My mum said it would be easier. Easier for teachers to pronounce. Make me less of a target for bullies. Take the edge off my otherness if you will.
Much of primary school was spent in a state of hyper self awareness. I am not like them but I am not fully myself. I am Mariam here but Oyinkan at home. Mariam had picked up a London accent and was fully versed in all the necessary slang words. Oyinkan knew better than to bring any of that home.
Like most teenagers, I experimented with multiple versions of myself but in my case it felt like a battle royale between cool Londoner Mariam and homely Nigerian Oyinkan.
Mariam read NME religiously and listened to Razorlight EVERY DAY. Mariam dreamt of being a fashion designer and was definitely going to marry some guy in a band. Mariam had an indie mullet for a while. Being Mariam was great until it wasn't. I was too black to be an indie cindy, bouncers felt a need to remind me what night was on every time I darkened their doorstep. Guys quizzed me on my band knowledge before accepting that my interest was genuine. For my family, my interests were not black enough, definitely not African enough. Aunties complained that I was too British and I found myself having to constantly prove my blackness.
Oyinkan on the other hand was the poster girl of the obedient African child. Oyinkan studied hard and didn't misbehave. Oyinkan was going to move back to Nigeria and become a lawyer/engineer/doctor. Oyinkan was who I was before I left Lagos and the version of myself that I thought my parents wanted and I desperately wanted their approval. Being Oyinkan felt a lot like putting on your favourite dress but it's a little too tight and suddenly very itchy.
This was my teenage years until I left home and went to uni. I finally had the space to carve out whatever personality I wanted and carve I did. I put Oyinkan in a box under the bed and Mariam was out in full force. I loved all the freedom but I rarely felt like a whole person. I was surprised by how much I missed being Oyinkan. Oyinkan had a killer work ethic and an unwavering moral compass. Oyinkan for all the discomfort was home.
It took 3 years of self exploration to realise the problem of Oyinkan was that she had been frozen at age 9 and not allowed to grow. Mariam on the other hand was too busy running from her roots and apologising for existing. I couldn't be the girl I was before I left Lagos and I needed to stop apologising for the woman that I had become.
I am a Nigerian woman who was brought up in Britain and I am a sum of those experiences. I will not apologise for not fitting into your narrow definitions of Blackness, Britishness or Africanness.