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What's in a name

News
 What's in a name? [iStockphoto]

“Names have power,” said Rick Riordan, the writer of The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. He wasn’t wrong. Names give brands a life, which in the arts, translates to awareness, then popularity and depending on content and a bit of luck, wealth. 

In choosing their brand names, artistes are looking for inspiration far and wide, and oftentimes, at home. 

Those whose home is closer, choose to tap into their ancestry to invoke the spirit of those who walked before them. 

According to Makadem, Ohangla maestro and one of Kenya’s most-traveled nyatiti stringers, he took his father’s name and commandeered it into showbiz.

“Mak’ Adem means son of Adem. Luo people of Kenya use the prefix Mak’ or K’ after the first name of a male child followed by their father's name to mean son of,” explained the artiste, born Charles Odero Ademson, who also goes by ‘Ohanglaman’ and ‘Mganga Mkuu’. “I just removed the apostrophe.”

For Mr Bank Otuch, Vicmass Luodollar, his name is a conglomerate of two events in his life, both of which trace their route to Kisumu, with one involving his father.

“'Luodollar’ is my dad's nickname,” he says. 

“He used to operate one of East Africa's biggest music stores and the store used to get visitors from all over the world, including Americans. So people in Kisumu used to call him Luodollar, as in, the only Luo who regularly handled dollars.”

Vicmass, who also calls himself Kech Kech, besides Mr Bank Otuch, explained that his own experiences in the streets of Kisumu gave him his first name.

“Vicmass is a mix of 'victory' plus 'mass'. I had a tough and rough life, including constant run-ins with cops. So, leaving the streets and going back home and changing my ways was a victory over the masses,” he said, trying to sound philosophical. 

According to Britanicca, nicknames can be traced to 13th Century England, from the Middle English word 'ekename', which meant ‘also name’. These names were used to conceal one’s identity. They range from the playful to characteristic, the naughty to the most provocative. 

Trio Mio, born Mario TJ (Thank Jesus) Kasela, got his stage name by playing with his given name. He explained that taking the ‘T’, then the ‘Rio’ from Mario, before taking the ‘M’ from Mario plus the ‘io’ at the end, he got Trio Mio. 

 Trio Mio

Controversial rapper, video vixen and actor Noti Flow was also inspired by her official name. Born Natalie Florence Kutoto, she didn’t have to think hard about her brand name, playing with a few words while in class eight to land with what she has forever been known for, naughtiness. 

To Tempo hitmaker Dufla, born David Long'oji Ekiru in Baragoi, we can only thank his mother for inspiring his artistry name. 

"Dufla is a nickname my mum gave me. Growing up, there was a milk calabash that I always carried with me which my mum called ‘dubla’. I corrupted it to 'dufla," he said in an interview. 

Artistes, a demographic that’s paid from consistency in imagination, have also dipped into their creative bags for names that are characteristic of their style, or their surroundings. 

Growing up in Mombasa, UKOO FLANI was the rave of the island city, the young men predominantly from the expansive Magongo area were the in thing, their conscious rap fresh and very American, almost like Wu Tang. 

One of the members, Kelly Makau, AKA Labalaa, tells me the genesis of his brand name. 

“There was a full name before I shortened it to Labalaa. But it’s basically, ‘Jitu La Balaa’ (a giant who is trouble).”

But the name gave birth to another. One of his cousins bastardized Labalaa to Balala. The freestyle master picks the story up. "He kept calling me 'Balabala', which is Swahili for gecko. I wanted something else, but 'Burukenge' (monitor lizard) was worse. So Balabala it was." 

In some songs, especially with Ukoo Flani Maumau, he used to introduce himself as ‘Labalaa, AKA Burukenge’. 

US-based rapper, singer and songwriter Ulrykah Benard brand name was inspired by, guess what, a UK magazine!

"I got the first name (Ulrykah) off a British newspaper about some celebrity back in the 80s,” the rapper said, adding, "She was on the cover and I borrowed the name. The second name (Bernard) is my surname."

She further explains that there isn't anything deep to his inspiration, other than the fact that it had a nice ring. 

"I always wanted to be an artist and that time she was on the cover of a British paper, which means she was a star!"

To Gengetone artiste Parroty, he didn't have to think hard about his artiste name when he decided showbiz was it for him. 

"Parroty originated from high school, nilikua nabonga sana sana and I never missed out on the noisemakers' lists," the Pewa artiste said.

Reggae icon, media personality, endometriosis ambassador and political aspirant Njambi Koikai goes by the name Jahmby Fyah Mummah Koikai on his media and Reggae engagements.

Njoki, who ran unsuccessfully for Dagoretti South parliamentary seat, got the Reggae moniker for her association with the genre, one of the foremost and well-known female reggae personalities in Kenya. 

She's known for her signature intro, "I go by the name Njambi Koikai AKA Fyah Mummah Jahmby, the baddest, the wickedest, the maddest queen."

Gospel artiste and Groove winner Eko Dydda borrowed his name from his trade. "My stage name is inspired from the words I echo Jesus," he was quoted saying. 

He later changed his official name to Eko Dydda, saying, "In fact, if you M-Pesa me that is the name you will get," even though his M-Pesa reads Emannuel Eko. 

Catherine Kamau, who publicly announced her split from actor and film director Phil Karanja last year, has forever been known as Kate Actress, from her appearance in the long-running show Mother-in-law, where she played Celina.

A 2017 Kalasha Awards winner for the drama series Sue Na Jonnie, she has successfully transitioned into non-acting roles, building a name as an influential brand ambassador for Harpic, and Nice & Lovely.  

Others have decided to jump on the bandwagon of trending topics to explain the genesis of their names.

America rapper Young Thug (Jeffery Lamar Williams) who, alongside others in his YSL crew is facing a 56-count indictment on murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, theft, drug dealing, carjacking, and witness intimidation shocked the world when his lawyer revealed that the THUG in his nom de guerre means ‘Truly Humble Under God’.

The revelation trended, many finding the explanation funny, with other artistes and social media users creating meaning from acronyms until Fat Joe (Joseph Antonio Cartagena) jumped on with his explanation.

According to the Award-winning American rapper Fat Joe, Joe Crack, his nickname, is not drug-related in any way. He posted on X, “They call me Joey crack because the crack of my backside shows whenever I stand up. Girls in my hood gave me the name. It was never because of the drug crack. God is great.”  

The late Prince, of the Purple Rain fame, went through a metamorphosis of names and signs, as he explored his eccentricities. Born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958, his first name was just too perfect for an artiste who was seminal and with a legacy that will live well beyond him, but that was never enough. 

He went for a sign as his name, then changed to The Artist (Formerly Known as Prince) (TAFKAP), while also using the name ‘Camille’ for a female alter-ego, recording music through pitch-shifting his vocals. 

Even Makadem changed his name. When he started as a dancehall artiste at the coast, the bubbly artiste with so much hunger and talent was called Mr. Lololova. Only after meeting legendary sound engineer Tabu Osusa who changed his genre, did he become ‘Ohanglaman’.

Some chose to play with their brand names, adding prefixes and suffixes to what already exists. 

Gospel dancehall artiste J Fam had been in the game for almost a decade before he decided his artistry name had to reflect his 6-foot-plus frame. He added ‘Long Zilla’ to it, and he is now J Fam Long Zilla. 

And with time, these artistes or the media add more descriptors to differentiate the chuff from the jokers from the talents. 

Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, Elvis Presley the King of Rock 'n' Roll; Collo is King wa Rap, while Maandy Kabaya is Manzi wa Nairobi. 

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