Monday, 29 July 2013

Are African Names Embarrassing?

So the world was fussing about a baby born in England, first there was the news that some woman was in labour and after the birth, it was what the little chap would be called. The world press speculated, bloggers predicted, even my workmates too joined in the hullabaloo. Then the name was announced, the king to be would be called George Alexander Louis. You can imagine my disappointment, what happened to his middle name being Akakulubelwa?

African Names

We give our children the names of George, William, Charles, Harry, so why can’t the royal family for once bear the name Musonda, Dabwiso or even Hantobolo. Some of us if we have not been given the “royal” names we shall call ourselves that for all, we care. Therefore, to me, the full names of the soon to be king are George Alexander Akakulubelwa Louis. Please forgive my lunatic side. Even so, there is a serious point here. I have an English or Christian name as well as two Zambian middle names. However, there was a time in my early years when I didn’t like my Zambian middle names that much. It was nothing against the names per se just that the names could be twisted to mean something else. So to avoid being a joke of the classroom, I rarely introduced myself by my Zambian middle names. It was only later in high school that I decided to embrace them, and now they are my preferred names.

Due to all this naming debate that was going around it has left me wondering, why is it that we in Africa can easily embrace an English, American or even toss it far a Russian name, but we do not call our children by other African names? I am yet to come across a Kwame Chanda, Ayobami Muyatwa or Raila Zimba. You may go the length and breadth of this nation, and the Zambezi will run dry before you find someone with such a name. Why don’t we call our children by other African names? Is it that we do not think that the names are not good enough, or sound cool enough, maybe to put it simply we just don’t like African names. Naming our children, Michelle, Ashley, Otis, Nigel, or Beethoven is a much preferred options.

There is another thing that still continues to baffle me, up to this day. There are people who I have called by their Zambian names, all their lives and the moment they go abroad, I see a strange name on their Facebook profile. I would like to understand why some Zambians feel the need to change or have English names the moment they go out. It is one thing, if you have been known by your English name whilst here in Zambia, but to change your names just because you are in USA raises many questions. Are our Zambian names that hard to pronounce? Are Zambian let alone African names more difficult to call than Chinese, Russian, German names? Perhaps even though we may deny it, we may have some inferiority complex when it comes to Zambian names.

It is the parent’s decision to choose what they will call their child. Some parents would wish to have names that have meaning to them while others opt for the unorthodox names. I now have a bias towards Zambian names. For some of us who continue to embrace our Zambian names, I hope we may do so even across the borders. Before I sign off, should my son be born just after I finish reading Things Fall Apart, he will be a lucky lad if his first name is not Okonkwo.

Should Africans be embracing their names more?


  1. I have a middle name which is quite a mouthful and if I had my way, it would be my first name. The point about names is made succinctly by Ayi Kwei Armah in his classic "The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born". Although the book generally is about the corruption in post-independence Ghana, he notes in the book that in the African's quest to emulate the mannerism of the European he (The African) began regarding everything African as inferior. Whether it be the accent with which they speak English or the names (most of which are rich in meaning by the way). Some in a desperate attempt to sound European began adding "son" to their African names with others dropping their African names altogether. It was not long before you found Ghanaians called Fentengson or some other funny modification of an African name.

    The truth is that it has been difficult to shake off the deeply embedded inferiority complex that years of colonial rule drummed into the collective African psyche. It reveals itself in the names that we prefer. I too was mocked even by teachers because of my middle name just because it sounds explicitly and unapologetically Tonga and is derived from a typically Tonga cuisine.

    I hope that as we get more enlightened through education, we will embrace our traditional names as I have seen many begin to do. There is nothing, absolutely nothing inferior about an African name.

  2. Hamundyoli, I can only imagine what you had to endure. Even the teachers got into the mocking. But really I think we should start embracing the names. As we begin to understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with African names, the more people will begin to use them.

  3. My first name zambian lol so had no troubles actually dnt like my english names lol.... nwez to name other african names e.g kwame sounds cool bt maybe the fear is that we dnt know what the mean so hey.... lol hope u have found out what okonkwo means ka but seeing as you have a culture to read and research am sure you have.... another nice piece

  4. I still don't like me "christian" name. I wish my parents had n't left my beautiful Tonga name off my birth certificate because in a country that is neck high in women called Mary, imagine how I would stand out, proudly as a Muuka instead of hum-drum run of the mill Mary. :-(