I Anglicized My Name For My Career — Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself

In late 2021, I was at an event for young Black professionals at Harvard Business School. The purpose of the event, hosted in a white tent on a snowy Massachusetts evening, was for us to get to know one another. To make connections. 
Sometimes, especially when the weather is unforgiving, it can be hard to make a conversation out of nothing. “Oh, it’s quite cold isn’t it.” “Yes, I did travel far to get here.” “Yes, there are a surprisingly large number of Black people in Britain.” The same questions were asked time and time again as were the same answers. Yet, during one particularly long lull in a back-and-forth with a group of strangers, a question was posed to us all which made conversing seem exciting again: “What’s the story behind your name?”
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Everyone’s eyes lit up. Soon one person shared their parents’ complex migratory histories. Someone else about how their namesake, a late grandparent, was a leader in the apartheid struggle. Another revealed how, in their culture, everyone is named after days of the week. 
Asking someone to explain the reason behind their name opens a unique door through which you can see and understand their life. It helps you understand not only who they are but who their families are, the type of person their family envisaged them as being and how they may or may not mirror that ideal now. It’s the type of question that can turn a stranger into a friend. 
I’ve long reflected on the reason behind my name – Oluwaseun. Growing up as a Black girl in Britain with an “unusual” name often brought up personal and professional challenges but now, as a young adult, I’ve come to love it. I was named Oluwaseun (which means we give thanks to god in the Yoruba language) because my parents were so grateful for my life that they wanted to thank God for it. My name is a constant reminder that my life is valuable. 
Many other Black women in Britain have been through similar journeys with their names and some go by different names than the ones they were born with.  These women include icons like actress, writer and former stand-up comic Andi Osho, podcaster and writer Tolly, podcaster and radio DJ Henrie Kwushue and TV presenter Scarlette Douglas. I sat down with each of them to find out more about the stories behind their names and uncover who these changemakers are behind the screen.
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Andi Osho

“I’m picturing the Christmas cards I used to receive with my name spelt wrong”

Andi Osho, 50, was born Yewande Morenike Osho (yeh-wah-nde moh-reh-nih-keh osho) to Nigerian parents in London’s East End. 
Unlike her two older brothers – Ezekiel and Phillip – she was never Christened and never given any English names. Instead, her parents opted to give her two Yoruba ones: Yewande (“mother has returned”), in recognition of her maternal grandmother, and Morenike (“we have someone to cherish”), in recognition of the fact she was her parents’ only girl. 
Although she feels connected to her first name (tarot readings have confirmed that there is always a “maternal figure” with her)people outside of the family home often struggled with it. As a child she would anglicize it, telling people to pronounce it you-andi to make it easier for them. At school in the 70s and 80s, despite the rise of the Afrocentric Black British group Soul II Soul, there was also a sense that being African was not the ‘in’ thing to be. “There was almost a hierarchy among Black kids…I remember one girl who was from Ghana said she was from Guyana,” she recalls.  So when she got the chance to rebrand herself in 1991 when she started at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, she did so. 
“There was a day when the lecturer said ‘everyone come up to the front, introduce yourself, write your name on the board.’ So, we all went round and I remember there was a guy called Jared, who was [from Liverpool] and very cool and he's like (Liverpudlian accent) ‘My name is Jared but I like to be called Jai.' So I just got up I wrote out on the board Yewande and I changed it in front of them to show them where Andi was derived from and I said ‘I want to be called Andi’. And that was it. That’s when it started.”
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After Ravensbourne, she continued to use Andi as she began picking up work as a stand-up comic. “At one point, I didn’t want anyone to call me Yewande,” she says. Only official letters called her by her government name, “when that post comes it’s like ‘oh no, serious stuff. Who do I owe money to now?’'
Things have changed recently though, following her break from stand-up comedy. She has now leaned more into her acting skills, featuring as Miranda Walker in Netflix’s The Sandman and soon to appear as Nicky Bowman, mum of effortlessly cool Moordale student Cal Bowman, in Netflix’s smash-hit Sex Education
With this break from comedy, she now feels that it might be time for her to update her professional name. While it is common in the industry to have a stage name —– she points out Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach and Joan Crawford was born Lucille LeSueur –– she thinks, having reached half a century, she “might bring in (her) middle name….or do something just to acknowledge it…because I just want to acknowledge the journey, like a full circle of coming back to myself.”
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Scarlette Douglas

“It’s very funny because a lot of people will say to me, especially Scottish people, ‘oh that’s a Scottish name’ and they’re not prepared for my answer.”

Scarlette Douglas, 35, was born Charlotte Patricia Louise Douglas to Jamaican parents in London although soon thereafter moved to Hertfordshire. 
She was called Charlotte by her mother in recognition of her Scottish surname – Douglas – which she recently learned came from a slave owner in Mandeville, Jamaica who, as well as being an enslaver, played a prominent role in “helping slaves be freed.” As for Patricia and Louise? She was born on St Patrick’s Day, hence Patricia, and her mum “just liked the name Louise.”
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Charlotte only became Scarlette at the age of 19 while attending performing arts college, “everybody was getting a stage name and I quite liked the idea of having a stage name. It was very similar to Charlotte. Red is one of my favourite colours. I used to have a red car and I'd be driving everybody around… so it kind of just stuck.”
She decided on Scarlette with two ‘t’s and an ‘e’ to make the name appear “a bit softer” and also to give a “nod to Charlotte.” Is there a difference between Charlotte and Scarlette? “You know on your birthday or Christmas, you're always very excitable and very happy? Scarlette is that all the time. Whereas I think Charlotte, I have my quieter moments, I have my chilled-out moments.”
Growing up in Hertfordshire, where Scarlette was one of only two Black girls at her school, means that she is now well-versed in codeswitching, something which she's sure opened doors for her in her career. “People will say to me, ‘oh, if I was to close my eyes I would think you were a white girl’.”
However, she credits much of her success to her brother Stuart who she remembers pushing her to think about what she would do when she “can’t sing or dance anymore?” and introducing her to property flipping, which has since become her USP and lead to her co-hosting Worst House on the Street alongside Stuart on Channel 4 as well as hosting Dream Derelict Home in the Sun on Discovery Plus. 
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A recent trip to Ghana though, made her think bigger. “I went to the point of no return (at Cape Coast castle) and that was a serious moment for me… I was in a job, I didn't want to be in and I was being treated unfairly…. And I remember saying to myself, there is no way I will ever let a person that is above me that is white ever talk down to me again because my ancestors went through so much… I’m going to make my own opportunities and you're going to watch me make those opportunities without you.”
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Henrie

“In emails, because of the autocorrect, people will start calling me 'Hernia'. I’m like, babe, you know you saw that before you sent it! Thank God now there’s an undo button. Start undoing!”

Henrie, 27, was born Henrietta Attinuke Isioma Williams (hen-ri-etta at-tinu- keh -issy-oma) to a Nigerian (Igbo) dad and a Sierra Leonean mum in London. 
She says, “My dad decided to name me after him. So, regardless, I was always gonna be Henry.” It was only when it was apparent she was going to be a girl that her mum stressed she should be called Henrietta. 
Henrietta, like Henry, means 'ruler of the home' and for Henrie that makes perfect sense as she is the oldest child and has often had responsibility for her younger siblings. 
Her first middle name, Attinuke, means cherished from birth in Yoruba — “I’m still here to tell the tale, so it’s still giving cherished.”
Although none of her family are Yoruba both her parents grew up understanding it and Henrie does too, “to not understand Yoruba (while living in Peckham) would just be a disservice to yourself.” The name Isioma reflects Henrie’s Igbo heritage and means someone who’s fortunate — “I used to wish so badly my first name was Isioma. It’s such a beautiful name. It sounds sweet. I can just imagine the ‘i’ having a little star on it,” she says. Williams is her mother’s last name which is reflective of Sierra Leone’s connection to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
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It was in secondary school when Henrietta Williams, a fiery South London girl who was always listening to “bare Vybz Kartel,” became Henrietta Kwushue (kush-way) because her dad decided it was finally time for all of his children to bear his name. “My dad actually had to sit me down and talk to me and was like bro, you're from somewhere… And we can trace back your lineage all the way back to here just from this one surname. And I was like, you know babe, I do hear it.”
It was also in secondary school that Henrietta began to be known to the rest of the world as Henrie, a name that up until then had been used exclusively by close friends and family. Everyone quickly accepted the nickname, despite it sounding masculine. “No one really said anything. I get it a lot more now, like literally when I go on my TikTok they’ll be like ‘mmm well you’re a girl called Henrie, ha ha ha’ and it’s like whoaaa since when was this an issue?” 
Regardless of what social media says, the rising social media star — who recently travelled to Ghana and Jamaica as part of her docuseries for the Spotify-exclusive Who We Be podcast— is confident in her own skin, “I think sometimes you don't realise being in the diaspora how much unity there is.” 
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“Don’t tell my dad but I always felt it (Henrietta) was like an old woman’s name but the older I get the more I appreciate it. I appreciate even being called Henrietta Kwushue because I’m the only one like me in the entire world.”

Tolly

“I live every day wishing I was a rapper and I’m not even joking!”

Tolly, 33, was born Omotolani Shoneye (oh-moh-toh-lah-ni sho-neh-yeh…although Tolly admits she anglicizes her name to oh-moh-taa-lah-ni when speaking with English people) to Nigerian parents in London but spent most of her formative years in Nigeria before returning to live in Dagenham as a seven-year-old. 
She credits this with the strong sense of self she carries with her wherever she goes, for instance, she’s “never been the person who had a problem with (their) hair. I went to a primary school in Nigeria, where we changed our hair every week, it was literally part of the curriculum. You came in, in assembly, they picked a hairstyle for us and the next week, all the girls had the same hairstyle.”
The youngest child in her family, Tolly’s name – Omotolani- means deserving of wealth in Yoruba. The name means a lot to her — “every time you say my name you’re speaking life into me” — and she sometimes says her full name to herself to instil herself with confidence. She is proud to be Nigerian and Black British and wants to give her children both Yoruba and English names in a traditional Yoruba naming ceremony — “there is something so regal about being like we're gonna name our child and we're gonna do a ceremony for it.” She’s already decided on one of the names, Naomi — because she’s “never met an ugly Naomi.” 
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Why was she named Omotolani? “I’ve actually never asked why they chose that name…. maybe it’s because I was the last born and wealth wasn’t there so they’re thinking yo, let’s prophesy into her life with this name!”
If her name is a prophecy, it certainly seems as though it is being fulfilled. Tolly’s brainchild, The Receipts podcast, has been going strong since 2016, most recently publishing a Sunday Times bestselling book  Keep The Receipts, and an exclusive distribution deal with Spotify which has launched their fanbase into the stratosphere. A Receipts live show due to take place at indigo at The O2 on 4th March has almost sold out. 
But on the show, she is not known as Omotolani or even Tolani (a popular way of shortening the name in Yoruba culture). Instead, she is known as Tolly. 
As a child her aunt made up a song for Tolani with the words “Tolly baby” and the nickname “Tolly” stuck. When she joined Twitter, back in 2010, the name Tolly was already taken and so she decided to adopt the name Tolly T, “my name Tolani starts with a T, and I just made it Tolly T.” Now, all of her social handles use the name Tolly T, although in real life she says her nearest and dearest call her Tolani while some others, including fans of The Receipts, call her Tolly. 
“Tolani feels more personal… when someone doesn't know me and just starts saying my name anyhow, I say, ‘were you at my naming ceremony’?”

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