Reflections on my name

Dedicated to my Dad, George Waitai Tama Tikao who joined the tīpuna in the stars on 27th July 2019.

My father’s answer phone pronounces our surname in a stretched-out manner “Tee-kaa-oo(r)” milking it for all it’s worth. The old folk at Rāpaki say it in a Kiwi accent “Tea-cows”. At school, we had all manner of bastardisations such as “Tee-kay-oh” – that was a common one, particularly at prizegivings or full-school assemblies. Snigger/shame.

My male relations have turned it into a badge of pride now “TKO” as in technical knockout. Yep. We are a good looking bunch. Cue chest puff and winning smile. It was always something my dad said we should be proud of. The Tikao name. But with that came a responsibility not to sully it. In any way. There is even a bay named after us, although none of our whānau live there anymore. It is now a haven for rich Pākehā family baches. A carpet manufacturer once named a colour after the bay – ‘Tikao grey’. I was offended. Not only were people going to be walking all over us, but grey? why not something glamorous like azure, sapphire, or cerulean, or even teal?

I was given the Christian name of Leanne. The seventh child of seven. The pōtiki. None of us were given Māori names. We were called half-castes back then. Maybe my parents didn’t want to draw too much attention to the fact we were Māori, beyond carrying “the Tikao name”. It was the 60s and 70s and they didn’t give me a middle name. They may have run out of names they liked by then. There were quite a few Leannes back in my day. One time there were three of us in one class. One of them became one of my best friends for a while so we were known by our last names. She was badass. She’d punch us in the stomach to toughen us up. Since I was one of her besties, she wouldn’t punch me very hard. It was more about the show of it.

“I liked being called Ariana.
I liked the sound of it.
I liked the politics of it.
Claiming my Māori identity. Decolonising.”

When I was at uni and started going to immersion hui, I was given the name of Ariana to use during the time of the wānanga. Having Māori names allowed the reo to flow. But I liked being called Ariana. I liked the sound of it. I liked the politics of it. Claiming my Māori identity. Decolonising. I changed it eventually by deed poll. While I was at it, I chose a middle name for myself. Rahera. After my great-great grandmother, Rahera Te Hua, who survived the massacre at Ōnawe. Sometimes we have to choose our own labels. Reclaim our own histories.

People sometimes think I am Mariana, Adriana, Our-ree-aaah-na. But it should be said with four short and equal sounds. When recording our whānau album, my cousins and I gave ourselves gangster names. Mine was ‘The Arianster’. Who’s the badass now? Cue pūkana.

Sometimes people ask me if I am related to Leanne. My husband and I have a private joke – “that bitch is dead” we say. But I guess we can’t kill off our past like a character in a bad daytime soap-opera.

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