She had gradually become a regular face in that social space. A convivial setting where old members were expected to be friendly with new ones. On this day I had walked up to her, introduced myself and asked for her name. “Just call me Mummy Ade she replied with something between a sheepish smile and a chuckle.” I was tempted to ask her if Mummy Ade was her real name, the name her parents had given her when she was born, but I held back. I returned her smile and nodded in acknowledgement of her preferred nomenclature.
In the instance above, it’s clear that the lady would not have been comfortable with me calling her by her first name, even though she couldn’t have been more than a few years older. For those who are reading from other climes, in many cultures in Nigeria, and even Africa, it is seen as a sign of respect not to call people who are older by their first names. Men and women who have children are often called by adding the prefix “Mummy” and “Daddy” to the name of their first child. However, it is expected that a person should use their discretion in applying this unwritten rule rather than the subject voicing their preference for it.
And so we have people who get upset because someone didn’t add the Aunty, Uncle or Mummy prefix in calling them. This phenomenon is not only limited to familial and social relationships, it has also pervaded the formal world.
It is common to find people who wear many hats as regards what they do for a living. In one-on-one conversations, on social media platforms (especially Facebook), many reel out the different titles they hold with the kind of confidence that borders on arrogance. There are Life Coaches who are also Public Speakers, Mentors, Writers, Thought Leaders among others. People are so big on assigning themselves fancy titles and roles that one can’t help but wonder if there’s a prize for the one who can amass the highest number of titles.
This is not to imply that people cannot wear different hats in relation to the kind of jobs they do or roles they perform. There are people who actually juggle quite a few unrelated tasks and are not doing badly at them all. Nevertheless, the love for self-imposed titles is increasingly becoming a bemusing feature in many circles.
These days, there are all kinds of seminars and training organised by people who hardly know enough to practice a craft, let alone attempt to school others on its intricacies. Everybody is a Life Coach-cum-Marriage Counselor-cum-Relationship Expert; they may even throw in a high-falutin title like Education Nourishment Guru for good measure.
I am wary of titles. I like simplicity in everything. If a two-year old child asks for my name. I’d simply say “Lolade,” and not “Aunty Lolade,” as many would expect. And why not Lolade? Isn’t that my name? No one added the prefix- Aunty to my name when I was born. An older child would use their discretion and add the prefix Aunty (only because they won’t be at ease calling an older person by name), while others may opt for the Ms title in a formal setting. Nonetheless, I remain the bearer, and Lolade is my name regardless of who’s asking.
And so I find it amusing when people get upset when others call them by their first names. This love for titles is the reason some people pay for indigenous and academic recognition in the mould of chieftaincy titles and honorary degrees. Anything but the “drab” and generic Mr or Ms. Anything that will make people perceive them as a person of high ranking status.
For married women, it’s the “Mrs” title. Commit the grievous sin of addressing them otherwise and you’ll incur their wrath. Forget to add the suffix – JP (Jerusalem Pilgrim) to the name of a Jerusalem returnee and you may not be forgiven for a long time.
We are so obsessed with titles. Appellations mean the world to us. The general mentality is that the more titles or designations you have, the more important you are in the society. It’s self-aggrandizement in action. We forget that most of the famous and rich people in the world have only one or two major vocations they are known for, even though they may be involved in other ventures.
Oprah Winfrey is a media proprietor. Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg is the co-founder of Facebook. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer. All these people are famous and well respected for one major thing. It is an erroneous notion that when a person has their finger in many pies they are more likely to be successful or respected.
I am involved in various aspects of writing and advertising, however, I simply say I’m a writer and advertising consultant whenever I am asked what I do. I don’t think it is necessary to reel out creative writing, fiction and non fiction writing, copy writing, ghost writing etc. Except of course, I am prodded to be more in depth in my response.
I also find that if you really do what you claim to do as a profession, you won’t need to spend so much time defining it or trying to convince people that it’s your life’s work. I remember telling a friend I was taking a course in copy writing because I wanted to learn it, and he said to me, “Lolade, you already write copy.” He not only said it, he showed me from some of the work I had done, and I had no choice but to agree with him.
You are not a mentor, if you don’t have a mentee or protege. You are not a counselor if you are not counselling anybody. You are not a writer if you don’t write regularly. That you are a doctor, singer and baker all at once does not necessarily make you more successful than one who has chosen Law as their one and only calling.
At the end of the day, the impact that each person makes with their craft ultimately determines how successful they are.
It’s not in the titles; real or pretentious. It’s in the substance.