Sensational Argentinian soccer star Diego Armando Maradona and I have a tight connection.
On the day I was born, June 26, Diego scored two classic goals to eject Belgium from the 1986 football World Cup.
Not only did Argentina win the tournament but Maradona was voted Golden Ball winner at the tournament.
My father, Julio Okello, a gifted soccer player and a football enthusiast, that day arrived home grinning and named me Maradona, my mother recalls with a teary face.
My mum had named me Steven Ojok upon birth at St Francis Hospital Nsambya, Kampala.
Steven was her dad and Ojok my paternal uncle.
But my father didn’t live long to see his toddler Maradona become a man.
Only six months later as NRM celebrated its first anniversary in power, his body laid lifeless in a pool of blood on the Nsambya–Clock Tower stretch.
As I grew-up, Maradona was shortened to Donna and I enrolled at VH Public School in Lira Town as Donna Ojok.
I didn’t really care what Donna meant, but I now know it is Italian for lady or madam and gives it some kind of charm and respect!
But my first unease with Donna came in P3 when I got a female namesake.
She was Donna-Dina, the daughter of our headmaster.
It was a beautiful chance as Donna-Dina and I not only shared names but also had special tastes for music, dance and drama. We danced and acted together.
Donna-Dina and Donna became an item, but to avoid the unease, we agreed I should add an ‘S’ to my name. The idea sounded cute, so I hopped from Donna to Donnas.
Our class teacher, Mr Silvio loved it and popularized it by putting a special stress on the name whenever we interacted or during class session.
Just like that, I became Donnas and completed primary school as Donnas Ojok.
But soon, another identity crisis emerged at Dr Obote College, Boroboro.
Donnas didn’t sound ‘cool’ so I castoff the name for Donald.
To date, my ‘O’ Level peers call me Donald.
Nonetheless, another drama kicked in when my O-Level registration forms were thrown out because I had used a ‘wrong name’ — Donald and not Donnas, as was registered in PLE.
From then henceforth I again became Donnas Ojok.
But at Makerere University, Don became ‘cooler’ than Donnas.
To date, my peers from Makerere call me Don.
Now that I have grown up and inspired by my passion for philosophy and Afro-optimism, Afro-futurism and Pan-Africanism, the confusion I have suffered with my name for 33 have forced me to ask – what is in a name?
Unlike what William Shakespeare wrote in his paly, Romeo and Juliet, I disagree that; that which they call a rose by any other name would surely smell just as sweet!
Could then having an all-African name ease one’s decolonisation quest?
Nevertheless, after 33 years of struggle with my foreign name, I dropped Donnas on August 2, 2019, declaring that I be called, known and distinguished as Ojok Okello.
Ojok after my paternal uncle and Okello after my father.
While this does not decolonize the Anglo-American blood overdose that runs through our veins, it’s a first step toward decolonisation.
I would like people to know and judge me first as an African man who comes from a particular African society with no artificial attachment to the Western world.
As a child, I didn’t understand much about my father. As I age now, I have started to dig deeper and understand who he was and what he could have been, had he lived longer.
Personal accounts of people who knew him are positive and inspirational.
Truly, I feel that carrying his name connects my spirit to his.
I also feel that I am connected to my ancestors.
This is exactly what the name Ojok Okello means to me.
And, there is this utopian imagination that the name will contribute towards enabling me overcome some of life’s fiercest storms and answer questions around my identity and belonging.
It carries intellectual, spiritual and cultural significance to me.
Ojok Okello is the founder of Okere City, a radical local development initiative in Otuke District, Northern Uganda.