Edited by Azizi Powell
This post presents a long excerpt of a 2014 online article from a Zimbabwean newspaper about Zimbabwean naming customs. Selected comments about that article that were posted on that website's page are also included in this post.
The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to the unnamed author of this newspaper article. Thanks also to the commenters who are also quoted in this post.
ZIMBABWEAN "HERALD" NEWSPAPER EXCERPT: STRANGE AND SOMETIMES HILARIOUS NAMES OF ZIMBABWEANS
http://www.herald.co.zw/strange-sometimes-hilarious-names-of-zimbabweans/, November 4, 2014
…Our Shona names have become some of the few remaining signals that can still be detected on the cultural radar.
They provide a window into our thinking and understanding.
Yet, very few people understand or care to find out what Shona names mean.
After a careful study of Shona names-especially those that are considered by a lot of urbanised and westernized people as weird and outlandish, I have come to the conclusion that, just because we do not know or understand the context and circumstances a person was given or got a name, we should not judge them or think their parents were really mad to give such a name.
The Shona give names for various reasons, and rarely is name just a name.
One Shona naming belief is that if a child cries incessantly for a very long time, then the elders would say that there is an ancestor who wants their name to be given to that child.
It may not be a matter of a child crying incessantly, but the child could also get very sick and the sickness could confound doctors and herbalists.
The belief was that after consulting diviners, an ancestral spirit would be identified as the cause, and it was only after the consultations that the child was given the name of the ancestor with certain rituals being done, that they stopped crying and recovered...
Usually ancestral names are very long and are some kind of narrative because they are trying to capture a story. Ancestral names reflect the history and context of the person who was originally given that name.
When one listens to ancestral names in this day and age, the names sound very strange and to a lot of people the names don’t communicate, unless one is told the story behind the name.
Even today, I have come across first names that are very traditional such that they need unpacking...
They could be ancestral names or just names of some late family hero, but they are used to capture history and specific family events.
In some cases, they are meant to remind, chide, expose, and mark. You will notice that some are in the form of rhetorical questions. Some of the names tell stories of regret, revelation, despair, and even defiance. It is the same philosophy that Zimbabweans try to apply to their names in English.
Zimbabwean names in English are very weird because we often try to use the same philosophy behind African names. Unfortunately, we at times end up with very strange and sometimes hilarious names like Avoid, Shame, Someone, Punish, Nevermore, Jealous, Jealousy, Notice, Bigboy, Loud, Lust, Last, TryThanks, Admire, Greenfield, Welshman, Steady, Easy, Psychology, Parables, Action, Rise, Wonder, Polite, Forget, Immigration, Museum, Letters....
Out of context, a lot of names given by the Shona in English are very strange, but if you investigate the reason or story behind a name, you will come to a conclusion the same names in the Shona language are not weird. Here are some examples of strange names of Shona people in English and what they may possibly mean in Shona: Reason = Chikonzero. Shame = Nyarai, Nyadzisai. Rise = Simukai/Mukai. Wonder/Shamiso. Clever= Ngwaru/Ngwarai. Shine = Chiedza. Steady = Dzikama. Nomatter = Hazvinei. Godknows = Kuzivakwashe/Mwarianoziva. Of course, the other reason for weird names like Lust can be attributed to birth registration officers not knowing the correct spelling and the intended meaning...
African names are culture-specific. Take, for example, my grandmother’s name Mazvirega (you have stopped it). The story is that her parents had lost a number of babies in their infancy. When she was eventually born, they did not give her a name for some time because they did not want to give a name and then watch the child die like the others had done. So, after the child had survived for more than a month, the family gave the child a name, but in the process addressing and rebuking both death and the ancestors by saying “This one has survived, and you have stopped your habit of killing our babies”.
The Shona gave names, and some still do up to today, based on events. It could be events before the child was conceived or even born, or it could be events when the child was born. Others get names from personalities that the parents may idolise. Like these days, a lot of baby boys are being named after European soccer players-Ronaldo, Rooney, Lionel and others. You may come across people with names of the Chimurenga heroes such as Parerenyatwa, Tongogara, Takawira, Chibwechitedza, Gonakudzingwa and that immediately tells you that they were either born during the struggle or that their parents were somehow involved in the liberation war. My late uncle and freedom fighter named his children Tichavatongamabhuna, Gonakudzingwaruvimbo, Madenyika and Tapembedzwa who was born at independence. You can tell that personal experiences and historical events informed their choice of names.
Even when it comes to giving foreign names, the Shona still have a logical story behind the name. My nephew’s wife is called Miriam and when I asked her why she got that name when both of her parents were not Christians, she said when she was born, she cried for a very long time and someone jokingly said “This one is Miriam Makeba”.
That became her name. There is a generation of people who have no idea at all who Miriam Makeba is, but to those who grew up in the late 60s and 70s – Miriam Makeba was a great singer.
The city being a place that is completely different from the village where everybody knows everybody, tends to have another strange naming culture…. It is also becoming fashionable for soldiers to answer to the name Gunman.
This explains our veneration for guns and power. Whatever the case, it is important for Zimbabweans to know that a name is an identity marker and a source of pride if it is positive."
Here are some selected comments from that article’s page
(All of these comments are from 2014):
"Some of our vernacular names cannot be translated to English and still retain equivalent meaning. There are some names that become a challenge especially if one goes to live in English-speaking countries overseas. Names like Kissmore, Psychology, Takemore, etc. Wish it was cheap and easy to change first names when one comes of age.
Our Shona names are beautiful even for those who wish aspects of Christianity in their children's names"
gerro (to) Shomwe Nucleus
"I would urge anyone with a' funky' name to go and change their names by deed poll its not at all expensive, I did it and i feel so free. .what's in a name > You!
"That is the reason i have changed my name to my beautiful Ndebele name Thandiswa yet I'm Manyika, it still points one to my cultural identity and I love it.
"Any name has meaning to the family. There is a reason why someone calls their child "Reason" - ndicho chikonzero. If we can name the child Chikonzero, why can't we name him/her Reason? The names are not for us who do not know the family dynamics to unpack but for the families to unpack."
"i am sorry to say this as it might anger a lot of people , but mostly its uneducated people who like to give their children english names, names they know nothing about whose meanings are alien to them. i believe you should name your children in your vernacular"
"long winded muddled up essay. Names like Joseph or Imaculatta (Roman Catholic) were given mainly on baptism at the Missions. Most names of adults in traditional Zimbabwe were "mazita emadunhurirwa" that they got, not at birth, but in adulthood."
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