I've gone by my childhood nickname for nearly five years now, and every time someone praises my nickname, my heart sinks a little bit.
Loulou isn't a part of my genetic identification, even my parents don't recognize it as a name to call me. My family would much rather prefer me to go by my given name -- Louise -- in professional and social settings.
But I can't.
The name Louise had caused a lot of strife for me in past years. People couldn't pronounce it, spell it, or understand why I should be named 'Louise.' Deciding to go by Loulou was a way for me to have control over an aspect of myself.
It was also, in some ways, more expectant of me to be named Loulou. It was easy for people to understand me in a space where my name was different, exotic, and with a weird spelling. It was different, and it gave me something interesting to be remembered by, a point we will come back to later.
The years I went by Louise were some of the most socially reclusive of my life. I didn't have many friends, nor did I speak out much. Classmates from elementary school and middle school remember me as 'Louise,' quiet and shy, un-impactful. When I decided to go by 'Loulou,' a lot of things changed for me as well. It was one of the many choices I made to shed remnants of my old self, and to boss up in a new space.
Reinventing myself as Loulou helped to erase the years that I spent being insecure about myself. I could leave whatever stains I wanted to as Loulou, the name was expendable. As a college student, seeing people who knew me as Louise is bittersweet and angering. The name reminders me of what I feel is a desecration of a name that should have meant a lot, that should have been preserved better.
I had always believed Louise was too normal and rare -- reserved for middle names or white women, rarely did Louise's make history. My sister, named Marguerite, would try to prove just how annoying having our names were. I would find people with the same name as her to prove that being named Marguerite was better than being named Louise. 'Look at what this Marguerite is doing!" Authors, lawyers, activists galore.
Being named Louise also irked me, because I wasn't named 'Lou-ISE", I was named "Lwise," pronounced the French way. I was named after my Cameroonian grandmother, and if I was going to honor my grandmother in my living, others better respect her existence in her name. It wasn't happening. I was tired of cringing every time I heard people pronounce my name. It didn't sound like I was being called when prounounced in a traditional anglo accent. It wasn't my name, rather, something alien.
One of the biggest reasons for deciding to go by Loulou was that it mimicked my identity more than Louise. No one thought I was African (which I am) with a name like Louise. My identity was constantly overshadowed by this name; it will always be overshadowed because of colonization. I didn't want to address the history of oppression in my country every time I was addressed. Going by Loulou made it so that I could fake an ethnic name. It somehow made me less authentic to other Africans to have a European name.
So after graduating? I don't know. I know going by Loulou is less considered less professional, and I would prefer Loulou to be on my professional documents, but I'm really not sure.