One thing that doesn’t change, no matter what part of the world I’m in, is the curiosity and interest that people have in my name. My name is Yu, pronounced just like the pronoun, “you.”
Ever since I was a little boy growing up in America, everyone I would meet would be fascinated by my name.
I’ll never forget the first exchange I had with my next door neighbors, siblings named David and Jennifer:
“My name is David and this is my sister, Jennifer. What’s your name?” David asked as the three of us stood at the boundaries of our respective lawns.
“Yu,” I replied.
“Oh, your name is David too?” he asked with astonishment.
“No; it’s Yu,” I repeated.
“Your name is Jennifer?” he said, thinking I was looking at his sister.
A bit frustrated, I ran into my house, grabbed an orange crayon and wrote on a piece of paper the letters Y-U. Alas, the confusion had come to an end.
Since then, each time I introduce myself to strangers, the confusion obviously has faded as I’ve gotten older, but the wonder and look in people’s eyes is exactly the same as David and Jennifer’s.
On my first day of work in Freetown, fellow Awoko reporter Ishmael Bayoh said to me, “In Sierra Leone, when you don’t know someone’s name, you just call them, ‘you.’”
“You have the most common name in Sierra Leone,” he joked.
I guess, to a certain degree, that’s very much true.
In America, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “Hey, you!” But the only time I ever hear anyone say that to me is as a joke, because it’s typically from someone who knows me or at least knows my name.
Here, in Sierra Leone, I’ve literally heard dozens of people call out to me saying, “Ay, you!” in the streets, and I’ve only been in Freetown for a few days!
My colleagues at Awoko have already started cracking what I like to call “Yu-jokes” jokes about my unique name that I’ve heard, literally, for my entire life. But I love hearing these “Yu-jokes.” They lighten the mood, bring people joy, and ultimately, that makes me a more personable person.
So even if it means a mass level of confusion and a minor level of embarrassment, I’m more than happy to carry the most common name in Sierra Leone. By Yu Nakayama