What’s In A Name?


cbdbc5f3335e42f9b6e10bda26d15404Very recently, SuperGirl whispered something in my ear. I could tell by the delicate manner that her words escaped her lips that she thought it may be something that would displease me. She said, “Mama, go na le ngwana o mongwe ko crèche o bitswang Matlakala”.

My baby reckoned my fuse would blow when I heard that one of her playmates is named Matlakala. Since mommy is quite strict on swearing (even words that threaten to slightly contort the face), “Rubbish” and a person mentioned in the same sentence –for a four year old-I would imagine is quite…hectic!

Seeing how her big eyes jumped out of their sockets and her lips adapted their deliberate duck-like pose, I knew I had confused her. I looked back with a sheepish grin and burst into laughter. Welcome to earth, sunshine!  🙂

Though some of us have been around for donkey years, one has to admit that names (and naming) in the African context are still a source of intrigue and bewilderment. SuperGirl’s eyes and ears have yet to pop in astonishment from some of the names out there.

The seSotho proverb, “Lebitso lebe ke seromo” literally means that those who beget bad names are destined to personify them. It means that one’s name defines who they are; a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. So, if you’re looking at Matlakala then you probably expect a badly behaved straat meisie(trash). You’d think with all these pre-emptive proverbs out there people would think twice before burdening children with odd names!

The naming process is dependent on a number of factors. In Ghana, it depends on the day of the week a child is born, (among other factors). The events surrounding the birth of a child also play a part, including the weather (think Mapula for those born during the rainy seasons), as well as virtue.The aspirations parents have for the child also come up in there.

In the past, it was trendy to give a child an English name probably for compliance reasons so the masters of the day could at least have ease of pronunciation.

Sometimes, the process is based purely on superficial reasons like the child’s looks. When all else fails, the eldest (or most respected) Oumain the family is asked to prescribe or recycle the name of a long deceased relative. Sometimes though, it’s more like a, “Ah, fu%k! Let’s get this thing out of the way already…and next!!!” situation. It’s a seriously convoluted process eksȇ!

While the process of naming a child is seemingly well-thought out in our context, sometimes one has the inclination to believe that in some corners it is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction. Many people know what it feels like to be the subject of mockery and ridicule that can be brought on by an Avant-garde name, so to speak. It’s hell!

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s explore some of the odd names out there. These are some of the names that make one suspect that King Dalindyebo’s weed could have been doing the rounds for far longer than you and I can possibly imagine.

I believe that our Zimbabwean neighbours are some of the worst culprits in the names department. Perhaps it’s just jealousy talking since there is so much swag in their names, they don’t even need an explanation. “Chemist”, “Lovemore”, “Goodenough”, “Godwin”, “Immaculate”, “Loveness”,“Marvellous” and “Learnmore” are just some of the names coming out of Zim’. Is that swag or swag?

It doesn’t imply that back home we are squeaky clean. We are not. I reckon the worst culprits are my Xhosa compatriots. No offense people, but with names like “Matanzima/mouthful”, “Jongephi/looking where?”, “Dingindawo/one with no space”, “Coceka/cleanliness”, “Dengana/little fool” (God forbid!), “Noparty/party girl”, “Nohoho” (huh?) and “Nobody” (LOL! Okay, I made that one up) -it’s hard to compete. It’s a tragedy.

African story-telling is legendary. According to Kitweonline.com, “Africa has a rich oral tradition [that was there] long before the written word”. African names are stories on their own. Sometimes they start a journey one has not embarked on yet and other times they tell of the journeys of others.

Sometimes these stories are metaphorical shoes too big to fill. They are capable of making or breaking an individual. Sometimes they are hugely entertaining. They tell tales of emotional up-swings and downward spirals all the same. Sometimes they have it all wrong; completely losing the plot.


Pride & Prejudice…

Courtesy of SMJ on Newgrounds...

Courtesy of SMJ on Newgrounds…

I grew up in a township nestled between Lichtenburg and Mahikeng. Old people who say they were brought there by the truck loads call it Mooidorpie. We just called it Itsoseng. At least it wasn’t given one of those derogatory names given to other places in the former Bantustans.

For me, there is no greater indication of the success that was the Bantustan project than the names given to these places. There can be no insult bigger to a group of people than to remove them from their land and then condemn their existence by giving their settlements unsavoury names.

I’m a product of a public schooling system; a product of the men and women who breathed life into us. Perhaps they knew that it is very easy for children in townships to fall through the cracks of the system. I take pride that the foundation they laid allowed me not to over-compensate nor to feel less capable than my cohorts from former model-C’s and private schools.

Not everyone who comes out of the public schooling system can say they did not struggle when they got to varsity.  Some had to face the unnerving challenge of using computers for the very first time at that stage. There can be no denying that individuals are positively or negatively affected by their environment.

Township life was good, but it wasn’t perfect. Random and constant water shortages and electricity cuts were the norm. The dusty streets of Itsoseng are a legend all on their own. What about functional street-lamps? Think again.

The first time I read Malaika Wa Azania’s blog post titled “The black “middle class” and its white tendencies”, I had skimmed through it. I had grasped enough of it to conclude that choice is an integral part of life. It is also enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our constitution.

I was rather pleased that the born-free shared my view on the contentious debate of language, particularly how indigenous South African languages are quickly wilting, especially within our homes. I could relate to the frustration even before I recently learnt how one of my relatives coyly cornered my child in an attempt to suss out her English proficiency. I mean, really?!

Anyway, Malaika describes the black middle class as, “people who live in nice complexes in areas like Midrand and drive nice cars, the comfortable blacks who are relatively financially comfortable without necessarily having control of means of production”. She went further to lambast this group for thinking that they are too posh for the township by suddenly being “afraid to drive [there] at 19h00 because ‘it’s so dangerous’”.


One cannot ignore the contradictions in Malaika’s thoughts, especially now that she forms part of the EFF (which has highlighted the expropriation of land without compensation as one of its focal policies). Shouldn’t she at least know that the glorification of township life is misguided especially when one envisions a society where the majority of the populace has a stake in the means of production?

There is a problem here. It is clear from Malaika’s blog title that the yardstick used to measure blackness rests in how much one identifies with adversity. Adversity and poverty have become “us” so much that its absence is viewed with suspicion- contempt even.

When business mogul Patrice Motsepe announced that he would be giving away half the dividends of his fortune towards deserving education and other social upliftment initiatives, some in the village of Mmakau where he grew up, took the opportunity to take a swipe at the man for not “doing anything for the community”. Yet again, entitlement rears its ugly head.

Speaking about growing up in the township, winner of season 8 of IdolsSA, Khaya Mthethwa, told a local magazine that, “[The] township strips you of self-importance. You get to see people facing struggles daily but never complaining”. It is not difficult to see why most of us were encouraged to dream big and to see ourselves beyond townships.

How can one possibly take pride in inhabiting a place where an ambulance arrives hours after an emergency call has been logged? When young boys are smoking Nyaope on a street corner or hanging around a bar with their school uniform on during school hours? When the neighbour is chasing his wife around on the street at night? Why do some people reckon that it makes sense for anybody to want to live in sub-standard settlements that were initially engineered to keep some sections of the population away from urban centres?

Townships are also home to people who are well-off. Their children attend affluent schools in the suburbs and they drive German sedans. They love the feel and vibe of the township; the sense of neighbourliness. They know all too well the service delivery challenges in the township. They mingle nicely with their counterparts in Sandton. They know who they are and are comfortable with that. Living in the township is a conscious choice on their part. Should those who feel differently be castigated and branded sell-outs? Me thinks not.

It is disturbing that there still exist some individuals who feel that black people ought to be apologetic about their personal successes; that dues have to be paid to a million people and then some before greater society can put its stamp of approval. There is no clearer indication that the PHD (Pull Her/Him Down) syndrome persists in our societies. It is not limited to some of those who remain in townships who feel that the world owes them; it extends to those who reckon that their enlightened minds warrant them the right to dictate how others fit into the prism of blackness. My foot!