In keeping with the heritage theme during the Heritage Month of September, I thought I should ponder about names people give others or to their children whether theirs or somebody else’s. Names can also be given to non-humans like dogs, cats and horses as a form of endearment. In African society one gets a name or names the day or soon after they are born. This name, normally, is not something that one just gets given, there is a lot of thought behind it as the names carry meaning. The name either tries to pave the way for the child as he/she traverses through life and the hope is that the child will follow the name and be a decent and successful human being. Others are named after successful people in the family or in the community as the parent hopes that the child will grow up and be as good a human being as the person he is named after. Of course, a name performs a very basic and functional role – that of something to identify you and something you answer to.
Others put no significance to the practice of giving a child a name, hence we have names like Matlakala (rubbish), Nontlupheko (poverty), Ntombokwenzani (not another girl child, what are we going to do with another girl child!) and so on. This is not only careless but cruel as well as that child will go through life having to explain to people why they were given such an ugly and sometimes meaningless name. Some get given nicknames with malicious intent in order to shame a person or to mock them about how they behave or how they look. You will see people with descriptive nicknames like “Fatty, Shorty, Tiny, Varkie” and the names in isiXhosa like “Mfenetyi, Mpuku and Nomademfu” are even worse. If you are a male and you have gone through the circumcision ritual you also get a symbolic name to signify that now you are a man.
A woman who gets married also gets given a name as their first name is discouraged from being used thereafter. Others would get a name given to them like Nolasti, Nofinishi or of late the ones like Lahluma, Lathitha or they will be referred to using their clan name going forward like Mamkhuma, Mamqwathi and so on. This practice is not taken lightly and has a lot of significance in the family and it symbolizes that the bride is now fully integrated into her new family. As you can see, names are very important to a person’s identity and heritage.
Next time you get given an opportunity to give a child a name – think deeply about it as your action will be permanent and you can either help or damage that child by the name you give them. Please stop giving phrases as names please – a child should not be burdened with a task of having to constantly explain to people what their name means. In Afrikaans a name falls under a category selfstandige naamworde, loosely translated to self standing name word. Once a child has to constantly explain to people what her name means, then you as the person who gave that child that name – have failed. Happy Heritage Month and please do not forget to register to vote – that is also part of your heritage.