What's in a name?

28 September 2015
Photo by Michael Hammond.
Photo by Michael Hammond.

What does your name say about you and your heritage? And what are your associations with your name? In Heritage Month, Helen Swingler asked members of the UCT community to reflect on their names.

My name is Ntando Mlambo

I am Ntandoyenkosi Nomkhosi Nokuphiwa Mlambo. People call me Ntando for obvious reasons. My first name means “The will of God”. I’m part of the first generation in my family to not have any English names. I think I’m a part of a group of people whose parents decided to not borrow anymore and just have Zulu names because these names are enough. We no longer need to borrow to give meaning. Would I change my name? Never! It reflects my parents’ feelings after a hard pregnancy, and my life so far. Names are an important part of one’s identity and their importance shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Aditi HunmaPhoto by Je'nine May.

My name is Aditi Hunma

People call me Aditi, which is a Sanskrit name that means ‘Mother Earth, mother of the gods’. ‘Aditi’ also means ‘free’. Being a Sanskrit name referring to a Hindu goddess, it reflects my Indian heritage. Names give us a sense of belonging to a particular family, clan and region. This said, today ‘cultural’ boundaries are much more fluid, and names are seen to transcend these boundaries. I like my name – it inspires me to emulate the virtues of this personality. It is also short, which makes it easy to use, especially when filling out forms! Names are interesting as they not only define who we are, but also carry aspirational values. Individuals are named after prophets, apostles, saints, stars, in the hope that their existence will be as fulfilling as the exceptional figures after whom they’re named.

Jennifer Caroline van WykPhoto by Je'nine May.

My full name is Jennifer Caroline van Wyk, but people call me Jenny

I love my name. It means ‘The fair one’. My name doesn’t reflect my heritage. When I was born, my parents hadn’t yet chosen a name – and they named me after the name on my baby blanket: Jenny.

Asonzeh UkahPhoto by Je'nine May.

My name is Asonzeh Ukah

I have never met or heard of anyone else bearing the name. I hope I meet someone in future. I don’t have a nickname, but some of my siblings sometimes call me ‘Aso’ or ‘Nzeh’. ‘Nzeh’, in Igbo (from eastern Nigeria), means a title-holder, such as a chief or king. ‘Asonzeh’ is the middle form of a longer, 15-letter name. ‘Asonzeh’ is Igbo; it means ‘Do not fear a king’. (The fuller, longer name is still a mystery I would rather leave as such!) Most West Africans who have read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart could easily identify my names as Igbo-Nigerian. It’s deeply a core aspect of my heritage and my identity. While many would not have met or seen anyone bearing the name ‘Asonzeh’, it is easy to understand that ‘Nze(h)’ relates to the titled nobility in Igboland. I’m proud of my name and wouldn’t change it to any other name. It has become a strong part of my symbolic DNA, as anyone who Googles ‘Asonzeh’ will find that every hit is associated directly or indirectly with me!

Steffne HughesPhoto by Je'nine May.

My name is Steffne Elizabeth Hughes and my nickname is Steff

My name means ‘Crowned in victory’. It doesn’t really reflect my heritage, but came as the result of a book my mother loved as a child. The character was a princess with a golden voice. My mom loved the character and the name, but didn’t like the way it was spelled; so she changed it from Stephanie to Steffne. I love my name, even though it means that I have to spell it out for people. I am forever grateful too that my parents chose not to use family names for us. My maternal grandmother was Mona Wilhelmina! I’ve often wondered whether people ‘live up to’ their names, either consciously or subconsciously. If you’re named after a family member or a famous person, do you take on aspects of their personality? Do you deliberately avoid any similarities?

Salvatore MancusoPhoto by Je'nine May.

My name is Salvatore Mancuso

Salvatore means ‘The person who saves’, which comes from Jesus Christ, the one who saves. My surname reflects my roots in that it’s a Sicilian dialectal version of the Italian word ‘mancino’, meaning ‘left-handed’. I wouldn’t change my name – though it did cause some problems a few years ago, as I share a name with a Colombian paramilitary leader. Once I flew to Colombia via Bogotà airport for a friend’s wedding. I expected problems, but the official who checked my passport smiled and waved me through. The other Salvatore Mancuso had just been jailed!

Ntobeko Ayanda Bubele NtusiPhoto by Je'nine May.

My full name is Ntobeko Ayanda Bubele Ntusi

Strangely, I have managed to get to adulthood without ever having had a nickname! People always use my first name to address me. I always sign my emails with the letter ‘N’, the initial for my first name, and some of my friends have recently taken to referring to me as ‘N’. ‘Ntobeko’ means ‘humility’. Clearly my parents had high expectations of me from a tender age! It is a big ask to expect a child to always be humble. I am proudly Xhosa. Since antiquity, Xhosa names have always had a meaning. That is part of the beauty. The Xhosas have always believed that each one of us is brought into this world for a purpose. The name, in part, encapsulates part of what we are meant to aspire towards. So my name truly reflects my Xhosa heritage. I love my name; it’s a central aspect of my identity. I often fear that I do not live up to it. Names and personal identity carry such significance, in every culture. Our names not only identify us as being separate from others; they often resonate with the different roles we play in life. 

Anwarul Haq Suleman MallPhoto by Je'nine May.

My name is Anwarul Haq Suleman Mall

I prefer people to call me Anwar. Anwarul Haq means ‘The Light of Truth’ (‘Haq’ means ‘truth’). ‘Suleman’ is the Arabic version of the Hebrew ‘Solomon’, ‘The Wise’. Solomon was a king of Israel, the son of David, renowned for his wisdom. Its roots are from the Hebrew ‘shalom’, meaning ‘peace’ – from the Hebrew name שְׁלֹמֹה (Shelomoh) which was derived from Hebrew שָׁלוֹם (shalom), or ‘peace’. ‘Mall’ in Urdu means ‘goods’ or ‘possessions’. So the surname has Indian/Pakistani roots.

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