Thandiwe Newton: The women who are reclaiming their names like the Hollywood actress

Just like actress Thandiwe Newton, these women have reclaimed their names and these are their reasons why. Credit: PA/user generated

This week, actress Thandiwe Newton added back a letter missing from her name for 30 years.

Born Thandiwe, her first film in 1991 wrongly credited her as Thandie and that’s what she had gone by ever since – until now.

Newton told Vogue magazine her future films will be credited to the name Thandiwe: “That’s my name. It’s always been my name. I’m taking back what’s mine.”

She’s since been overwhelmed with messages on social media from fans and admirers who have decided to do the same.


Thandiwe is far from alone in adopting a new name and she won’t be the last to reclaim her original version.

ITV News spoke to five people who either adapted their name or changed it entirely before reverting back.

Here’s why they now wouldn’t want to be called anything else.

Ndah (In-da)

Ndah Mbawa moved to the UK from Cameroon when she was 19 and in search of work.

Now 43, Brits have struggled to say her name, which she says means "someone who does things in an extravagant way," properly for much of her life here.

And she feels many simply did not want to make the effort to try to learn how to say it, deciding instead to either ignore her or change her name to their liking – she was even once called ‘Noah’.

Fearing potential employers were overlooking her because of her name, she decided to change its spelling to ‘Inda’ a few years after moving here.

“In Cameroon, people are easy with two consonants together, but when I came here it became aggravated and I felt somehow it was limiting my opportunities,” she told ITV News.

“I came here to try to work and people can’t even pronounce my name, so what does that do for my opportunities?”

Ndah said she was worried her name may have been working against her in job applications.

She was met with another surprise when she arrived in the UK.

George Ndah – a male, premier league striker of Nigerian heritage – shared her name.

She said: “There are some boys with my name who spell it the same way, and I thought - is this a boy’s version?

“And my dad was hurt by that, he was a well-educated man and he said ‘no, this is how it’s meant to be’.”

Ndah now runs Etinde House, producing chilli oils, pastes, and other snacks, in honour of her father, who used to own a farm and made sauces from chilli.

And it was partly in her father’s memory that she decided to drop the alternative spelling.

“My dad gave me that name and there is probably a strength to it, rather than conforming to what others would prefer,” she said.

Now a mother to three girls, Ndah backs Thandiwe for returning to her “beautiful name.”

“It’s good for the next generation to see it’s OK that you are who you are, I am fully in support.”

Eniye (En-yay)

Eniye Okah had changed her name to Natasha.

Eniye Okah, 26, founded her own company and has included a break-down of how to pronounce her name – En-Yay – within her email signature, for the sake of prospective clients.

But even with her name clearly laid out, she still gets emails addressed to her with her name, which means ‘my own’, misspelt.

It’s not a new problem for Eniye, who grew up in South Africa, where she says most of the people who either struggled with or ignored her name were from the country’s white population.

“Nobody could pronounce it, they’d always try to find a shortened name like ‘En’, and I hated it,” she said.

“I honestly hated going into a new class or grade, because I knew I’m going to have to teach my teacher my name all over again.”

At university, one of her lecturers asked how to say her name right up until the day she graduated.



“It would become a joke in class and I hated the attention that would bring,” she said.

It’s why she introduced herself as Natasha on her first day at high school. She was a big Natasha Beddingfield fan at the time and the singer had a name nobody would struggle to say, so it made sense.

“I have a very difficult relationship with my name, because I love it and I love where it comes from (it is a Nigerian name),” she added.

“My dad gave it because it meant something to him. But, at the same time, [I thought] it’s hard. Why can’t I have a name people can just say?”

And it’s ultimately her father’s advice she took when she came to the UK.

“When I moved to the UK, I decided to stick with Eniye, because it just felt like Natasha wasn’t my name and I don’t know what made me change it, but I feel others need to get on with it and learn it.

“Maybe you get older and realise life’s too short and people should stop being lazy.”

Sonali (So-na-lee)

Sonali became Lily before changing back to Sonali.

That’s a sentiment Sonali can also get behind after years of facing another set of variations to her name.

Sonali, 33, had never really liked her name and she especially didn’t like the nicknames that come with it.

She’s been called ‘Sonny’, or just ‘Son’, but one that stuck was ‘Lali’, thanks to her then-baby cousin who struggled to say Sonali in full.

In time, she turned ‘Lali’ into ‘Lilly’, which is what she would informally call herself from time to time.

“I recently moved to Worcester, and thought ‘right, fresh start’ and I completely changed to Lily,” she said.

But her move ultimately had the opposite effect.

“I found that I’m the only brown person around, so I thought ‘should I just be proud of my heritage’ - which I am – so should I stick with Sonali?”

She said she sometimes struggled with British names – Davis and Davies for example – but she makes the effort to get it right. So why shouldn’t others do the same for her?

“This is my name at the end of the day and it may not be the best but its meaning is lovely – made of gold – so I like to think my name reflects me a bit,” she said.

But she did admit she still turns her head whenever someone says Lily – and, as a Harry Potter fan, she is fine with sharing the wizard’s mum’s name.

Joelle (Joe-elle, not ‘jelly bean’)

Joelle's name has been misread many times in her life, even when she tried to make it easier.

From a wizard’s mum to… sweets.

Many have tripped up over Joelle’s name and, at times, given her an entirely different name altogether.

Joelle is what her parents picked after spotting it in the credits at the end of a film during pregnancy, yet she’s been called Joanne, Jewell, and Jolene.

“It’s almost like they just mix up the letters and take a guess,” she said.

But the most memorable mix-up came in an orthopaedic waiting room, when a slightly confused-looking nurse called for ‘jelly bean.’

“I could see she was struggling with the name, and she said ‘jelly bean’,” Joelle, 35, told ITV News.

“I looked at my mum and she burst out laughing… I saw nobody else react, so I thought it must be me then.”

It’s why Joelle tried to make her name easier to read in the first place, by adding a hyphen for Joe-Elle.

But the proud Yorkshire-woman says it didn’t help and she now sticks with Joelle whether they like it or not.

Adrienne (Add-ree-en)

Adrienne used to hate her name but now she loves it.

Another who doesn’t care what others would prefer to call her is Adrienne, who was once assigned to the boys’ dormitory on a camping trip after organisers drew the wrong conclusions from her name.

She’s not Adrian, she’s Adrienne, named by her French mum.

As a tall and thin child, she hated her name and started to call herself Addy instead.

She said she already looked a bit like a boy before adolescence and her name just made her stand out more than she was already comfortable with.

But all that made her once hate her name gradually became the reasons why she now loves it.

“People don’t know another Adrienne very often, so I like it even if I have to correct them,” she said.

“My plan originally was to properly change it to something that was still unusual but something people could say and read… and I never found what that was.

“But it’s certainly something I like now, I think it suits me and I can’t imagine being called something else.”


Listen to our Arts and Entertainment podcast - Unscripted