As the cycle of life continues to flow and recycle itself, so too do humans reimagine, reshape and remodel their beliefs. Who the hell still names an African child a foreign name? I mean we get why our parents were acquiescent, but to continue embracing the heritage of our oppressors is blowing smoke into our face. I don’t want to bump into a black George or Charles-those are actually two of my uncles’ names, seemingly named after the king and prince of England. What’s astonishing is that my nickname is Lekgowa, meaning white person.
In his book Born a Crime, Trevor Noah reminisces on being called “mlungu” when he was a kid because of his shade, his dad being white. The comedian says his maternal grandmother, no matter how naughty he was, never spanked him like she did his cousins with the fear of touching ‘a white kid’. No wonder our sisters bleach, after all, white is pure they say.
The paradox is that I’m writing this article in English as opposed to Setswana, my mother tongue. Do you see the dilemma? As a late 80s baby I say, to all my comrades born in the same era assuming most of you are parents by now, if your child’s first name is James, Cynthia or anything along those lines, way to go.
South African broadcaster Azania’s name means God listens/God is listening. The same name was used by Europeans to distinguish a portion of the Southern east Africa which stretches from Kenya down to South Africa. Hence South Africa is usually referred to as Azania.My first name is Ephraim which means twice fruitful, its etymology is of African descent – It comes from the ancient black Hebrews of Israel. To this day my mother does not know where my name originates, nor what it means. It was by intuition that she gave me an African name – good riddance, I could have easily been a Jonathan or William.
There’s meaning and heritage in what we name. It symbolizes the significance of our existence and being. When someone changes your name they steal a bit of who you are. It’s identity theft. Imagine what would happen 40 years from now if we continue identifying with western culture. We will certainly lose our entire heritage and ultimately forget who we are. First our countries names were changed, then our names, and now our languages are at risk of being extinct. We even speak to our mothers in English, I myself speak English more than Setswana. Kids are worse, they are snobbery. We are to blame, we identify with the Western way of life more than the African way. Kids go to schools where English is a medium of instruction, and when they come back home, parents continue engaging them in English. We are voluntarily playing along.
Studying at an institution located in Sandton, I was exposed to a number of coconuts from affluent homes. I dated a one girl from the burbs. We spoke in English at all the time, even when lecturers were over. The first time I met my ex she thought I was from the burbs because I don’t “look hood” she said. As if there’s a certain way people from the hood look like.Dare utter a venac word and you’ll be labelled “ghetto”. To provoke her, I would intentionally speak Isizulu to my then girlfriend around people on campus to see how everyone would react. It would be brushed-off, this is because they had prior-knowledge of my fluency and command of the English language, having heard me in presentations.
I once had a conversation with my ex-girlfriend about life after tertiary, you know the usual: the apartment, cars and kids. It went something like: “I don’t see the need for our kids to learn how to speak Setswana or Isizulu – t’s not important”. I objected and tried to reason with her but it became antagonizing. All these things I’ve mentioned clearly affirm that we associate with western culture more than our own culture. If only we could understand that our names and language adjoin us to who we are and where we’re heading.
In the world of marketing and advertising, companies spend millions of rands to ensure that their brand is appealing and resonates with the target audience. Because, these companies know the importance of idiosyncrasy. How do you tell whether a person belongs to a certain nationality or tribe? Of course by their name and language. Your name, image, identity, heritage and culture all make-up your brand. When you lose your name you lose your brand-identity, and thus your heritage and culture, and ultimately the core of your being.
In African culture we have what we call Izibongo or Izithakazelo or Sereto – our clan names and praises. These clan names carry a profound message in them, for they link us to our lineage, tracking back all the way to our first ancestor. For example, King Shaka of the Zulus was called uShaka kaSezangakhona – Senzangakhona being his father. This is somewhat like Charles of Wales, yet distinguished because within African clan names, there are anecdotes that give insight into our history and spirituality.
Imagine such great heritage poured under the drain.
If we are to preserve our heritage and culture, we need to have more of such conversations. A lot of young people don’t see the need to identify with the African way of life because we were never consciantised. I believe if we armour the youth with knowledge, they might understand and further pass it on. In the movie Roots, there’s a scene where the writer unravels the history of this identity theft I’m alluding to. It was a matter of life and death -the missionaries viciously whipped Kinta Kunta, forcing him to accept and declare his slave name: Tobby. But he wouldn’t succumb. He rejected and despised the name at all costs – remembering the words of his father: “your name is your shield”.