Funny names folks give their kids

For one whose father was a fanatic of the English language, I suppose I ought to be grateful that I got to be called Charles.

For one whose father was a fanatic of the English language, I suppose I ought to be grateful that I got to be called Charles.

I was born on the day after New Year's Day, and had my folks been like many in Zimbabwe and Malawi, I could easily had been called Celebration Mogale.

I need to tread carefully here. Some years back I was literally sworn at by an irate reader after I had written about the queer names some black folks give their children. The irony of it is that these names sound beautiful in the vernacular, but border on the ridiculous when translated into English.

The lady broke into tears as she lamented my insulting her parents by questioning what possessed them when they named her.

I don't remember the name, but it was something like Explanation.

The exchange went something like:

Ring ... ring ... ring

She: Is that Charles?

Me: Yes.

She: This is Explanation.

Me: Okay, how can I help you Explanation?

She: Who do you think you are? My parents were not educated, but it is not your business. I love my name. You bloody bastard, you f*** sh***!

By this time she was obviously in tears and her voice was shaky.

I did not know her, and could only guess that someone had read the article and made fun of her, urging her to spew it out on me.

When more French bombs exploded, I calmly put the phone down and praised myself for keeping my cool and not paying back the compliments.

Recently I was at an elephant sanctuary in Mpumalanga and met an amiable fellow from Zambia named Fair.

I have a friend named Simple - a smart, streetwise operator who could not give a toss if anyone thought things about his name.

But I have met worse, people with names such as Meticulous, Predictable, Tenderness, Knowledge and Beyond.

At the risk of sounding like a self-styled psychologist, my guess is that our people are driven by an intense inner desire to sound "sophisticated", hence the translation of beautiful African names into English.

At worst, they forbid their children from speaking any African languages, the silly excuse being that these languages "delay" their progress at school.

A hero and mentor of mine who spent more than three decades in exile in the United States, tells me that he had a rule there for his children:

"I told them yes, they are Americans because they were born in America.

"But when they came in through that door, they must know that they are Africans. This is an African home."

The kids graduated without any hitches and are doing well for themselves.

They don't do the whazzup, yeah man, know wharramsayin? crap of our wannabe American "house" generation. They speak properly - in English and African languages.

Back to names.

The rule of thumb, I realise, is that if the name is not African and its meaning is obvious, smell a rat.

So Michael, Lydia, Ellen, James and even Charles are off the hook.

But Togetherness, Appreciate, Joyful, Prayer, Peaceful ... they give me the goosies.