Behind the name: Anthonia Akitunde

Jane Park by Jane Park

People often correct Anthonia Akitunde when she tells them to call her “Tomi.”

“Don’t you mean Toni, short for Anthonia?” they ask. Perhaps surprisingly, they also question the “h” in Anthonia.

They don’t know that Tomi is short for Oluwatomi, Akitunde’s given, Nigerian first name. And until the fifth grade, she was Tomi, especially to her parents, immigrants who passed their cultural pride on to her.

Today the 24-year-old graduate journalism student introduces herself as Anthonia, and unless you ask, you won’t get the story behind her name.

In my brief Q&A session with her, Akitunde talked about transitioning from one name to another, feeling stuck between two worlds, neither black nor African, and how she’s come to terms with two names that suggest different cultural identities.

Do go by your given name or your American name?
It’s funny because Anthonia is the first name on my birth certificate, but I originally went by Tomi, a shortened version of my middle name. I consider both of them to be my name.

Is there one you identify with over the other?

I identify with Tomi as the name I want close friends and family to use and Anthonia to be the professional name, or the name that separates people who know me from school and professional situations versus everyone else.

What are the reasons for those distinctions?
The decision to start going by Anthonia happened in middle school, during a period where everyone just wants to fit in. I remember my fifth grade teacher stopped calling me Tomi in class. I now heard “Anthonia” during roll call or “Anthonia” when I was called on. I finally told her that wasn’t my name, and she explained that’s what I would be called in middle school and she was trying to prepare me for that.

That really upset me, and I was determined that the opposite would be the case until the first day of school introductions when I said, “My name is Tomi Akitunde,” and people laughed at me. I quickly amended the introduction and went through the rest of the day introducing myself as Anthonia.

I didn’t realize this until I was much older, but going by Anthonia was a way of “normalizing” myself so the rest of me – my appearance and my last name – didn’t seem to stick out as much.

I do remember my mom and dad being really angry when I told them I was going by Anthonia. I remember my mom essentially saying I was “selling out,” which upset me. I still get annoyed when my dad calls me Anthonia because I feel he’s saying I’m someone different than who he imagined Tomi to be. It’s a weird schizophrenic feeling, going by two different names and feeling there are two different identities associated with them, whether that’s true or not.

This interview is part of Behind the name, a series that explores second-generation American identities from different cultural perspectives. Click here to read more stories of others who are reconciling their ethnic, given identities with their American ones.

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