What’s in a name?

By Sifiso Maposa

Everyone has a name. This is an assumption of course. There may be other ways of identifying people in different parts of the world that I may not be aware of. However, for the purposes of this short piece, we will stick to the assumption that everyone has a name. Yes?

In African culture almost every name has a meaning. There is some kind of deliberate motive to name children names that will speak something into their lives. Some names have a positive meaning. Some names are negative and tell a story surrounding a child’s birth. Names that signifying ridicule, sadness and sometimes even disappointment.

It is also common for children to be named after a member of the family. Usually after a grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, mother or father. It’s a sign of respect and legend has it, a child becomes like the person that they are named after. Which is not entirely a bad thing? Except if the fore name bearer has a penchant for bad habits which would in this case be transferred via the name ( yes) , to the new name bearer. A little risky if you ask me.

I was named after my aunt. Sifiso, a Ndebele name that means ‘a wish’. Isn’t that beautiful? I was my parents wish…except, if I was named after someone, then that wasn’t entirely the reason behind naming me ‘a wish.’But that is ok because, you know how each family has a ‘rich aunt’ with a vet for a husband,intelligent well groomed kids and a big house with many dogs in the backyard? Aunt Sifiso was/is the rich aunt. So if that legend holds true, that you become like the person you are named after, then yes people, I am going to be rich. I am bound to be generous too because to this day,she is the most generous person I have ever met.

Being named after someone also means you have some kind of guardian angel. Someone who watches out for you, in addition to your parents’ watchful eye. This is comforting.

Fast forward to the current moment, location : South Africa.The 109th person asked me this morning about my name. I started keeping a rough count recently,100 is a gross understatement. The script plays out,..I say my name or give my ID. The person looks at me, and out comes the question, ‘Are you Sifiso?? But that is a boy’s name!.’
In the beginning I would get embarrassed. Now I politely assert that in the country I come from, this is a unisex name. They usually ‘fully’ believe me when I mention my aunt, who I am named after. Then comes the chuckle, a sort of ” oh, its ok, i guess you can be called Sifiso for now, but next time I see you I will ask the same question again.”

The question! I have never had this question asked of me anywhere else in the world. My name attached to me, a female is normal everywhere else. The South Americans changed it to something they could pronounce ‘Zafira’ or something, the North Americans chose to shorten it to Fifi, while others practiced until they got the full name right.(something to do with the American belief that Bill Clinton was successful because he remembered everyone’s name). The Europeans couldn’t pronounce it and Fifi sounded too much like a french dog’s name to them.
Fortunately, I don’t have a second name. I say fortunately because, this has forced me to love my name. To teach people to say it as I learn theirs, ( Drajvovik isn’t too easy either). Travelling has opened me up to see that there are all kinds of names out there. Mine does not even fit in the difficult and wierd category.

So what’s in a name? Our identities, our pride and sometimes our family heritage. Our names distinguish us. Our names color our lives, even if that coloring means in one country we have to explain over and over why we have a male name but inhabit a female body. Everybody loves the sound of their own name. I certainly do!

Would love to hear what your name means!


5 comments on “What’s in a name?

  1. Mutsa Mutsago
    October 16, 2013

    Nice article Sifiso, in Zim I know more females with the name Sifiso than male. You’re doing a great job my friend, so proud of you!


  2. jcgondojc
    October 16, 2013

    Couldn’t have agreed any less. Also, good command of the the english language.


  3. afrimosaic
    October 16, 2013

    This is true. I guess what is normal in one place can totally be ierd in another place. Thank you! Appreciate the positive feedback!


  4. afrimosaic
    October 16, 2013

    Thank you for the positive feedback! I paid a lot of attention in my english classes in junior school ;)I am glad I can communicate effectively, I guess my 1st grade teacher would be proud!


  5. Nkateko
    November 12, 2013

    Lovely piece Fifi or should I say Sifo? I really enjoyed reading it. My name “Nkateko” means “blessing”- (Shangaan/Tsonga )and just like your is a unisex name.


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This entry was posted on October 16, 2013 by in Random Musings.
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