Strange, sometimes hilarious names of Zimbabweans

GREAT-ZIMBABWEIgnatius Mabasa Shelling The Nuts
ONE of my uncles went to a mission school. His name was Nyikadzino. This name was very difficult for the white teacher to pronounce and after several weeks of trying and never getting it right, he gave up.

Then, he said to uncle Nyikadzino, “Hey, do you mind if I called you Joseph?” That is how my uncle got the name Joseph.

He was Joseph to the school community, but at home he answered to Nyikadzino.

But uncle Nyikadzino sometimes forgot that he was Joseph and when his new name was called out, he would not respond, and even if it was repeatedly called, he still did not answer.

Then, when he was called by his real name, he responded very quickly.

Some names are like that, they are not real and you don’t carry them with you always.

They are like a hat that you can take off.

Our Shona names have become some of the few remaining signals that can still be detected on the cultural radar.

They provide a window into our thinking and understanding.

Yet, very few people understand or care to find out what Shona names mean.

After a careful study of Shona names — especially those that are considered by a lot of urbanised and westernised people as weird and outlandish, I have come to the conclusion that, just because we do not know or understand the context and circumstances a person was given or got their name, we should not judge them or think their parents were really mad to give such a name.

The Shona give names for various reasons, and rarely is a name just a name.

One Shona naming belief was that if a child cries incessantly for a very long time, then the elders would say that there is an ancestor who wants their name to be given to that child.

It may not just be a matter of the child crying incessantly, but the child could also get very sick and the sickness could confound doctors and herbalists.

The belief was that after consulting diviners, an ancestral spirit would be identified as the cause, and it was only after the consultations that the child was given the name of the ancestor with certain rituals being done, that they stopped crying and recovered. This is a very strange way of communicating, for the ancestors to make a child cry or be sick all because of a name. These are things that are beyond comprehension, but is also the reason why with time most Africans abandoned their traditional religions preferring Christianity, which cuts ties with the dead ancestors.

Usually, ancestral names are very long and are some kind of narrative because they are trying to capture a story. Ancestral names reflect the history and context of the person who was originally given that name.

When one listens to these ancestral names in this day and age, the names sound very strange and to a lot of people the names do not communicate, unless one is told the story behind the name.

Even today, I have come across first names that are very traditional such that they need unpacking.

These are names like Tozivaripi, Mativavarira, Tanonoka, Manomano, Matinyanya, Simbarekutaya, Ndakachinyei, Ndaizivei, Tirivanhu, Nyekutai, Ndaizivei, Mashingaidze, Musorowenyoka, Rinopasi, Mupunzarima, Pandukai, Zvanyadza, Muzamhindo, Zvakoneka, Maonenyaya, Kubvoruno, Makodzavhu, Pikirayi, Nyemudzai, Dzikamai, Takaitei, Charungwandicho, Muchatuta, Zhiradzago, Pakuramunhumashokoanowanda, Chenjerai, Tsverukai, Muranganwa, Chenhamo, Matonhodze, Kuzoomunhu, Muneinazvo, Ndanatsei, Tsverukai,Musorowegomo, Sadzandiuraye, Muzanenhamo, Tichapondwa and the common Muchaneta.

While these names may sound strange, they show a very clever aspect of the Shona people.

They could be ancestral names or just names of some late family hero, but they are used to capture history and specific family events.

In some cases, they are meant to remind, warn, chide, expose and mark. You will notice that some are in the form of rhetoric questions. Some of the names tell stories of regret, revelation, despair and even defiance. It is the same philosophy that Zimbabweans try to apply to their names in English.

Zimbabwean names in English are very weird because we often try to use the same philosophy behind African names. Unfortunately, we at times end up with very strange and sometimes hilarious names like Avoid, Shame, Someone, Punish, Reason, Nevermore, Jealous, Jealousy, Notice, Bigboy, Loud, Lust, Last, Trythanks, Admire, Greenfield, Welshman, Steady, Easyway, Psychology, Parables, Action, Rise, Wonder, Polite, Forget, Immigration, Museum, Letters, Hatred, Tragedy, Kissmore, Learnmore, Passmore, Problem, Sugar, Maybe, Godknows, Eversmile, Anyway, Anywhere, Nomatter, Norest, Talkmore, Never, Silence, Sori, Action, Wonderful, Sure, Doubt, Jealous, Clever, Silent, Never, Brains, Smart, Clever, Shine, Fine, Knowledge, Hardlife, Energy and the very unique Lightfoot.

Out of context, a lot of names given by the Shona in English are very strange, but if you investigate the reason or story behind a name, you will come to a conclusion the same names in the Shona language are not weird. Here are examples of strange names of Shona people in English and what they possibly mean in Shona: Reason = Chikonzero. Shame = Nyarai/Nyadzisai. Rise = Simukai/Mukai. Wonder/Shamiso. Clever = Ngwaru/Ngwarai. Shine = Chiedza. Steady = Dzikamai. Nomatter = Hazvinei. Godknows = Kuzivakwashe/Mwarianoziva. Of course the other reason for weird names like Lust can be attributed to birth registration officers not knowing the correct spelling and the intended meaning.

Yet, I have questions for people or relatives of people who have the following names:

Avoid – Avoid what and why?

Someone – what about someone?

Kissmore –Who was urging who to kiss more and should it be made public?

Hardlife – for you or for your parents?

Never – Never what? Never mind? Never say die? Never fear?

Bigboy – Didn’t parents know that boys become men?

African names are culture-specific. Take for example my grandmother’s name Mazvirega (you have stopped it). The story is that her parents had lost a number of babies in their infancy. When she was eventually born, they did not give her a name for some time because they did not want to give a name, and then watch the child die like the others had done. So, after the child had survived for longer than a month, the family gave the child a name, but in the process addressing and rebuking both death and the ancestors by saying, “This one has survived, and you have stopped your habit of killing our babies.”

The Shona gave names and some still do up to today, based on events. It could be events before the child was conceived or even born, or it could be events when the child was born. Others get names from personalities that the parents may idolise. Like these days, a lot of baby boys being named after European soccer players – Ronaldo, Rooney, Lionel and others. You may come across people with names of the Chimurenga heroes like Parerenyatwa, Tongogara, Takawira, Chibwechitedza, Gonakudzingwa and that immediately tells you that they were either born during the struggle or that their parents were somehow involved in the liberation war. My late uncle and freedom fighter named his children: Tichavatongamabhunu, Gonakudzingwaruvimbo, Madenyika and Tapembedzwa who was born at independence. You can tell that personal experiences and historical events informed the choice of names.

Even when it comes to giving foreign names, the Shona still have a logical story behind the name. My nephew’s wife is called Miriam and when I asked her why she got that name when both her parents were not Christians, she said when she was born, she cried for a very long time and someone jokingly said, “This one is Miriam Makeba.”

That became her name. There is a generation of people who have no idea at all who Miriam Makeba is, but to those who grew up in the late 60s and 70s — Miriam Makeba was a great singer.

The city being a place that is completely different from the village where almost everybody knows everybody, tends to have another strange naming culture. Because people don’t know each other — it is very okay for a security guard to answer to the name amupurisa, and for the kombi driver and his assistant as dhiraivha nakondakita. It is also becoming fashionable for soldiers to answer to the name Gunman.

This explains our veneration of guns and power. Whatever the case, it is important for Zimbabweans to know that a name is an identity marker and a source of pride if it is positive.

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