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 because white people claimed our names to be too long, too clicky or too hard to pronounce, yet we can say or at least attempt to pronounce ‘Tertius van Rheede van Oudtshoorn’. Yet again, White convenience is elevated over calling one by their birth name and we as black people have stomached this for so long because of fear of being ‘too sensitive’, especially in the workplace. Yes, I mind when you cannot pronounce my name because I have learned your English language my whole life!
Like black skin and black hair, names have a cultural significance that plays 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.
I’m a flower so my ‘pollen’ will 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 up to the person and how they choose to interpret their name in their lives.
In black families, naming a child is a critical process because everyone wants to imbue the child with a little piece of everyone. Unfortunately, our ID books only have so much space 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 that their roots and where they come from is never left to an element of ambiguity.
Writer: MBALI ZONDO