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What’s in a name?

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
— Terry Pratchett.

As Black Africans it has become common especially with our contemporary generation that we feel offended when someone asks the meaning of our name, and the commonly offered response is “why should my name have a meaning” — people take offense to that. I still hold a view that every name under sun has meaning in one way or another — it may not necessarily be the actual meaning of the word or phonemes that create your name — but it can be the historical context surrounding your name . For others, they were named after a certain prominent figure in society and others were named after their grandparents or parents , it still matters — whomever you were named after, it means that there must have been the values that they were known for and upheld. They believed it’s good that they pass the name to you, to continue the legacy.

What value does your name hold?

Names carry deep personal, cultural, familial, and historical connections. They also give us a sense of who we are, the communities in which we belong”-Ima Baobed

My name is Mbuyiselo — an infrequent (not so popular) name in our Nguni tribe. In the pre-democratic era whereby everyone was trying to find their feet-in preparation for the new political dispensation, a young girl named “Gugu” (my mother) from Eshowe, Mbongolwane, had to raise her 5 brothers after their father (my grandfather)had passed away after being hit by a car a stone throw away from our homestead. This tragedy also worsened the already existing family’s dire economic situation . This caused my grandmother to be involved in many legal squabbles defending herself as a widow — because not only did she have to deal with the sudden loss of her husband who passed on while she was pregnant, her 5th son (the last born-whom she named “Ceboliyozakha” — meaning “a plan will come up”), she also suffered constant bullying from certain influential individuals who saw her vulnerability and desperation, as they made many failed attempts to forcefully remove her from the land claiming that “ a woman must not own any piece of land, upon the demise of her husband she should go back home”.

Now back to Gugu (my mother), she had to take up responsibility from a tender age, when my grandmother had to take off her mourning clothes-inzilo and head up to Durban surbubs to search for employment as a Domestic worker. My mother had to take frequent breaks from school in order to take care of her brothers. During that period, she fell pregnant, which added burden to the already existing struggle in the family, she had a choice to name her child based on the situation, but she chose to name him a “restorer” — “Mbuyiselo” and that was the 4th day of April 1997 when the trajectory of my family would change for ever.

My mother narrated this story to me many years ago and it didn’t matter to me what was my name.

I still find people calling me “Mvuyiselo” or “Mvuselelo” which is not even close to my name . I won’t lie and say it did not offend me but it just makes me feel displaced — my mistake has been, being complacent and idle to constantly correct people which is wrong.

I remember after mother had passed away , I used to reflect on her life and ask my self what legacy she did she leave, not out disrespect to her legacy but just to remind my self of a powerful matriarch she was. I thought to myself — the greatest legacy she left was naming me “Mbuyiselo”.

Our names carry a responsibility that is greater than ourselves . Some of us are the ones who must break generational circles and patterns in our families varying from emotional traumas, financial woes and poverty. I always speak about the things I grew up hearing about my family , including that we won’t succeed we are cursed” but I have personally challenged that and became a source of breakthrough in my family, not only become the “first to” in my family but by also placing our family name in the map. My name and your name carries a divine task — God has called us by our names.

Isaiah 43: 1 “I have called you by your name; you are Mine.”

There isn’t much that I could say inherited from my late mother — she did not have much but had Love bountifully but many times I always think my name is the greatest treasure I have, my biggest and most expensive inheritance-that no one can take away from me”

I have noted that our names never diminish value — this is who we are! Whether we get it right, or we make mistakes, our names remain intact.

I am always delighted whenever I am given a chance to say my name . My name is the access code to my blessings and my name is devine and supernatural as it gets called in meetings and places my foot has never set.

You may have heard of the story of the Legendary “Proud Mary” hitmaker Tina Turner when she was leaving her abusive husband who controlled everything relating to her career. She gave away everything and said I’ll keep my name” — she knew that she could be able to start over with just her name .
Our names are an important anchor to identity when someone calls you by a wrong name you feel dislocated .

Another wrong assumption we hold is that; the fact that we have a same name — the name has a same meaning, this is not close to the truth and it is a rebuttable presumption — each name has expresses each person’s individuality and responsibility.

Singer and Rapper Nicki Minaj says “I am not a word, I am not a line, I am not a girl that can ever be defined” — our names are more than a collective of alphabets and phonemes that are made to sound nice to the ears .

Our names align us with our destiny. Remember your name. Take what is divinely assigned to you.

Written by Mbuyiselo Vilakazi, LLB (UKZN), candidate attorney, author of “Primed Up”, founder of Enable NPC and Y`CAP alumnus and support team ambassador and leader.

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