WHAT’S IN A NAME?
“Don’t call Gyaboma, call me Joyce!”
I must have been around 8 when I whispered those words to my Grandma when she picked me up from school.
I don’t actually remember uttering those words, but I know I said them because it’s one of those stories that countlessly got retold at family gatherings (pre-pandemic).
I grew up in England but my heritage is from Ghana and Barbados. Gyaboma is my Ghanaian name, I was named after my great-great-grandmother who was from the Fante tribe.
Growing up, my Grandad would tell me stories about Gyaboma (his grandmother). An entrepreneur who would wake up early, cook lots of delicious Ghanaian food and sell it in the market so that she could support her family and her community. A granny that showed him love and would spoil him.
As an adult, I reflected on what would cause an 8-year-old me to say those words. I know precisely where that statement came from – I was embarrassed by my Ghanaian name, I didn’t want to be associated with anything African or Ghanaian.
Why was I embarrassed I hear some of you ask? Because children used to say so many derogatory things about Africa and Africans in the playground to the point where it wasn’t cool.
What would cause me to reject part of my heritage at such a young age? I think the media had something to do with it. Seeing images of sickly, starving children queuing up for maize meal on the BBC News is ingrained in my mind’s eye. If seeing that made me not want to be connected to Africa, imagine the impact it had on the other children that said the mean things.
Fast forward to 2020 and as Black woman working in the Diversity & Inclusion space, I know exactly where strength lies… in difference. It’s that difference in perspective, experience and cultural background that I bring into the workplace. It’s all those differences that make me so passionate about helping senior leaders and business owners to increase under-representation via content, training or awards programmes in the workplace, so they can make an impact on society; representation matters.
Once I fully accepted my Ghanaian heritage, I was able to turn a negative to a positive. This particular experience as a child inspired me to create a children’s story with characters who have traditional Ghanaian (Akan) names, The Adventures of Amma and Kwessi in Barbados. I am no longer embarrassed, I positively embrace it and share what I know about Ghana through workshops with children in Primary school.
My Grandad would have been 90 this year, so only God knows how old Gyaboma would have been! Either way, let’s continue to acknowledge and celebrate the resilience of characters like Gyaboma, a woman who was creative, innovative and entrepreneurial. After all, it wasn’t for my ancestors, I literally wouldn’t be here writing this!
Did you ever feel like this growing up? Do you feel like this in the workplace now? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Joyce Osei is a Business Analyst, with a background in Business Development, working with Senior Leaders in Technology to increase representation of their target audience.
Joyce is also the author of The Adventures of Amma and Kwessi in Barbados, available at https://etsy.me/3kAVbLM