I might even give my offspring English names. Yezwa manje.
One of the integral parts of the African culture is in name giving. Me and my people have a strong belief that when you name your child, the name must carry a significant meaning because there’s a high probability that the child will become his or her name and the name might influence his/her identity. Yadah yadah yadah. That’s how it comes that the boy named “Sgebengu” will grow up with the tendency of liking other people’s belongings and applying force to “repossess” them. This and other name phenomenon including Phakimpi being a violent child with a Commander of War propensity in high school.
My parents are, like most Africans in post-apartheid era where South Africans are free to show pride in their identity, very fond of this tradition and that resulted in me not possessing any English name, my parents named me Mthokozisi. Essentially, ukuthokozisa means ‘to make happy’. I was born to “make people happy”. Thanks, mom and dad, for putting such pressure on me. It’s so fucking impossible to make people happy. Human beings are hard to please. To paraphrase Nakanjani G Sibiya (Amalangabi): “Ungeze wasihlaba umxhwele isilwane esingumuntu”. (No, I’m not going to translate that for the Zulu language challenged dear reader, learn the language of your President!).
Sibiya had a point, trying to make human beings happy is like trying to persuade Mugabe, Hosni Mubarak and Mangusuthu Buthelezi into realizing that they are very old and should actually STEP DOWN. Yet my parents saw it necessary to appoint me the BOH (Bearer Of Happiness), and they even thanked me in advance for that. My second name is Siyabonga.
As much as I think that my parents gave me the name that puts enormous pressure on me, that is to make people happy, I’m still glad my name makes sense and it’s not an interpretation of some event that coincided with my birth. To name a child after a horrific event is beyond showing unfairness to that child. Think of names like Domoyi, Tsunami, Democracy and Freedom. I’m writing Freedom and Tsunami in one sentence because it’s when we first got the illusion that we are free that most of all the twaddle started (a topic for another day).
Oh, Matlakala is a Sotho name and it means rubbish. Yezwa manje. Somebody please provide me with a logical explanation why would you name your child “Garbage”.
There are more reasons why I think my name is a burden to me but nonetheless not bad at all:
1. It’s not religious – Imagine if I was named Matthew, Gabriel, Jesus (very unlikely, I know), or John the Baptist, and yet grow up to be the beer guzzler I am today.
2. I was not named after a famous individual such as a soccer star, a music diva, a great politician or a world known billionaire. I would be miserable my whole life trying to follow in the footsteps of someone like Bill Gates or Patrice Motsepe while being a starving artist whose goal in life is to publish books and takes writing articles such as this one as the “step” to achieving that goal, look up to and be mentored and influenced by writers such as Ndumiso Ngcobo, ‘players’ like Themba Miya.
3. My name is very common. A unique name attracts unnecessary attention and it gives you illusions that you are “special”.
4. My name does not have nick names associated with it. Names like Vusi – Mavura. Sipho – Msaypos or Cypho. Tebogo – Mrembula. Themba – Mthimbane (Hang out with the township dwellers to obtain knowledge of more names with nicknames attached to them). I wouldn’t want to be referred to as Bra PG by young boys in my neighbourhood when I’m 45. That’s my father’s nick name, by the way. It derives from Praise God. Yezwa nje.
5. The name Mthokozisi is not a unisex name. It’s so embarrassing having to explain which sex you are and I would typically be affronted If I were to be presumed to be the other gender. My brother-in-law wannabe is called Zanele. The first time I heard of him, my younger sister had to put my mind at ease and explain to me that Zanele, her newly found lover, is actually a man and he’s “straight”. Phew!
Now having hurled insult at my parents for naming me the way they did and admitted that it’s not as worse as being named Gedley’hlekisa while I in fact lack the ability to convince the nation that exchanging bodily juices without a rubber and jump in the rain (or take a shower, whatever) is no danger to catching the virus, let me ask my question:
Let’s suppose you feel like your name does not identify who you are or who you have become, would you change it and be “disrespectful” to your parents? Will that be disappointing them as they gave you that particular name because they wished you become the name?
I know you want me to make up your mind for you by letting you in on what is my opinion on this. Well, you won’t be winning any prices for guessing that I think changing one’s name if it sucks is not a crisis.
I would change my name anytime if one day I woke up and decided I don’t like it anymore or the number of people I have hurt instead of making happy has gone up to equal the China population and if Dlamini Zuma would allow me that right. Would my parents be disappointed at this deed? Yes, but they would get over it eventually. I mean how many times have we failed our parents by not acting according to their wishes? My mom hoped for me to study Electrical Engineering and work for the coalmine. My dreams were different; I opted for a very challenging, very complex industry, that’s why I’m still writing articles for free today (hhay bo, somebody please pay me, beer is expensive these days!). Mom was disappointed but she got over it and decided to support me. How many people whom their parents wished for them to become lawyers, doctors, taxi drivers, but they decided to make their living by recording tunes that talk about their girlfriends who are attracted to DJs and call it music? And make thousands of bucks out of it and even win awards?
People get fucked up sometimes and somehow they get over it! I believe that everyone has a right to control the way they want to live their lives. “We do not choose our beginning, we do not choose our end, but in the moments between, we choose who we become” – Athol Furgad.
Before I’m being accused of being a culture abandoning, lost child, let me proclaim that I’m a traditional Zulu man with entrenched respect for my culture. Ok, let me rephrase that: I’m a modern, evolving traditional Zulu man who respects his culture but have my own preferred principles, values, beliefs and I just happen to be driven by logic. I like things to be explained to me in a clear, coherent manner. That is why my beer marinated brain is still trying to comprehend how, can a lazy, balls-scratching, intellectually impaired alcoholic also known as me, become rich by making a goat to unwillingly part with its soul and be feast to ancestors. How? And some of my views on culture are extremely dangerous, for e.g., I think when two people love each and decide to be miserably ever after, they should be given the blessings to do so without the two families having to complicate the whole thing by insisting on undergoing the ass- ripping process (also known as amalobolo negotiations). But that’s another topic for another day. Let’s go back to names, and that wraps up this long worded crap that is probably beginning to make you sleepy.
Let’s suppose you feel like your name does not identify who you are or who you have became, or your name means Rubbish, or it’s a girly name and you are a ”straight guy”, would you change your name and be “disrespectful” to your parents? Would that be disappointing them as they gave you that particular name because they wished you become the name? Would you give your child an English name if you are not white or vice versa? Or a Sotho name if unguMzulu, or Xhosa name if you are Tswana because we live in a rainbow nation? How rainbowy are we when it comes to such issues?