What’s in a Name?

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/national News - Fea­tures Crys­ta­bel Chikayi

CAN a name re­ally in­flu­ence how one thinks, be­haves or shape one’s des­tiny? Mr Bayanai Tshuma, a Bu­l­awayo man based in South Africa seems to thinks so. He is su­ing the Reg­is­trar-Gen­eral, Mr Tobaiwa Mud­ede, for al­legedly deny­ing him a new birth cer­tifi­cate with a new first name. Mr Tshuma wants to be re­named Nor­man.

Dur­ing child­hood peo­ple are of­ten said that a name is a proper noun and it con­sol­i­dates an in­di­vid­ual’s iden­tity. Oth­ers say a name de­notes na­tion­al­ity and is an em­bod­i­ment of, among other things, cul­ture, char­ac­ter and taste. But could there be more to a name? Dr Nh­lanhla Landa, a lin­guist based in Bin­dura, says the process of nam­ing is de­lib­er­ate as par­ents name their chil­dren in re­la­tion to their life’s ex­pe­ri­ences.

The ex­pe­ri­ences can be cen­tred on their frus­tra­tions, as­pi­ra­tions and spe­cial events.

His­toric names, Dr Landa says, are point­ers to one’s ori­gins.

“In our day to day lives we come across in­di­vid­u­als who re­name them­selves. Mostly these peo­ple would have de­cided that they do not want to as­so­ciate them­selves with their his­tory and emo­tions linked to their names.

“There is what we call self-nam­ing whereby one gives him­self a pseu­do­nym like ‘the Anointed’.

“One might never be able to know who the real per­son be­hind that pseu­do­nym is but a pseudo name al­ways re­veals one’s char­ac­ter and feel­ings,” said Dr Landa.

Hu­man nam­ing is be­lieved to be coloured by pas­sion, fear, pride, hope, lust and at times ex­pe­ri­ence.

Dr Landa says the ef­fects of names on their bear­ers are be­liefs, psy­cho­log­i­cal.

“There is what we call an ‘ef­fect’ whereby when a per­son does well and you say well done, it mo­ti­vates him or her. These ef­fects do not work the same with ev­ery­one be­cause the bearer of the name makes a con­scious de­ci­sion to break the im­pact of the name.

That is why you can find a very rich man with a name like Mhlupheki. Some, how­ever, fail to sur­pass the be­lief that their names curse them,” he said.

Mr Tshuma, whose first name Bayanai is Shona for “stab each other”, is con­vinced his name is cursed.

He ar­gued in his court papers that he con­tin­u­ously suf­fers bad luck be­cause of his fore­name.

Some prom­i­nent peo­ple find it dif­fi­cult to live with their given full-names when they make it in life. They then opt to ei­ther shorten the name or re­name them­selves.

For ex­am­ple, for­mer Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment and Tourism, Cde Chen­hamo Chakezha Chimuteng­wende, is widely known as ‘Chen’ short for Chen­hamo.

A rare few like Mr Tshuma pre­fer chang­ing their first names of­fi­cially by get­ting a new birth cer­tifi­cate with a new name.

Lin­guists say not all acts of nam­ing are in­no­cent, some­times they shape and form the bear­ers of such names, be it hu­man or an­i­mal. Last week a 24-year-old man, Sife­luthando Khu­malo, from En­tum­bane Sub­urb in Bu­l­awayo, ap­peared at the West Com­mon­age court fac­ing a charge of hav­ing sex with a mi­nor, his 13-year-old lover.

Khu­malo’s first name in IsiNde­bele means “dy­ing for love”. His case is still be­fore the courts. Par­ents are of­ten blamed for giv­ing their chil­dren un­usual or con­tro­ver­sial names.

Ex­perts say a num­ber of kids are named based on what will be trending at the time the child is born while some par­ents may name their chil­dren after their favourite singers and soc­cer stars.

Mr Venge­sai Nhau of Bu­l­awayo says at times fore­names as­sume the form of a mes­sage in a polyg­a­mous setup. He says his father has three wives with his mother be­ing the se­nior wife.

“I have two broth­ers from my step-moth­ers who are younger than me. One is called Tiri­vafi (we are corpses) and the other is Tiri­vapi (who are we?).

It was our moth­ers who named us but they never re­ally told us why they chose those par­tic­u­lar names,” said Mr Nhau whose first name, Venge­sai, means “hate all you want”.

Tra­di­tion­al­ists say the nam­ing process is a doc­u­men­ta­tion process as names cap­ture his­tory and time.

Mr Phathisa Ny­athi, a cul­tural fundi and renowned his­to­rian, says names are not taken from a bas­ket like fruits. Chil­dren are named in re­la­tion to cir­cum­stances, si­t­u­a­tions or events that would be there dur­ing their time of birth, he says.

“Tra­di­tion­ally a new born baby is not named or al­lowed to come out of the house be­fore the new moon has ap­peared and be­fore the um­bil­i­cal code has fallen.

“When the child has not yet been out of the house we say us­esen­ga­manzi mean­ing, he is still wa­ter.

“We only name a child when he or she is strong enough and it is cer­tain that the child will live,” said Mr Ny­athi.

He says a child is not just named for the sake it but to pre­serve his­tory. Said Mr Ny­athi: “If a child is born dur­ing a drought, he might be named ‘Nd­lalambi’ as a re­minder that the child was born dur­ing a se­vere drought.

Our tra­di­tion does not la­bel time with dig­its to say 2000 or 1999. We tell time in re­la­tion to events.

The name Ma­sot­sha may just be a re­flec­tion that the child was born when the sol­diers were ac­tive dur­ing the colo­nial era.”

A tra­di­tional healer, Mr Si­mon Sibanda, says chil­dren are named in re­la­tion to si­t­u­a­tions at home at their time of birth. He says a name has the power to in­flu­ence char­ac­ter and des­tiny.

“When a girl child is given her late pa­ter­nal aunt’s name, be­cause of their blood ties, the spirit of the dead aunt en­ters the child. She starts be­hav­ing just like her aunt used to. In such a case the child adopts both the neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive traits that the aunt had, ” said Khulu Sibanda.

Rev­erend Paul Bayethe Da­masane says Chris­tian­ity de­fines the nam­ing process as the as­crib­ing of a ref­er­ence to an ob­ject or some­one. When nam­ing some­thing, he says, you make it be­long to some­one.

“Names can be prophetic or de­scrip­tive. The process of nam­ing has a lot to do with what has hap­pened.

“It can have a bear­ing on an in­di­vid­ual in the sense that, a name can be a bur­den to the child. Nam­ing is crit­i­cal as it can make one ac­cept­able or re­pul­sive.

For ex­am­ple, Cde Obe­d­ingwa Mguni be­came the first Zanu-PF MP after a chain of MDC MPs in his con­stituency (Mangwe).

His name Obe­d­ingwa, which means the ex­act per­son we have been look­ing for, fits very well into the sit­u­a­tion,” said Rev Da­masane. He says chris­ten­ing in Africa came as a re­sult of the Western tra­di­tion whereby peo­ple change their names to adopt pa­tron saints’ names.

Said Rev Da­masane: “Euro­peans changed in­dige­nous peo­ple’s names to English be­cause they could not pro­nounce the lo­cal names. An English name is not nec­es­sar­ily a Chris­tian name.”

He says Chris­tian names are given to peo­ple who al­ready have their fam­ily names and they are given as a way of link­ing in­di­vid­u­als to their new found iden­tity.

“A name links the in­di­vid­ual to the past, cre­ates an ac­tive pre­sent and re­flects a bet­ter fu­ture,” said Rev Da­masane. He says to­day’s nam­ing does not dif­fer much with the tra­di­tional way.

“Par­ents to­day still name their chil­dren in re­la­tion with the si­t­u­a­tions around but sim­ply change the name to English. You find that a par­ent at the back of her mind wants to call her child Velile but trans­lates that to English and end up call­ing him Ob­vi­ous.

The old tra­di­tional art of nam­ing still re­mains but we have Western­ised it. That is why you find many kids with English names that make no sense at all,” said Rev Da­masane.

Mrs Silo­bile Sit­hole (34) of Makokoba openly de­spises her name which is an ex­pres­sion of dis­ap­point­ment. Her name means “we have be­come very scarce”. She says her par­ents named her after los­ing a son in the year she was born.

Mrs Sit­hole said: “My par­ents hoped I was go­ing to be a boy. A name is some­thing one should be proud of, but I hes­i­tate to men­tion mine in pub­lic.

“At school peo­ple would make fun of my name. I thought of chang­ing it be­cause it has given me bad luck in the past years, but chang­ing it is costly. I com­pleted my de­gree in English and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in 2009 but I have never been per­ma­nently em­ployed ever since.” — @cchikayi.

Rev Paul Da­masane

Phathisa Ny­athi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Zimbabwe

© PressReader. All rights reserved.