UMD alum designs shirts aimed at highlighting foreign names

By Daniel Oyefusi

Photo courtesy of Oluwatomisin Akinrinade

Photo courtesy of Oluwatomisin Akinrinade

For Oluwatomisin Akinrinade, his first name was rarely known by classmates. With a name that most of his peers and teachers couldn’t pronounce, he went by Tomi or Tommy but never his given name.

The University of Maryland alum went through something that most students from diverse backgrounds face: people around them failing to or not making an attempt to learn their full names. Now, Akinrinade is designing shirts to allow Africans and other students of ethnic backgrounds to take pride in their names.

Working in conjunction with The African Students Association at UMD, Akinrinade is selling customized t-shirts with people’s names spelled phonetically.

“Most Africans go by a nickname, nobody goes by their full name,” Akinrinade said. “So the inspiration was to allow people to wear their name as a sense of pride and show their culture.”

The shirts show the person’s name spelled phonetically across the chest and UMD’s ASA initials printed on the left arm. The back features the ASA logo, along with the name of Akinrinade’s clothing company, “NoMen,” which is short for nomenclature, and the quote, “It’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

“Your name is something that is given to you, but you really define it,” Akinrinade said of the quote on the shirt. “The name doesn’t wear you—you wear the name.”

A 2017 graduate with a degree in geographical information systems, Akinrinade designed the first shirts in fall 2017. Serving as PR of Networking in ASA while he was at UMD, he then reached out to the organization to ask if they wanted to co-sponsor his efforts.

“I think it’s important because you command a situation when you don’t let it control you,” said Akintomiwa Falodun, a senior mechanical engineering major and ASA programming director. “You only truly have control of your own person. What does that mean? That means you have the power to dictate how people treat you…you control what you answer to.”

While the first prototype shirts have showcased African names, Akinrinade said he doesn’t want to limit himself in what he views as a “culture movement.”

“It’s for everybody,” Akinrinade said. “People of European descent, Native American, Latin, Hispanic, any other ethnicity of diverse background. Other people know that struggle of coming into a place where people can’t pronounce your name.”

Customers have the ability to customize their own authentic name into the shirt. Photo courtesy of Oluwatomisin Akinrinade

Customers have the ability to customize their own authentic name into the shirt. Photo courtesy of Oluwatomisin Akinrinade