As a multicultural woman of color, my name is a way of preserving the histories of those who came before me. To pronounce my name correctly is to hear the complexity of my identity’s journey, and to fully realize the paths of those who brought me to this country and to you.
My mother and YiaYia—whose stories are featured in this piece—both struggled with having their names respected in the United States. My YiaYia, Ksakousti Xelis (Kzah-koo-STEE HELL-ees), changed her name to Georgia Hellis at the age of 18 after being called “Socko” and “Zak” all through high school. And to this day, my mother goes by Miko (Mee-koh) instead of her full name Mikiko (Mee-kee-koh) because people often say “that’s too hard!” when the latter is presented to them. This comic comes from my anger in witnessing the treatment that the women I love endured, and that I went through with my own names. This comic is a result of that fury boiling to the surface, screaming to be expressed.
The moment that names like ours are mispronounced runs with the poison of shame—silencing us so that we do not “make things awkward” because our “names were too hard; what did you expect? I shouldn’t have even tried.” I am publishing this piece as Sophia Akiko because I am working on a journey of unapologetic identity—to show both sides in all my glory, and the glory of the women who came before me. I am the granddaughter of a refugee and the daughter of an immigrant. We are all connected together through womanhood, through diaspora, through identity and distance and closeness. Through love.
This comic is dedicated to my mother and to the memory of my YiaYia. (I love you forever.) —Sophia Akiko