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.


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