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boy named Godknows: In southern Africa, names that say a mouthful
Michael Wines, International Herald Tribune
September 30, 2007
Thirty-two years ago in western Zimbabwe, a baby boy named Tlapi
was born so sick that his parents feared he would die. They took
him to sangomas, or traditional healers, and to Western-style doctors,
but nothing worked. It seemed that God, not man, would decide his
So when he was
1 year old, Tlapi's parents changed his name to reflect that.
think I'm lying when I tell them my name," said Godknows Nare,
who survived to become a freelance photographer. "They think
I am teasing them. But I'm not."
Not at all.
In Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, another Godknows was a waiter
at a popular outdoor café. So was a man named Enough, about
whom more will be said later. Across southern Africa, in fact, one
can find any number of Lovemores, Tellmores, Trymores and Learnmores,
along with lots of people named Justice, Honour, Trust, Gift, Energy,
Knowledge and even a Zambian athlete named Jupiter.
chuckle. Perhaps they are oblivious - Oblivious is another Zimbabwean
name, actually - to the fact that they once idolized a cowboy star
named Hopalong, or that many baby girls carry the name of a jewelry
store through life.
Enough and company are a continuation of an African tradition arguably
more logical than the one that churns out excess Justins and Tiffanys.
In southern Africa, a child's name is chosen to convey a specific
meaning and not, as is common in the West, the latest fashion. Increasingly,
however, those traditional names are bestowed not in Ndebele, Sotho
or some other local language, but in English, the world's lingua
franca. English names arrived with colonial rule, were further imposed
by missionaries and, for some, became fashionable with the spread
of Western culture.
But for Godknows,
Enough and others, the result can be confusion - and sometimes,
hilarity - even among fellow Africans.
a few people tell me I am cursed," said Hatred Zenenga, an
editor at the main Zimbabwean government-controlled newspaper, The
Herald. "They say my name is un-Christian. They tell me that
I should change it to Lovewell, or some other Christian name. And
others are just surprised - 'How did you get that name?' "
Hatred got his
name the way millions of other children here have - as a means of
recording an event, a circumstance or even the weather conditions
that accompanied their births.
if it was windy, the name may be 'Wind.' If it was rainy, it may
be 'Rain,' " said Matole Motshekga, the founder of the Pretoria-based
Kara Heritage Institute. "If there are problems in the family,
they will use the appropriate name. So you cannot just name someone
out of the blue. It has to relate to something."
Thus a Zimbabwean
baby born after years of trying may be named Tendai, which expresses
thankfulness, and a child born in a time of troubles may be named
Tambudzai, which literally means "no rest." Or, just as
likely these days, a baby will be named "Givethanks" or
"Norest." If a Sotho-speaking girl becomes pregnant before
marriage, her unhappy parents may name the baby "Question"
or "Answer" - an answer to the question of why their daughter
was behaving so strangely before the pregnancy became known.
has its own story. Zenenga is one of seven children born to hardworking
parents who were determined to educate their brood. The family's
rising status made the father's illiterate brothers jealous. So
except for the first child, who died as an infant, all the children
were named to address the jealousy and other emotions that raged
among the adults: Norest, Hatred, Praise, Confess, Raised-on and
parents, the names were an inside joke, a fillip in the continuing
"My father's relatives didn't speak English," he said.
"So he said, 'We're going to name our children in English so
they won't understand what we are saying to them.' "
including Motshekga, frown on the trend toward Anglicized names.
"It's an entrenchment of a loss of identity," he said,
"a joke. You say 'I'm Wind,' and they really make fun of the
Gazette in Harare loosed an assault on the trend toward English
names in a 2004 essay.
Why burden our children so unnecessarily just for the sake of feeding
our misguided ego?" a columnist complained. "Quite frankly,
these names amount to a form of child abuse."
Well, in some
cases, maybe: Have-a-Look Dube is a well-known Zimbabwean soccer
player. There are Zimbabwean children named Wedding, Funeral, Everloving,
Passion and Anywhere, among others. A spirit medium who recently
duped Zimbabwean officials into believing he had found diesel fuel
flowing from a rock has the unfortunate name of Nomatter Tagarira.
A Bulawayo truck driver is named Smile, and, true to form, he is
never without a broad smile on his face.
That said, none
of the monikers were plucked from "1,001 Baby Names" or
chosen to imitate a pop star. Consider Enough, the Harare café
waiter. Asked how he got his name, he said simply, "My mother
had 13 children. And I was the last one."
Then there is
the fellow from Dopotha, a village west of Bulawayo, who was born
while his father was in Congo, fighting in that country's civil
wars. When the father returned, the father concluded that the newborn
almost certainly was not his, and decided to make that clear.
The son's name?
Never Trust a Woman.
* A Zimbabwean
researcher and Gavin du Venage, a researcher in Sedgefield, South
Africa, contributed to this article.
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