What’s in a name, you might ask? A name speaks volumes; it precedes you, and is sort of a brand. Some names are so long it takes a child the whole of baby class to write them, some love the sound of their name so much they have the same name twice, Miguna Miguna et al. Some are tongue twisters; mispronounced by everyone including the givers: I know a guy who named his kid after Sasha Obama, she must have been born during the ‘yes we can’ campaign. Now the guy cannot for the life of him or his reputation, pronounce it. It’s either Sasa, Shasa, Shasha or any other comical combination of the two syllables, but never Sasha. When Shakespeare alluded that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, he must not have been privy to the struggle many single mothers undergo just to give their kids an identity. I will share three of my single mother friend’s predicaments. (Not their real names, I still need friend
Linet: Linet was in a stable come-we-stay relationship when she got her daughter Carlene. And so according to the baby daddy’s tradition, his firstborn daughter was named after his mother. Carlene Wambui Muigai she became. Everyone was happy. Two years later, the two separated and Carlene today has no memory of her father, leave alone the woman she’s named after. Linet insists she is going to change her names, and Carlene, now seven years old, innocently comments “Remove Muigai, it’s a boy’s name, and I’m not a boy!”
Karen: Karen was particular about her daughter’s name. She and her baby daddy chose the name while still under the potent bliss that is young love. Years later, love isn’t as sweet and even though they co-parent, she is yet to get her almost six year old a birth certificate. Her reasons? She is scared of putting it on paper, because the moment her daughter adopts the surname, she also legally gives away 50% parenting rights to the father. What if he one day sues for custody? What if he maliciously refuses to consent some things? On the flipside, if she doesn’t, how does she, years down the line explain the xxxx to her daughter who already knows her father?
Maria: Maria has a nine year old boy. Nelvin Mugo Wairimu - taking her maiden name as his surname. The other day, Nelvin came home in a sullen mood, and upon inquiry, he asked his mother, ‘Mommy, why do I have a girl’s name? Kids at school were laughing at me because I have a girl’s name.’ Maria confessed amidst tears that she thought she was giving her son a sense of heritage and belonging in the absence of his father. Now it seemed she was embarrassing him and paving way for ridicule from his peers.
Thandisizwe Chimurenga, rightly identifies names as markers. They not only identify who we are but also whose we are. It could explain the contention over married names - to hyphenate or fully take up your spouse’s name or why most people who endured colonial rule consider foreign names as neocolonialism, or why some people will use the same name for generations, Fitzgerald Grant the 1st, 2nd, 3rd… A name is significant, it is your first identity, a legacy that stays long after you are gone.