“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of – for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear”. Socrates, Greek philosopher in Athens (469 BC – 399 BC)
In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet speaks to herself and says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” (act 2, scene 2, lines 43–44).
Awareness of our ancestors, cultures and traditions and appreciation for their names that we bear can give direction to our lives. In our familial lines may be individuals whose actions we would not or should not imitate. We do, however, have the action to conduct our lives at present so that they will reflect civility for our posterity. The questions can be asked: What are we doing to ensure that the virtuous legacies we have received will be passed on to our descendants? What are we doing with our names?
In the Holy Bible, Proverbs 22:1 reads, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” and in Ecclesiastes7:1, it says, “A good name is better than precious ointment”
Our names represent who we are and we become known by our name to all who associate with us throughout our short lives in the world, with our reputation or the opinion generally held of us always inextricably linked to our name. Yes, our name and reputation are always together.
A few months ago in London, I met a lady who had been invited to join a group of Nigerian professionals that I belong to, aiming to export our skills, experience and expertise back to Nigeria. Before then, I had never met this lady, but apparently she was discussing the idea with her cousin, a professor in a university in far-away Canada. The professor advised her to be wary of dealing with Nigerians and during the course of their phone conversation; she mentioned my name as a member of the group. She told me that as soon as she mentioned my name, the professor told her “Akintokunbo? If it is the same Akintokunbo that I know, please go ahead and join them. There is no problem”.
The professor, though older than me, happened to be a friend and colleague when I was doing my postgraduate degree in Canada in the early 80s. In fact I was the MC at his wedding in 1983 and he knew me very well. He is from Abia State while I am from Oyo State.
To tell you I was moved by this long-distance recommendation will be putting it mildly. I was proud of myself. I was proud of my name, my reputation for being recognised and recommended as a honest man; a sincere Nigerian that everyone he meets would like to be associated without any doubt about his reputation and integrity; that even after 30 years, people still remember me for my personal qualities and professional abilities. What more could I pray for than to be acknowledged for a positive image like this in a country where we do not trust each other and our morals have descended to the lowest fathom of societal values?
To me, my good name and reputation are priceless and non-negotiable. In Othello, act 3, scene 3, lines 163–65, Shakespeare said: “He that filches [or steals] from me my good name / Robs me of that which not enriches him / And makes me poor indeed”. We build our reputation each and every day by our thoughts, actions, choices, and associations. We are all representatives of our own families, and the reputation of a family is established through the actions of each member of that family. Also, we are representatives of our community, religion, ethnicity and nation, in this case, Nigeria. As we conduct our lives now, even the smallest actions reflect upon them and their names.
I am always grateful to God and my parents for the good name given to me; to my friends and acquaintances, even those I have never met, spread across the world, who see something in me that that they trust and can confide in.
My good name matters to me very much. Does it to you? Does it to our rulers, our politicians, our civil servants, our bankers, our captains of industry, the people we entrust our lives, security and well-being to?
Poem sent by Zainab Hannafi Anthonio
NAME: You got it from your father; it was all he had to give.
Therefore, it is yours to use and cherish, for as long as you shall live.
If you lose the watch your father gave you, material things are replaceable.
However, a black mark on your name will never be erased.
It was clean the day you took it, and a worthy name to bear.
When he got it from his father, there was no dishonour there.
So make sure you guard it wisely, for the day will come that
You will be glad the name is spotless, when you pass the name to your children.
– Zainab Hannafi Anthonio (London, UK)