A name is probably the first gift a parent gives their child. We’re talking about something they will be identified by throughout their lives, given they don’t pick up a nickname that sticks so hard, that no one ever knows their real name.
Folks give their children names based on a variety of reasons. While some parents view the baby-naming process as an opportunity to pay homage to someone they venerate- with the hope their child is esteemed as their namesake. Other parents seem set on making life-long statements with the names they choose, take for instance names like Godknows, Lovemore, or Eversmile. Those are names deserving of a ban.
The name Lucifer is banned in New Zealand, France and Italy. The government in these countries feel compelled to get involved, should they think the baby’s name will endanger the child’s wellbeing by being exposed to mockery. A judge in the US lost his job after denying parents who wanted to name their new born, Messiah. The decision was overturned on appeal and by 2018, over a thousand new born baby boys were named Messiah, including 33 girls.
For abanye abazali, the time and circumstances in which the bundle of joy enters the world will determine their name- i.e. a baby born during the first rains of summer would be fittingly named Tsheola. One of the Shona people’s naming beliefs is that if a new born cries relentlessly, the elders would take that as a sign that one of the child’s ancestors want the wailing baby named after one of them.
Is the meaning of a person’s name directly linked to their personality or character? Former President Jacob Zuma’s other name is Gedleyihlekisa which roughly translates to “the one who laughs in your face, while he stabs or scars you from the back”. Go figure.
Being the first of my parents’ four children, my brother was aptly named Vus’umuzi, Vusi in short. Directly translated, it means “resurrect the home/household”. The name is one of the country’s most popular, together with Jabulani, Themba, Lerato, Sibusiso, Mduduzi, Lebo, Thulani, Sifiso, Tumi and Palesa. I bet you my pair of socks that four out of five people reading this, have had at least one interaction with heirs of the aforementioned list of names. Some parents go for these names, simply because of the popularity and people’s general familiarity with them.
On the last day of 2015 one Karabo Mahlase (@Spoonkz) tweeted “2016 is the year for acting like you don’t know how to pronounce white peoples [sic] names,”- and so the #TheYearWeMispronounceBack was born. Black Twitter took a stand and began renaming Johnnys to Jabulanis and Lindseys to Lindiwes. A majority of black people sympathised with Mahlase’s tweet because they’ve been victims of Caucasians’ ignorance towards black names.
I think this is one of the reasons the standard combination of African -English names has decreased among black South Africans in recent years, with new-age parents opting for their kids to only have African names which have some significant meaning.
Simphiwe Dana’s 2004 debut album Zandisile was named after her daughter. The title track is a compelling ode to the musician’s girl-child, which inspired a friend of mine to name his son Qhawe, which means a conqueror.
The process sounds a graceful one, juxtaposed to names some black Americans choose to bestow on their offspring- Shaniqua, Fo’Landra, Tay Tay or Barakisha. And because some of the parents have a fetish for automobiles, and with an appreciation for a particular brand, names like Mercedes and Lexus aren’t uncommon in the streets of America.