On 26th June 1986 at 07.30AM EAT I transitioned from my mother’s womb at St. Francis Hospital Nsambya into this cosmos. She named me Steven Ojok. Ojok, my paternal uncle whom I was named after was also my father’s best friend. Steven was my maternal grandfather.
Later that same day, Diego Maradona, the sensational Argentinian soccer player scored two classic goals ejecting Belgium out of the 1986 FIFA World Cup. Not only did Argentina win the tournament but Maradona was also the Golden Ball winner.
My father Julio Okello wasn’t only a gifted soccer player himself but also a football enthusiast. ‘’That day, he came back home and started calling you Maradona’’ my mother recollected with a teary face. Teary because my father didn’t live long enough to watch the toddler ‘Maradona’ become a man. Six months later on 26th January 1987 as NRM celebrated an anniversary in power, his body laid lifeless in a pool of blood around Nsambya–Clock Tower stretch.
As I grew-up, Maradona was shortened to Donna and for some unexplainable reason, Steven just vanished into oblivion. I thus enrolled in V.H Public School in Lira Town as Ojok Donna. I didn’t really care what Donna meant although now I know it as a title of respect for women with Italian origination.
The first unease with my Donna name was in Primary Level Three at Morulem Boys’ Primary School (it was a Boys’ school but female pupils were still allowed nonetheless) when I got a female namesake. She was called Donna-Dina. Donna-Dina was also the daughter of our headteacher. It was quite a coincidence because Donna-Dina and I didn’t only share names but we also had special interests for music, dance and drama. Many times, we danced and acted together. Donna-Dina and Donna were such an item.
One day, I and Donna-Dina decided that to avoid the unease, I should add an ‘S’ to my name. The idea felt so original and then suddenly I just started adding ‘S’ to Donna becoming Donnas. Our class teacher Mr. Silvio liked the name innovation and he played quite a big role popularising it through emphatic expressions wherever we interacted. Just like that, I became Donnas.
I thus completed Primary school as Donnas Ojok. But then another identity crisis emerged in Secondary School. When I joined Dr. Obote College, Boroboro, I just discarded Donnas and started using Donald. I don’t quite remember the circumstances under which Donald surfaced but there I was, confused. To date, all my ‘O’ Level peers still call me Donald. And sometimes Brooks, my uncle Acon Denis’ pet name which I thought was ‘cool’. Uncle Denis had quite a big influence in my life because we shared a lot in common, especially love for hip-hop and reggae music.
During the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) registration, another drama ensued. My registration forms were rejected because I had used a ‘wrong name’ – Donald and not Donnas. Donnas was the name I’d used while sitting for my Primary Leaving Examination (PLE). I did the necessary at that time and from then on, I have been Ojok Donnas.
At my undergrad Makerere University days, Don was a simplified and ‘cooler’ version of my name.
Inspired not only by my passion for philosophy but also interests in afro-optimism and Pan-Africanism, the confusions I have had with my name over the years have forced me to ask myself some fundamental questions: What’s in a name? What degree of foreignness should a name be? Why should one be named Steven according to some theological inspirations? Maradona bestowing upon some cult-following urge or even Ojok as African tradition would dictate? Could having an Only-African name help to decolonize? The truth is I would never claim to have answers to all these questions leave alone fully understanding them.
But these are some basic reasons that on this 26th date of August 2019, I renounce Donnas from my name adopting Okello (my father’s name) as my second name declaring that I be called, known and distinguished as Ojok Okello.
Quite often, our name is the first piece of information everyone will have about us. In fact, people’s judgement about us will most likely arise first from our name. As for me, I would like people to know and judge me first as an African man who comes from a particular African society with no natural attachment to the Western world. Whilst this does so little to decolonize considering the Anglo-American blood overdose that runs through our vein, I think it’s a first step in the right direction.
As a child, I didn’t bother much to understand more about my father. As I age now, I have started to dig deeper and understand who he was and what he could have been if he lived. Personal accounts of people who knew him are positive and inspirational. Somehow, I feel that carrying his name consciously connects my spirit to his. And, there is just this metaphysical utopian imagination that somehow, carrying his name will contribute towards enabling me to overcome some of life’s fiercest storms. Of course, I could just be crazy or dreaming. But what I do know is that it inspires me to be a better person; to improve; to learn and most of all leave a tract-tail of legacy.
Of importance is also that a name is a baggage we carry with us everywhere we go. Why should I carry the Maradona or the Steven baggage, especially if I don’t understand who they are/were or even more radically if we don’t share the same belief and value systems? I come from the school of thought that yes, it’s OK to have baggage but it should be light enough to be carried however you want and wherever you go. This is somewhat akin to the Cocktail Party Effect in cognitive psychology which basically means that if you’re at a cocktail party and your name is mentioned, you should be quick enough to hear and recognize it amidst the party noise. Usually, this is because this name means so much to you and it instantaneously catches your attention in a way that other stimuli don’t. This is exactly what Ojok Okello means to me.
Matter-of-factly, I have carried this Don-Donna-Donnas-Donald name baggage for far too long and now it doesn’t carry any intellectual, spiritual and/or cultural significance to me. How about you just call me Mr. Ojok or Ojok Okello? Or, don’t you think it would be simpler to refer to me as Dr. Ojok Okello five or so years later?
I understand though that undoing my Donnas Ojok digital footprint and embracing this new identity formation in an era of digitalization will be an uphill but possible task. So help me (g)God(s).
And, BTW, my new email address is [email protected]