Long-name blues

2011-05-23 00:00

WHAT really constitutes a name? This is a question I think about often. I guess with mine the more difficult and rare the better.

“What is your name? Matsenga … what? What does that mean?” is the normal response to mine. “That’s the longest surname I have ever set my eyes on.” And so the identification abuse continues.

“How do you pronounce it? Let me try.” The tirade resumes. Of course, they all stammer, stutter and stray. Until I lead them along the long road to get it all well and clear. “I am Derick, Derick Matsengarwodzi, but call me Mr Long, Mr Long Name that is. That will help avoid getting your tongue in a knot.”

That’s how I have become Mr Long to many. Probably it is because of the absence of the letter “R” in some languages that causes the scare – like we are starved of “L”, “X” and “Q” in my native language. Any words comprising these alien figures are somehow destined for an expressional default.

My accomplice, Sbusiso, a local, prefers to call me Matse ... etc. He says it makes more grammatical sense to shorten it. It sounds more sophisticated and friendlier, he adds.

Once a guy asked: “Are you African or something?” For once I wished I was someone else. I wished I could scream loud: “I am very African and a proud one too. What do you take me for, a would-be drug peddler yielding a fake identity?”

It becomes an offence when someone approaches me and declares: “I bet I can pronounce your name correctly.” I ponder: was it incorrect before? Anyway, he gets my humble blessing to proceed. “What do I get if I get it right?” he asks. “Oh my fallen forefathers,” I groan. How dare one seek a fortune with my name?.

Then a clique of sympathisers always crops up. “What about your kids, can they pronounce the word? What about in school?” This degenerates into a war and it requires graphical illustrations. I resume: “My daughter is named Zvikomborero Matsengarwodzi,” scribbling it on paper. “And wait before you shout an obscenity. At three, she learnt how to construct, fit and squeeze her identity into any given limited space, especially at school.” There you have it. I have passed it on to the next generation — already.

I declare with authority that if ever you meet a guy out there with this very name he is a blood relative. You will interact with someone with a shorter version of my name: Matsenga or Rwodzi but those evolved elsewhere. Its jaw-breaking possibilities make it a rare species, jealously guarded by us as a family. Often I have encountered identification crisis with other people’s names in my line of work. A phone call to an office will get the response: “We have four people with that name, which one are you referring to?” Then it’s back to the drawing board.

And perusing a directory is always a challenge. There are surnames so common that you will be forgiven for assuming that these people own publishing rights to the telephone directory.

I’ll happily take the abuse I get instead — the abuse to be me. So long — from Mr Long.

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