Before Christopher Adonteng Mensah became Chris Mensah, he was Christopher Adonteng. He embodied the name; wore it on his chest like a medal of dishonor, glistening every time he stepped out into society; ashamed of everything the people who called him by the name thought of the person behind the name, yet carrying on by it.
His burning dislike was easy to dispel; ‘oh it’s more what you think about yourself and less what people think of you, you shouldn’t care’. He understood however that there was more to a name than these same people who fumed at misspellings of Agyei and Adjei cared to admit. A name came with perception and identity. “Vodafone” was a shitty network, but because it was the first network to come to Ghana and his mother used it, it drew feelings of homeliness. “Friday” “Five” “Max” were just nouns, but they felt… energetic, exciting, adventurous. John was a terrible name, but after 3 presidents, Ghanaians didn’t squeeze their faces at it anymore. ‘It’s more what you think about yourself’ was easy, but he knew that there was more to it. It went past what he thought of Christopher Adonteng, it was what Christopher Adonteng meant to the people who said it, and by consequence, how it made him feel about himself.
Christopher Adonteng felt like the amplified fraction of everything he disliked about Christopher Adonteng Mensah. The identity he had accrued after 10 years of being with mostly the same people inside the same school was not what he wanted. He felt, if after all of his trying, awkward and clumsy and sickly were the defining attributes of Christopher Adonteng at St. Barnaba’s School, then maybe convincing the people he had shared a classroom with for all those years that he was anything other than what they thought of him was not worth the effort anymore. So he bided his time, and in Senior High School when the first teacher entered the class and ordered a round of introductions, he stood firmly on his tippy toes and announced himself to the new faces about him as “CHRIS MENSAH”.
Someone else, someone new, someone more reflective of what he thought was his better qualities.
Chris Mensah was witty, intelligent, creative. Chris Mensah was not afraid of talking to girls. He spoke his piece and minded his space and more importantly, was comfortable with himself. If it was indeed more what he thought of himself and less what people thought of him, then he had never thought more of himself than he did then. Who cared that it was because no one called him by Christopher Adonteng anymore. Right?
Time passed, the name stuck, but people remained people. People like to fit people into nice little boxes. People don’t like it when people try to leave the boxes they have carefully curated for them. So, the people from Chris Mensah’s past fought for relevancy in his present, desperate for whatever reason to remind him he was still Christopher Adonteng after all.
Every time his old name was discovered by people of his present future in casual conversation with the people of his distant past, the people of the distant past would suck between their teeth and say, “Ah, Christopher Adonteng!?”. And then questioning eyes would light up, tongues accustomed to Chris Mensah would suddenly lose the twist and twirls required in pronouncing the name, opting instead for Christopher Adonteng, incessantly questioning why he did not want to be called that anymore.
But isn’t that your name? Why don’t you like it? And cue the ‘you’re insecure’ card, and cue the ‘it’s more what you think of yourself’ soldiers marching in to save Chris Mensah from his refusal to be called Christopher Adonteng anymore. He imagined soldiers casting malignant shadows over his sleeping form on a tropical beach, prostate under some fine umbrella, a margarita at his side. “Time to go Christopher Adonteng, your insecurity has been solved, you are Chris Mensah no more.” As if not being able to choose a name for yourself was some victory. As if growing into the box others shut you in was a mark of strength.
Why do people like to set rules around lives that are not theirs so much?
To a certain degree, he understood. That people sought to police something as personal as a name was to him, all the evidence he needed to know people were mad. Normally ‘people are mad’ meant ‘don’t care what people think’, but he cared what people thought because he changed the name people were allowed to call him by – because what he felt the name meant to them made him uncomfortable. Mm…. So… asking people to do something meant requiring them to change what they were comfortable with because it did not suit you. So full circle with the respecting autonomy thing. You can’t control people, fine, but should basic decency be so hard. Basic decency, wasn’t that something worth policing?
To all of the ‘Isn’t that your name? Why don’t you like it?’ people, why did the details matter even? Why did he have to explain? Why did his choice have to be subjected to questioning? His name was Christopher Adonteng Mensah, but he wanted to be called Chris Mensah. It was his name. It meant more to him than it did to them.
So like, why?
Art Credit: Rene Schute – Thinking outside the box