I, like many others, am an intersectional being. I am an African man. I eat Yoruba and Egun food and speak with a French/African accent. I have known extreme poverty and extreme wealth. I have experienced racism, anti-muslim rhetoric, and xenophobia across the world-- France, Hong Kong, Benin, and the US. Of all the characteristics that identify me, my name, Salim Adewale Gnabode, encompasses my self identity in ways that I would never have expected.
When a child is born in the Yoruba community, they are usually named seven days after their birth. On the seventh day of my birth, I was given the name ‘Salim’ meaning ‘safe and healthy’ in Arabic. I have found an irony in the name. While my life has been filled with instability, pain, and loss, my name has brought about a sense of hope for the future. It is also a constant reminder of the work I hope to do--break about safety and health to those around me.
My second name, Adewale, means ‘the king or crown has arrived home’ in Yoruba. This name also proves complex in that the idea of home is often misconstrued. Though I grew up in Benin, my time living in different places on the planet has molded me; and at some places where I lived, I have being reminded of the fact that I did not belong. This feeling, and the true meaning of my name, allows me to see how the external world can truly impact the lives of people.
Gnabode is a word in the Fon language that I do not understand. Oddly enough, my lack of knowledge regarding my last name is informative. After the loss of my mother and the abandonment by my father, there has been a blank space in my family and in my life. Gnabode serves to remind me that there are spaces in my life that I know nothing about. There are places for me to grow, within my own identity and outside of it.
My names remind me of my background. They remind me of where I came from and their interpretation will soon prove to be different as time passes. My life, much like my names, has been complex but has taught me important lessons about who I am and who I want to be.