Growing up in Africa, I’ve noticed that people here tend to name their children based on the circumstances or sentiment surrounding their birth. So, I’ve known kids named “Suffering,” “Pain,” “Unloved,” and “Bringer of Bad Luck.” Any of those names would be miserable, but I’ve also known many African friends with positive names like “Charity,” “Peace,” “Saved,” and “Blessing.”
If the family is in relationship with a wealthy patron, to honor the patron, the family may give the patron’s name to their child- or invite the patron to name the child. Hence, babies “Mabel,” “Deanna,” and “Samuel” among others!
Then, there are some names- like that of my dear little Mozambican friend “Hammer” or my Sudanese friend “Egg”- that really just make me wonder, “What were their parents thinking?!”
You may expect me to wax reflective and say something about names and identity… but I don’t want to right now. Michele is writing a section about that in her book, so, pick up a copy next October when it’s published. 🙂
No, I just got to thinking about names this afternoon because I’ve had so many in Africa. In Mozambique, I was initially known as “girl,” which isn’t an uncommon title in Africa, but it irked me for the first year or so. I always wondered why people didn’t bother to learn my name. 🙂
Then, when people began to try to learn my name, “Jennifer” was pronounced like “Jefla.” So, what the heck, I even began introducing myself as “Jefla.” I decided to spare new acquaintances the initial confusion and frustration at various failed attempts of pronouncing my strange, foreign name.
Then- EPIPHANY! Mozambicans could pronounce “Jennie!” I was elated. From the age of 16, I became “Jennie” to all of my Mozambican friends- a name which carried through to my life at college and into the present day.
Just before I came to Sudan, God started speaking to me about my full name. So, I decided to begin introducing myself as “Jennie Joy.” That fit wonderfully in Sudan, because everybody has two names here. Sometimes they are called by both names together, and at other times one of the two names is chosen.
However, what I did not expect was to have my two names stretch into four. In Sudan, so I’ve been told, “Jennie” and “Jane” – and “Joy” and “Joyce” – are virtually interchangeable! Variations, perhaps? So, I’m learning to respond to all four at any given point.
Jennifer? Girl? Jefla? Jennie? Jennie Joy? Jane? Joy? Joyce? Does it even matter anyway?
After all, what’s in a name? In theory, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet!