Tuesday, 15 April 2014

What's in a name?


Nomawethu Moyo:Guest blogger

 

For most of my life I've never gone by my full name - it's quite long, Nomawethu. It's pronounced No-ma-wear-too, try, it's really not that difficult. I've always gone by Noma at school. I go by Thuthu at home and at church, I acquired that name as a chubby toddler who would ram into anything in my way; I would "thuza" things! Mother just calls me anything - if the nickname is not making fun of my slightly knocked knees it's probably about my really fat cheeks or my pimples :)
I went to UWC... You meet people from everywhere there, but UWC is about tolerance, embracing difference and living with our variances so everyone retains their real name and true identity, religion, ethnicity, beliefs, and so forth... I came to college, and here I met Chinese folk who had two names; the official or "real" name in Mandarin, and another self-given one in English just because some people couldn't pronounce their names... I never thought much of it throughout my freshman and sophomore years. During the Class of 2017 welcome dinner, one Chinese boy stood up and said, "My name is Huizhong,* but it's a little difficult for some of you to pronounce it, so my English name is also Huizhong!" And then it hit me...  So I had this moment of inspiration, admiration, appreciation of Huizhong's confidence and decision to stay true to his name and I just thought about how his name meant so much to him. Am I looking for the word epiphany? Last week while at work, another Chinese boy showed up, when I asked him what his name was, he just showed me his card for me to copy it and then I was hit by sadness... Isn't fitting in just an awful struggle? I wonder what it feels like to have a different name in English for that sake... Does giving yourself an English name slightly betray your true identity? If an American student with an English name were to go to China, would he/she give him/herself a Mandarin name just so everyone in China can pronounce it? Is there a muted power-play at work here or is this a way of adapting that we all should really just live with? Microaggressions maybe, or am I taking it too far?
All the same, they're more than just names and it's really polite to refer to someone by their correct name. They all hold a meaning or give one's life a sense of purpose. My name means "our mother" in a way that suggests that I have the responsibility of a caregiver. Some names carry a burden "Sidubekile" (we're suffering), some a blessing "Nomabusiso" (mother of blessings), some gratefulness "Bongani" (say thank you). They reflect our parents' experiences when they had us, they reflect our parents' wishes for us, and maybe they endorse us as members of a community.
No one is undermining a name by genuinely mispronouncing it. Some people just don't try. Some people butcher it with consonants that are not even there in the spelling of that name!  Names hold so much value, they're an identity, maybe we owe them a little more respect by giving them a chance, by trying to pronounce them accurately... After-all we mispronounce at least a third of all the things we say :)

Ps. For funzies you might want to read a book called "We Need New Names,"by NoViolet Bulawayo. She has a different view though... Zimbabweans have quite a reputation for giving their kids interesting names. We joke about it all the time, should we stop? I've met Hardlife, I know many Lovemore's, and various other names but like I said they all hold some meaning beyond them just being a label for a human body. Also, interesting imagery on the covers right?

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