THE BLOG

Why I Decided To Change My Name

04/09/2016 22:09 | Updated 05 September 2016
Ayo Akinwolere

My first name is Odunayo, but whilst my close family all call me 'Ayo', for my whole broadcasting career I've only ever been known as Andy.

It wasn't an interfering TV agent who suggested I angliscise my birth name for work though, instead my parents and I got there first way back in 1990. I was eight-years-old and we were preparing to move from Nigeria to Birmingham with my family. With a different surname and skin-colour to the majority, the decision was made by my parents to go by my middle name 'Andrew' at school. When kids move to a new school there's always a worry about fitting in. You can multiply that anxiety by a million when you move to a whole new country so we did everything we could to make it smoother. Often many children from immigrant families live double life, one at home and another amongst their newly found peers.

From there, through school and into adulthood - where I got my first big telly break as a Blue Peter presenter - I was 'Andy' and fine with it.

Recently though I started to rethink that decision. I watched an old interview with Will Smith where he was talking about how you should be careful in choosing your professional name because it will stick. But what if your professional name isn't true to your identity?

Whenever I travelled abroad colleagues or friends would spot my travel documents and comment on my name saying: 'That's a sick name! Why don't you use that?' They meant it was a great name of course and they were right. Andy is too and it means a lot to me - my parents are Catholic and named me after St Andrew, so there's a significance to it - but Odunayo is my first name and means 'year of joy' in my first language, Yoruba. It sounds much more interesting, it's different and that's something to be celebrated.

Your name is such a crucial part of your identity and I've always been seriously proud of my Nigerian heritage. Yoruba is my first language, I still speak it regularly and I live for Nigerian food. I loved having the opportunity to show Britain my love for the cuisine on Celebrity Masterchef last year.

Why should we 'anglicise' ourselves to blend in? Growing up in Birmingham which is home to 187 different nationalities, the diversity is incredible - it wouldn't be the same if everyone was called John and Bob!

There's nothing wrong with the name 'Andy' or any British name for that matter. But there's nothing wrong with Ayo either. I love my name. For someone of a different ethnicity to feel like they don't fit in because some people struggle to pronounce their name doesn't feel very 2016.

Parents shouldn't have to worry about their child's integration because of a name or anything around their ethnicity. Over the last few years I've come across various articles online of how having an 'ethnic' sounding name can hinder your job prospects. This only strengthens anxieties of not being able to fit in.

It turned out my parents needn't have worried about me fitting in at primary school. It just so happened that I was a bit handy at drawing and was a hit in right away as the other kids queued up for me to sketch them pictures of animals.

Instead it was my surname the bullies pounced on at secondary school. A few people used to call me 'Andy Akin-Malaria.' It was cruel, racist and you never forget it. But the reality is teenagers do have a way of picking apart whatever they think is different.

Now at 33 years old I'm fine with not blending in, in fact I never have. I've been lucky enough to see over a 120 different cities around the world through work. It makes you see how beauty and success doesn't come in one form - and isn't only recognised if you're known by a particular name.

More than anything I hope we live in a society now where our differences are seen as virtues, not something to be hidden.

It's so important for TV screens to hold a mirror up to the diversity we see in our hometowns - the names and faces - if for nothing else other than for kids to see you don't have to be called 'Andy' to fit in and do well.

So tonight when I return to screens to present the new series of BBC Inside Out West Midlands on BBC One at 7.30pm, I will be introducing myself on telly for the first time ever by my real name of Ayo Akinwolere.

And I hope that if a little eight-year-old boy called Ayo somewhere sees me, he will think: 'Yeah I've got a sick name!'

Ayo Akinwolere is a RTS award winning, BAFTA nominated former Blue Peter presenter, and a World Record Swimmer. He is the face of BBC Inside Out West Midlands and will present a new series of World of Weird on Channel 4 this October.

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