There is a story behind our names.

I have learnt to realise that everything we are and do culturally as Africans has a dual practical functional purpose and a deeper more spiritual meaning. In the last post I wrote about the birth of my boys, let me tell you the story behind their names. Most people question us about our boys names because they are not common seTswana and isiXhosa names.

Our sons first names are in Setswana(from my husbands upbringing) and their second names are in isiXhosa(from my family and my husband’s father’s family). seTswana, being the main culture in our home as it is the language my husband was raised in, the meaning of child’s name is usually twofold. The name means the relation to God at the time of birth and also the foreseen character of the child, hence the SeTswana proverb ‘ina lebe seromo’, which is used when one is seen living or doing what their name means. Hence our first son who passed away half way in our pregnancy, our mother named him Onalerona(He is with us), meaning firstly that, though we have lost a child we have been waiting years for, ‘God is with us’, we should not lose hope, and also the meaning that the son we lost “is and will always be with us”, we should never forget him as our first ‘born’. Our next child our mother named Oaikanyega (He is trustworthy), meaning firstly that ‘God is trustworthy’ because we trusted that God will allow us to have children despite many medical specialists discouraging us, and also the name projects that ‘he will grow up be a trustworthy boy and man’. Our latest son was born just after our mother passed on, the naming rights were then inherited by his aunt, my husband’s sister, she chose an ancient seTswana name, Thokgamo (to comfort or to act with integrity), meaning firstly ‘God comforted us’ with this child during our mourning, and also meaning that our son would be the comforter in the family and he will grow up to always act in integrity and righteousness. Indeed his laughter and his smile brings so much warmth and happiness to us, he has comforted us through a very sad period.

The isiXhosa names also have meanings either spiritual or practical in reference to the timing of the birth of the child. My son Oaikanyega, even before he was born I named him Luyanda (to increase/ to grow), in remembrance of my brother who passed away as a teenager and also it means ‘Luyanda usapho looNoZulu’ which translates to ‘the increase of the NoZulu clan’, which is my husband’s Xhosa clan name, at three he has his late uncle’s mannerisms and in so many ways he reminds us of him. His brother, Thokgamo, I named him Bayanda (increasing), like his brother ‘Bayanda ooNoZulu’, the NoZulu clan name will increase as it is another boy that will carry the family clan name and also as I come from a family full of girls the boys are indeed increasing and also it just rhymes nicely with Luyanda LOL. In isiXhosa we purposefully name our children with the belief that whatever name is given to the child can have great impact in who they become when they grow up.

I remember some years back I came back home from school and excitedly said to my parents, ‘..from now on please call me Blinker, my name is Blinker’. My dad went outside to smoke, as he usually does when he has to reflect, and when he came back he said ‘..uthini na mntanam?'(what are you saying my child?), with a mischievous smile he said to me and my siblings, ‘..let me tell you a story on why and how we named you’. My dad has always been a great story teller from when we were toddlers, he told us the story of all our names from our eldest sister who passed at her infancy to our late little brother. This is the story my father shared with us that day : ” Your mother and I were blessed with a baby girl uSiphokazi (Gift), who unfortunately passed away when she was a few months old…”, I guess it was Gods first gift for the newly weds. My dad continued, “…a year later we had another baby girl which was a splitting image of your late sister and here she is, wena Buyiswa (brought back)…”, my parents seeing my elder sister as a rebirth of our late sister, “…then we had you Yoliswa (happiness/joy) 2 years later and were joyful and blessed…”, my parents were expressing their joy at after loosing a daughter they were blessed not with one but two daughters, then my dad continued to explain about my birth, “…When your mother was expecting again within a year we were hopeful that now we will have a boy. Thenjiswa (promise) was born, although a girl, you resembled a boy even in character, dark and hairy. To us it was like you were the promise that a boy will soon come. Years went by and we had given up and forgotten about having a son, then your brother uLuyanda (addition or increase) was born, a full nine years later. Usapho luyanda meaning the family name will grow. Ndigqile (I’m done/case closed)”. He looked at me and said “..usathi ungu’Blinka? Yintoni yona leyo? (Are you still saying you are blinker, what does that even mean?).” He left the room with a smirk on his face. I remember that look, haha, if it was nowadays it probably would have been ‘a drop mike’ moment. I have loved my name since then but more than that i have come to revere the deeper meaning in our traditions and customs.

Traditionally as Africans, in our different and varied languages and customs, we don’t just name our children there is usually a story behind the name, an event or circumstance the family is going through at that time of birth, a journey leading to birth or during birth or even a prayer of things or attributes hoped for. Sometimes in families children will be named in a way that you will not need to ask who is older and who is younger, for example, Mafungwashe (first born) and Phelokazi (last born). If you have mischievous parents you might end up with a name that is a funny rebuke or expression.

So when the time came for my husband and I to name our kids I remembered the story my father told us years back, as a mother I was panicking as it was just a few days left to the expected birth day, and him calmly and unperturbed assuring me that when we leave the hospital the baby will have name. Indeed, both times, by the time we left the hospital the boys did have powerful proud African names.

If you have not found your purpose maybe it might be in your name. What does your name mean, its deeper contextual meaning? Take some time to reflect on your name, you will be pleased to notice that you most probably are already fulfilling your purpose, you just do not realise it. Every time your name is called, and it has a meaning, the universe is listening, the seed has been planted and will nurture to continually bear fruit. Words are sound with knowledge, which articulated out loud and repeatedly are powerful affirmations of your disposition and purpose in life. Take pride in your name, in who you are.

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  1. mhhhhh wooow what a nice and interesting blog to read and I feel so bad that I couldnt name both my children as I was kind of blank on what names I can give them… mara why did you have me read this blog when am even done making babies coz at least was gonna nail it with next child.

    Just woundering where all dis interest & talent of putting such words together came from
    Very proud of u dear friend will watch n wait for cant even make a mistake of missing 1 keep us updated

    Woow ur boys are soo blessed to have such parents 🥰🥰

  2. Adding on the good story telling father the other question he asked. Do you know any one in our family with an English name or umlungu (white person ) with a xhosa or African name? Mmmmmh

  3. Yaaa Blinka..i can imagine uTata saying it in isiXhosa accent🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

  4. My name is Nqolokazi, I was named after a warrior king and one of the frontline forefathers of my family! I belong to my people!

  5. Powerful Thenjie. Indeed our names carry so much power in them and that we shouldn’t take light at all. The deeper meaning of African names are just too beautiful and carry so much weight.

  6. What an inspiring story and a reminder to the stories behind our Afrikan names? Sad thing, it took 1976 to remind some families of invocations and erasure of stories behind Afrikan by missionaries and colonisation.

  7. 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 Blinker! Ingathi ndiyambona u Shakes esithi uthini na mntanam😆.
    Inspiring story Manjilo. I must say your boys are adorable.

    Interesting, interesting, interesting!!!

  8. If you have not found your purpose maybe it might be in your name – this line….thank you

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