Africa has fifty four countries all with their own languages. I am including the islands in this number. So we all have our style of naming. African names are not all the same when you consider all the different countries, tribes, languages and races that live in the continent.
However, even though we’re so diverse our names stay getting mocked or mispronounced.
Amma just say it right now, if someone can’t pronounce your name they’re either lazy or racist. They can learn! Anyone can learn and practise till they say it right. Do you think I can pronounce western names with ease? No! My friend had a long Scandinavian last name that I could not pronounce but guess what? She taught me and I learnt!
There’s no excuse.
Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way onto my main point. Why are our names the weird ones?
My name is Gift and have I been mocked for this name? Most assuredly. Have I hated my name at some point in my life because of this? Yes. I wanted a normal name like Mary or Susan for the longest time.
But you see, there! Look at that paragraph… can you see the problem? I wanted a normal name. Why is Mary normal and Gift not normal?
I tell you why, racism! Colonialisation making us think our names ain’t shit.
In my country, Rwanda, the way people are named in Kinyarwanda is like with words. So if I translated names of people in my family there is: Love, Blessing, She will be loved and Small. So it stands to reason that when my mom heard the name Gift she named me that and didn’t see it as weird. Actually, she heard the name Gift when in Lesotho and she translated it to English and thus named me that.
There are names in Kinyarwanda that have bad meanings and it got to the point where the President banned such names as they’re really mean. Some I hear and I’m like, your parents named you that?!
As for some Nigerian names that I know they also name their kids words that have meaning. I hear Oluwa a lot at the beginning of Yoruba names and it seems to mean God or Lord. Then the word coming after Oluwa will give you the full meaning of the name. So it could be God has gifted me or It’s good to know God.
In the South they are famous for naming their kids words in English, like Gift, Courage, Faith, Grace, Love, Performance… all real people that I have met or seen. Yes, I have met other Gift’s.
The reaction in the West is, oh why would you name your kid that? And it’s like, why are you judging us?
I didn’t clock that they really have no right to judge until I started writing books. For my book characters, if I give them a real world name, I look up the name’s meaning. You’d be surprised what some ‘normal’ names mean. You’d also be surprised how most names aren’t English.
So I’m British African and so most of my experience with the West has been in England. I thought most of their names were English but most of them are German, Hebrew, Italian or French.
A lot of people don’t know what their name even means!! And it’s like, and we’re the weird ones?
Also Bible names are very popular but when you read the Bible people named their kids the same way Africans do. Just look at Jacob and his wives. When Asher was born Leah was like, I am happy so I shall call him Happy (Asher: Genesis 30: 13). Then Naphtali Rachel was like, God has seen my struggle and so I shall name him my struggle (Naphtali: Genesis 30:8). I am paraphrasing by the way, read the actual story to get the proper gist.
The name Asher sounds like oh, yeah Asher but to someone who speaks Hebrew it’s like, oh you named your child Happy how nice, because they understand the language.
So listen, our names aren’t weird. We just have forgotten that tradition of naming our kids things that mean a lot to us. Now, like I said there are people who name their kids bad things within the continent, I know this, but the majority of us have excellent names!
The West has tricked the world and made us out to be the minority and the ones with the inferior culture and the inferior names but sirs and madams that is not so! We all have good names! All our cultures are valid! None of us are inferior.
Disclaimer: I am aware that there are bad cultural practises in all cultures. I am not saying those bad aspects are good but rather I am praising the good aspects.
So if you have a name like mine or a long Yoruba name or a name from Mali or Senegal or wherever that people find hard to pronounce or make fun of just know your name is beautiful and was given to you for a reason! They will learn how to pronounce your name and you will not shorten it for no body!
Can you believe people struggle to say Gift, an English word? But I sit there and spell it out, because yes that is my name and yes you heard me correctly and yes I am proud of it.