Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Emeka and Other Names


I shared the tragic news of our nephew Emeka’s death in California with you in my last post. My husband Clem and I were there when I wrote.

We came back Sunday night, arriving home Monday morning, tired but relieved that we had gone, seen Emeka’s mother and sister, and exchanged stories about him.

Emeka and Nkiru in Nigeria

Granddaughter Nkiru posted this picture of them at our wedding anniversary in Nigeria

The detectives are still not sure what happened, but the likeliest scenario is that the shooter had come to the apartment building to see his girlfriend who wouldn’t let him in. He was enraged, maybe drunk or high, and passed by the laundry room on his way out.

Emeka was in the laundry room taking his clothes from the dryer in preparation for an early morning departure for Nigeria.

From the sounds people heard and the injury the man had, it seems he and Emeka scuffled. He dropped the gun which went off by accident and hit him. He picked up the gun and shot Emeka six times. He later went to the hospital for his injured arm where he was apprehended. There was a warrant out for him for other offenses.

I’ve always loved the name Emeka. The full name is Chukwuemeka which means God has done well, or God is great.

And I loved this nephew. His death leaves a hole in my heart.

His sister said on Facebook, “Wise beyond your years, kind, peaceful, so Zen-like we used to joke. Your spirituality was infectious. Epitome of cool and charisma.”

Our 16-year old granddaughter Nkiru posted a picture of him with her on Instagram. It was from our wedding anniversary in the village at Christmas a year ago. She said, “RIP to the funniest uncle anyone could ever ask for. You lightened up every room and I will miss your presence more than anything. I love you fly high.”

Meadow Ridge

I’ll report on my Meadow Ridge book talk next time, with photos, after I deliver the books I promised.

Mount Holyoke Alumnae Gathering

On Thursday evening I hosted a gathering for ten Mount Holyoke alumnae who live in the area, mainly from the town of Westport.

Potluck dinners are always interesting and delicious.

We ate very well. The best was an Indian appetizer made with eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, and a variety of other ingredients and spices, to spread on pita bread. When Sujata asked if I wanted the left-over, I didn’t hesitate.

Conversation ranged as widely as our ages – from the class of 1960 to 1998. A few of the topics we talked about:

MHC gathering

Mount Holyoke women at our home for potluck dinner

  • college activities then and now
  • professors from our own days and now
  • Japanese internment
  • racism
  • menopause
  • drama of teen children
  • employment challenges
  • and a little bit of politics.

Missing from the picture is Alanna, my neighbor across the street, who took the photo.

Pronouncing an Igbo Name

Nkem Ifejika is a newscaster at BBC. He writes about his inability to speak Igbo, his ancestors’ language, in their online magazine.

The piece is headed, “Identity 2016: Why I stopped mispronouncing my Igbo name.”

He describes many reasons why Igbo is becoming less relevant in everyday life, and is even in danger of dying out.

Nigerian Nkem Ifejika who will now promounce his name correctly

Nkem Ifejika, BBC broadcaster, who will now promounce his name correctly

Igbos are often outward-looking, so want to speak the languages that will help them adapt to other places than their homeland.

By habit, he says, Hausa people in Nigeria when they meet other Hausas, will speak their language. The same for Yoruba people. But Igbos will often end up speaking English together.

And many people do as he had been doing – pronouncing their names in a way that makes it easier for others to grasp and repeat.

My husband often does this, while I insist on saying our name correctly.

In my book talks and presentations, I start out by teaching people how to say Onyemelukwe, with the correct tones.

Recently Ifejika realized that since he is proud of his name he should use it properly!

He also found that he wants to pass on his Igbo heritage to his son.

“If you’d asked me my name 10 years ago I’d have given an Anglicised pronunciation – one I learned from my British teachers and fellow students, rather than the one I learned from my parents.”

“I look back on those days with a hint of shame. But now, when I’m on air, I say my name properly, with the correct tones, and with pride. I can and do forgive other people for getting my name wrong, but I should not be mispronouncing my own name.”

I congratulated him on Twitter for his decision. If you look at the article, you can hear him explain how to say his name.

An Historic Name Stays at Yale

Yale University’s President, Peter Salovey, sent a message yesterday to all members of the Yale community, of which I am one, with my MPPM (now MBA) degree in 1988.


John C. Calhoun’s name will stay at Yale

He reports major decisions about residential college names and a title reached after months of consultation.

“The title of “master” for the person heading a residential college will change to “head of college.”

Then he said, “The new residential colleges will be named for Anna Pauline Murray and Benjamin Franklin.”

But the most watched decision, I believe, was about the name of Calhoun College, named for a U.S. vice-president who was “an ardent defender of slavery.” He announced that Yale will keep the name.

He said, “Ours is a nation that continues to refuse to face its own history of slavery and racism. Yale is part of this history . . . Erasing Calhoun’s name from a much-beloved residential college risks masking this past, downplaying the lasting effects of slavery, and substituting a false and misleading narrative . . . Retaining the name forces us to learn anew and confront one of the most disturbing aspects of Yale’s and our nation’s past. I believe this is our obligation as an educational institution.”

Do you agree with his reasoning?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Catherine and family,

    I am so sorry to hear about Emeka. My heart is with you as you struggle through this horrible, senseless loss. Years ago, a beloved uncle was killed as the assailants tried to rob the his place of business. The shock and loss of loved one to violence is very traumatic for everyone … another layer of emotions on top of dealing with their death.

    ‘Keeping you and the family in my thoughts and prayers as you work through the grief.

    Love and hugs,


  2. I don’t agree with Yale’s rationale for keeping the name–that said, I’m not sure I agree with students who are fighting so hard to change the names either. Although I get the importance of names of buildings, in my mind, there are much bigger fish to fry.

    • I think you’re right – there are bigger fish to fry. But I also think one must address the fish, even if they’re small, that are in the stream where you are! If you keep looking for bigger fish, you may look in vain for a long time!

    • Complicated issue. I hear you.

      I see the point of the administrators/governing board because I don’t think removing the name eliminates the history. We have to reconcile with history. Removing the name does not make facts go away.

      I also I think about the people who who are making the decision and wonder at what is behind their decision (what I mentioned before, or lack of courage or rigid adherence to history and tradition). There is no perfect, historical or contemporary figure.

      Also, naming buildings has always been about the money (those with the money to make it happen) and the prestige (those with juice to make it happen). I wonder also at the passion of the students. Why this? Why now? How important is this really? Are there other more pressing issues that warrant their attention?

  3. Catherine, I am so very sorry for the loss of your nephew, especially in such a tragic way. It’s very sad that so many do not value life. Theirs or anyone elses.

  4. What a sad and unnecessary death! He sounds like such a vibrant and amazing man.

  5. Catherine,
    I am so saddened to read of the death of your beloved nephew Emeka under violent circumstances. I would say “I can’t imagine how horrible it is to learn of a death by gun violence of a beloved relative” but I experienced such a death in 1974. To this day that day is seared into my brain with still tender feelings of horror and loss.

    May you and Clem and all of your family find comfort in sharing memories and love.

    Take good care, Lynda

  6. The senselessness of such a death makes it especially hard. My condolences to all you family.