Minnesota Farmer

What’s in a South African name
August 20, 2014, 5:04 pm
Filed under: South Africa, travel | Tags: , ,

Names in a foreign country may be one of the hardest things to deal with.  We all want to be recognized by name, and we want to know other peoples names.  But foreign language pronunciations add extra difficulty to remembering a name.

Everyone who knows anything about South Africa knows who Nelson Mandela is, but who is Rolihlahla Mandela?  Well, they are one and the same person.  Rolihlahla Mandela was named Nelson by his teacher to conform to the custom of that time to give every school child an english name.  Rolihlahla was Xhosa, and not Zulu as were most of the people we lived and worked with.

In our travels in South Africa we still find many who are known by english names who may have other names unpronounceable to us english-only speakers.  David, Lee, Christopher and many other people were introduced to us.  These folks are mostly born in the era of apartheid and are primarily known that way.

Others have names that are more like knick names.  Rambo, Simba, Nana and others of various ages were people we worked with.  One young lady whose name was Sindiswa, was known as Cindy to us.

As apartheid ended, names changed.  I know of two men who were called Doctor, neither of whom was a doctor.  There was another named Freedom.  An excellent name for one born shortly after apartheid ended.

More strictly Zulu names like Bonisiwe, Mayibongwe, Bhekani, Mosa, Loni and others that I hesitate to try to write for fear I will misspell their names were all around us.  Some were known by english knick names, others by shortened versions of their name.

Zulu is also interesting because there are different forms of clicks in the language.  David’s last name is Xaba, and the X is a click, (click)aba.

Reading Zulu hymn books was usually easy, unless you were trying to read a word where the first letter, usually an N was silent.  That N changed the pronunciation of the next letter.  Then there were the X’s and Q’s that denoted clicks of different types that none of us quite got.

Still we all did our best to get and keep peoples names straight.  The younger members seemed to do well with their South African counterparts.  Maybe because the young brain, mouth and tongue are more flexible than those of us older folks.


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