What’s in a name?

Before the English and the Dutch treaded onto African soil, fellow Africans had names that 1) were in their mother-tongue language and 2) had symbolic meanings that were unique to the child with the given name. Names like ‘Senzangakhona’, ‘Ntombikayise’, ‘Izintombizakithi’ or ‘Simlindilewafika’ and many more rolled off African tongues like honey dripping from honeycombs. There were seldom nicknames and being called by your full name was nothing to be surprised about.

What parents decide to name their kids is totally up to them but I feel as black Africans, your child must at least have one vernacular name. Personally, I’m against English names for black people because I feel English names do not carry the weight of meaning as vernacular names for us black people.  I’m also against English names because black people came to have English names due to many white people who claim our names to be too long, too clicky or too hard to pronounce, yet we can pronounce or at least attempt to pronounce ‘Tertius van Rheede van Oudtshoorn’. White convenience is elevated over calling one by their birth name and many black people have to stomach this for fear of being seen as ‘too sensitive’. Yes, when it comes to my name, it does hit a nerve.

Like black skin and hair, names have a cultural significance that play a part in our identity. Our names carry the rhythm of Africa because we are children of the soil. My Zulu name means a flower, but for me, it means so much more than the beauty of a flower. It is about the role that a flower fulfils in the ecosystem of mother nature: to grow, to bloom, to maintain balance within the environment, to flourish even when weather conditions are not conducive to my growth.

Yes, I’m a flower so my ‘pollen’ is spread with the hope of allowing other flowers to bloom where they are planted because my existence is not just about me or for me. Granted, some people do not live up to their names but that is a personal choice and how one chooses to interpret their name in their lives.

In black families, naming a child is a critical process because relatives want to imbue the child with a little piece of everyone. Unfortunately, our ID books only have so much space and can carry so many letters but with that said, my future child will have a vernacular name so that she or he know they are African first and their name was deliberately adorned upon them so they may never be uncertain of where they come from.


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