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It's Pronounced 'Oh-ker-uh-KAY:' Why Colts' LB Bobby Okereke Is Taking Ownership Of Cultural, Correct Pronunciation Of His Last Name

Bobby Okereke's parents went by "Oh-kuh-REE-kee" as they assimilated into American culture after emigrating to the United States from Nigeria. But the family's last name has always been pronounced differently than that. 

Three plays into the Colts' Week 3 game against the Tennessee Titans, a well-executed linebacker blitz engulfed quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

"Tannehill is sacked! Oh-ker-uh-KAY coming free," bellowed CBS play-by-play announcer Andrew Catalon. 

Catalon did not butcher Bobby Okereke's last name. That's how it's pronounced — Oh-ker-uh-KAY — in Nigeria, where Okereke's parents grew up before emigrating to the United States decades ago. 

So how did everyone come to know the Colts' third-year linebacker as Bobby Oh-kuh-REE-kee before this year?

"My dad came here to the United States I think when he was 18, emigrated here from college," Okereke explained. "And I think he had a P.E. teacher at the time who — I mean, back then, it obviously wasn't the most culturally accepting time, so his teacher was kind of like, we're going to call you Oh-kuh-REE-kee, like we're not really dealing with your pronunciation of your name. 

"At the time, my dad's just trying to assimilate into American culture and he kind of just took that pronunciation as his last name. Since my parents have been here they've answered as Oh-kuh-REE-kee. Like me growing up, in elementary school, middle school, high school I've always been Oh-kuh-REE-kee. 

"And I've known that the correct pronunciation was Oh-ker-uh-KAY. That was a conversation I had with my parents, too. But then the first change was when I went to Stanford and started playing, probably my sophomore, junior year, my name's being said on TV a little bit more and people are realizing, a lot of Nigerian people are commenting like, why are they saying your name Oh-kuh-REE-kee? 

"And so for me, it was like, going forward, it was my parents' decision to make since that's what the kind of had to do to assimilate and get ingrained in this American society. I feel like for me, now, and the times we're in, it just feels good for me to accept that natural, cultural pronunciation of my name."

Okereke's parents lived through poverty and the Biafrin War in Nigeria (otherwise known as the Nigerian Civil War). His father, Kingsley, came to the United States with "basically nothing," Okereke said, and built a successful family and career here.

In one sense, Okereke said it's empowering to have others now accept the proper pronunciation of his last name. But that discussion is more complex than being just a cut-and-dry thing. 

"But to say the opposite is disempowering, I think it's a tough conversation," Okereke said. "Because at the time my parents, what, like 1960's, 70's, when they came here, to them, Oh-kuh-REE-kee, Oh-ker-uh-KAY, for them, it doesn't matter, I'm just trying to live the American dream and get a good education, get a job. So for them, what's in a name, I get that for them. 

"But now for me, in this 21st century, 2021, I feel like just kind of where we are with being more socially conscious, culturally conscious of things, I think it's just right for me and it kind of is an example for people of all nationalities, really, just like how inclusivity really is at the forefront of where we are right now." 

In Tustin, Calif., where Okereke grew up, everybody knows his family as the Oh-kuh-REE-kee's. Again, it's what his parents did to assimilate into American culture, and he stressed it's not a good thing or a bad thing. It just is what it is.

"You can't really put it on people, too," Okereke said.

This year, though, Okereke said more people with the Colts started to figure out what the correct pronunciation of his last name was. From there, he started to take more ownership of Oh-ker-uh-KAY. 

And so the next time the Colts' linebacker makes a play — and every time after that — you'll hear his name pronounced the way it should be. 

"I kind of, I guess, envisioned this — the more and more I started playing and making plays, my name would be said more and the conversation about the pronunciation would come up," Okereke said. "But I think it was good. My parents watched it and they were like, they tried to say the pronunciation the right way which I think it was a little heartwarming to them. 

"It's an example for a lot of people not only just with my last name or same heritage, just understanding that you can really be whoever you feel is true to you, whether that's culturally or whoever you are, you don't have to change yourself to fit in to American society and I think that's a good step that is in the right direction."

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