Thursday, August 5, 2010

Names, names, names

Names are proving to be a fruitful topic, so today I’m off at another tangent and thinking about people’s names. The Xhosa people here have some interesting naming traditions, and unlike us, who have to look up Latin and other origins, the meaning is very clear.

I understand calling your daughter ‘Thandiswa’ or ‘Noluthando’ (meaning ‘loved one’), but it’s a great shame to call some poor little girl ‘Daniswa’. It’s a pretty name, but it means ‘disappointment’ and is generally given to a girl whose parents had actually wanted a boy.

Mind you, some English names shriek ‘We wanted a boy’ too, although I’ll absolve my mother of that even though she called me ‘Andrea’ which means ‘manly’ and ‘Patricia’ which means ‘noble’. (forget this rapidly, please: my name is MM!)

When a Xhosa woman marries, her new family gives her a new first name which, though it doesn’t appear on her official identity document, she uses from then onward. This will usually be representative of some domestic virtue such as ‘Nokaya’ (lady of the house) or ‘Nomathemba’ (peaceful one). In a way, it’s a pretty tradition, and the ladies I’ve worked with seem to like it very well.

The men don’t escape the naming game. One unfortunate old gent in my employ was called ‘Malayiko’ (no money) – and unlike the ladies, he had no hope of changing it at marriage! I never had the heart to call him that, I just called him ‘Uncle’ which is perfectly polite to do in this country.

‘Siyabonga’ (we are grateful) is a charming name, and quite common in this part of the world. ‘Ncinikaya’ (protector of the house – the ‘c’ represents a click that sounds like ‘tch’) was a particularly interesting name to come across, especially since its bearer chose the profession of security guard!

By the way, did you know that there are a disproportionate amount of people with the surname ‘Fish’ who choose Marine Biology as a field of study?

It makes me remember a few other appropriate surnames such as Major Tricky who used to run the police anti-fraud unit, and Vincent Bath who used to manage Rand Water Board (they supply Johannesberg’s water). We also used to have a chief justice Paijola (payola?) – I don’t want to think too hard about that one! One of the most highly regarded dentists in town is ‘Dr Payne’ and so it goes…

So I challenge you: add to my collection of interesting names or surnames! Bet you know a couple…. Gimme!

Today's pic: a woman named 'Beauty'.


  1. Bethany's name means house of figs which is strange because we never have fig newtons at our house... naming your kid disappointment is crazy... MY brother used to have a coworker named Z, rad, just one letter!

  2. A friend has a coworker with a married surname of Lover. Her husband's name is Dick. His parents should be shot.

  3. Beauty is beautiful! I think I'm having a brain freeze. Gotta say I like Major Tricky! Now is that a fish story you told us about the Fish surname? I got a good laugh on that one!! And you will always be MM to me (although your name is so pretty).

  4. I've met Dr. Foot--a podiatrist.