A sausage by any other name

2009-01-28 00:00

For a few short weeks in high school, I enjoyed a whirlwind romance with a dashing young chap called Peter — a relationship that, had I been christened anything other than Heidi, may not have been quite so fleeting.

Thanks to the TV series Heidi and a song of the same name (made all the more popular by having spent 10 weeks on the Springbok hit parade), our friends took to bursting into joyful chorus whenever they saw us. This would have been bearable had they not attempted to yodel.

Hackneyed old jokes about life in the mountains with my grandfather and his goat herd had long since ceased to worry me, but unfortunately, being the macho type, Peter found sniggering inquires as to whether he wore leather trousers and a little feathered hat an affront to his manhood.

Not surprisingly, the love affair was short-lived (the leather trouser jokes finally getting his goat), with me vowing to be more careful about whom I dated in the future.

A few years later, however, my first excursion up the aisle saw me saddled with the surname Crockett and the not-so-witty repartee started anew.

The notable difference this time though, was that folk now had a choice between singing about Heidi of the mountains and Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.

Although determined not to make the same mistake a third time, when I finally met the love of my life, he could have been named Donald Duck and I would still have married him. Admittedly, though, I hadn’t reckoned on him being called Frankenstein.

While there’s little one can do about one’s actual name, nicknames are another matter. My new husband’s school friends had nicknamed him Frankie — his surname being Steyn — thus I became the Bride of Frankie Steyn, aka Frankenstein.

I hasten to add that my beloved was given this rather unflattering title not because he’s a crackpot, monster- making doctor, but due to his large stature — at two metres tall he tends to dwarf the average man.

Nicknames are not a modern-day trend or exclusive to Western culture.

My father is known as Intethe (the Zulu word for grasshopper), a name given to him years ago by workers on a building site, who were never quite sure where he would pop up next as he “jumped” from site to site, checking on their progress. Fortunately, the name had more to do with him being springy and wiry as opposed to green and crusty.

But while being likened to an insect may seem rather insulting to some, being labelled Mehlo Nkomo or “eyes like a cow” could be even more so. My father’s colleague, however, who was the proud owner of this descriptive little moniker, wasn’t bothered at all — presumably since there are other, far less attractive parts of a cow that one could be named after.

Curious to know whether I had been dubbed with any quirky Zulu nickname, I quizzed my gardener on the subject.

Clutching his rake as if in self-defence, he fervently denied calling me anything other than Nkosazane and no amount of joking or probing could persuade him to admit otherwise. Instead of dropping the subject, I decided to interrogate my domestic worker who had no such qualms.

“Eish Medem,” said Rosemary, hooting with laughter, “I call you Mamntso,” at which point my gardener clapped a hand over his mouth and scuttled up the driveway.

It took several more minutes of breathless mirth to extract the meaning of Mamnsto.

“Vienna sausage,” cried Rosemary, wiggling a slender finger at me, “long, theen and peenk.”

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