I have many names.

My fondest were my childhood nicknames, Dodo and Mod, used only by my siblings and never uttered outside our family compound. Dodo lasted longer than Mod, which petered out when I was about five. To think of Dodo, is to remind myself of my siblings’ strained voices, how they would drag out the name when I was annoying, “Aki Dodo what is it now?” “Gai, aki what is wrong with Dodo?” Mod carried power. It gave me the ability to choose. I would call myself Mod to reject chores handed to me, rather cheekily, by my siblings. “Mod, Mod every day! Mod, Mod, everything! Leave me alone!” I would say, and put an end to that.

When I watched the German detective series Derrick, I named myself Moddy Derrick. I loved this name, how cool it sounded as it washed away my sub-saharanness. It was also the name of the titular character of a fantasy novel I would write in high school, on the back pages of my physics exercise book, while the teacher was writing formulas on the blackboard. In the story, Moddy Derrick was a philosopher of magic in medieval Europe, who wore a fur coat so fine it could be pulled through the eye of a needle. As it happens, the teacher caught me one day. His eyes narrowed as he leafed through.

“What is this Timothy?” he asked, calling me by my Christian name which I would later hide. “Are these lyrics to a song?”

I just hunched on my desk as I doodled with my Speedo pen.

I hid Timothy because it fails to represent me. To call me Timothy is to point out an inherent flaw in my identity. It is to acknowledge that at one point, my ancestry was told that their names and their ways of worshipping were inadequate, that they needed a new god who demanded new names. It is to acknowledge that at one point, a member of my family lost confidence in his name, and chose one that a colonialist provided. It is evidence of a painful history, how my great-grandmother Kabon, who spent her lifetime worshipping the sun, was forced to accept the name Elizabeth by an Irish priest as she lay dying. Because with just Kabon, she couldn’t enter heaven. So for now, you will only see Timothy if you send me money through M-pesa 🙂.

There are more names:

Kiprop. Given to me because I was born while it rained. For me the name is deeper than just rain. In the olden days, I would be forced to give up on this name, because it was a childhood name, suitable only while I was still drinking porridge. If I survived to warrior-hood, I would have to call myself either Arap Mutai or Arap Ruto, the former in reference to my father and the latter to my older brother. So, to retain Kiprop in my adulthood means that I have retained my childhood. I have retained the ability to be curious, the ability to imagine, the ability to question.

Cheruiyot. Given to me by my mother because I was born at night, when all life, aside from the evil, was asleep. I treasure the few instances when my mother would call me Cheruiyot. She had a gentle way of uttering it. It turned my world softer and kinder. Unlike Kiprop, which had sharp K and P sounds, which would turn even harsher when I was shouted at.

Maritim. Given to me because I was born just three months after my grandfather, Chemitei Arap Kibabii, had passed on. His brothers came to hold me as a baby and said that Chemitei had not stayed long in the bush, but had come back to the world through me. They named me Maritim, because my soul was eager to come back to this world than to wander in the bushes of the spirit world.

Yelwa. A name Abdvl gave me at the Farafina workshop. The Hausa equivalent of Kiprop, meaning one who was born while it rained. I accepted the name because of the Y and L sounds. Just like Cheruiyot, it turned the world softer. Thank you Abdvl.

There is still a name out there, which is desperately searching for me. It has V and Z sounds. It is African. If you know the name, bring it to me.