Friday, 26 February 2010

What's in a name?

This is a picture of Goodluck Jonathan: acting president of Nigeria (despite this happening). I don't envy his job: Nigeria is a difficult country. Colleagues in Zambia once told me that it was the place to disappear, as there were so many people and so little control over identity cards or passports or whatever. I suspect my skin colour would not permit such easy disappearance, but that comment has always tainted my view of Nigeria.

So - good luck to Goodluck!

It amuses me that he should have such an appropriate name. Here in the UK we laugh at celebrities who choose peculiar names for their children. Fifi Trixibelle? Brooklyn? Sunday (when born on a Monday)? All curious names, and likely to affect the children as they grow up.

My two have very solid, familiar names. You could even say they were dull, but we chose them because we like them. My son got the male equivalent of my late mother's name as a middle name, but otherwise there is no particular family connection. Nor were they particularly chosen for their meaning.

But in Africa, names seem much more blatant. They are a statement of the parents' standing or hopes or aspirations. When in Zambia, we had a maid called Precious, but my favourite name was Fineness. I knew a couple of these, and it always made me smile if only because it is such poor English. Yet you can see what their parents were thinking when they were born. We knew a man called Hope and others had names in the local languages that meant 'pretty' or 'man of the field' or 'artistic'.

In Ghana, children are named according to their position in the family (first child, second child, etc.) and which day of the week they are born on. So Kofi Annan is Friday Fourth-child. There was quite a large Ghanaian contingency in our church in London and so I knew a few Tuesdays and Thursdays!

But the name that has always amused me most is that of a young girl I once knew in Hong Kong. She felt she should not use her Chinese name but adopt a Western name. This practice was also common in Africa: somehow our (dull!) western names are viewed as more appropriate or more likely to get further on in life. It is an aside, but what a shame that we can't accept their names and cultures into ours so easily. Anyway - what amused me was the name she chose, as it seemed so inappropriate for a lively 18 year old.


Names come around and go around. What has influenced you in your choice of name?


Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

My favourite name of all time is the Bosnian kid in Adam's nursery - he is called Denial (Bosnian for Daniel). I giggle stupidly every time I see his name peg, and send sympathetic thoughts to his parents. I know how they feel!

Nathalie said...

My Aunt once worked for a while in South Africa (many many years ago) and nursed a small boy called "PlasticBox" Mum had thought it sounded nice....

Muddling Along Mummy said...

My girls are named respectively for my impressive Great Aunt, Mr's Great Aunt, my formidable Granmother and two Victorian women who will be fabulous role models

Not such a yummy mummy said...

When I worked in China I had students called (in the same vein as the girl from Hong Kong) Jesus, Yo yo, Hooker, Green and Shoe. I tried to explain why they weren't quite appropiate but gave up when it came to Hooker.
My favourite students were 4 lovely, enthusiastic girls who had moved to a big city from the country and had been friends for years. They called themselves Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

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