Mothers shun 'tribal names' for newborns

Mercy Awino with her husband charles ochieng at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Referal hospital in Kisumu after delivering a baby named Fidel Denis on a Christmas day.PIC BY COLLINS ODUOR
What is in a name? Well, if the case of mothers in the county delivering during the festivities is anything to go by, then there is a lot in a name.

Cleare Jakoyo is one of the 27 mothers who delivered at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital on December 25.

As most mothers at the maternity ward struggled to comb through the names of their families to give to their newborns, as per the norms of the Luo culture, Ms Jakoyo was thinking of how to fight tribalism through names.

As is common in the country today, some names are associated with tribes and people have been keen on identifying others people’s tribes by their names, rather than use them for identification.

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Jakoyo decided long before delivery to avoid a tribal name so as to spare her children from tribal discrimination, which seems to tear the country apart, especially during elections. A few minutes after midnight, Jakoyo brought to the world a bouncing baby boy and gave her four names, all Christian.

“I have decided to name my baby Santa Roby Aaron Sam. I have been a victim of ethnic profiling and would not wish to have my children face the same. We have decided as an extended family that we want to avoid tribal names,” she said.

The same idea had criss-crossed Mary Awino’s mind, who was three beds away from Jakoyo at the same ward. Just like Jakoyo, Awino decided to name her baby boy Fidel Daniels.

Even though she was under pressure to name the baby after her kin, she picked on the father’s Christian name, Daniel, and modified it to Daniels. “We had decided to avoid the ethnic names and agreed as the baby’s parents to contribute a name each. My husband proposed Fidel as I picked on Daniels. It is common these days for people to have all Christian names and for us, it is not a fashion but a way of just avoiding the stereotypes that come with the tribal names,” she said.

Official names

The same opinion was held by Winnie Nyakiti, who also delivered on the same day. Nyakiti named her bouncing baby girl Rhiab Emmanuela. “I may use ‘those other names’ back at home but her official names to be indicated in her official documents will be Rhiab Emmanuela. People have gone overboard with tribal names and it is time we use neutral names, which do not stir any stereotypes at first sight,” said Nyakiti.

However, according to then Luo Council of Elders Chair Ker Opiyo Otondi, the move to avoid ethnic names is likely to erode the African culture. Otondi said the names are part of culture as they were formulated to represent various parts of the traditions practised by different communities.

“For example, the Luo community used names to remember events and happenings or even to explain the occurrences. No amount of frustration should make our people abandon their culture,” said Otondi.

The position was also held by Kisumu human rights activist Betty Okero.
“If naming is done for the purpose of hiding from your origin, then it may not help much because documentations like the national identity cards among others takes people back to their villages, and many opportunities are tagged with the cards,” said Okero.

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