Column | What's in a name? Quite a lot actually

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The name changes in the Eastern Cape have everyone talking.  Photo: Misha Jordaan
The name changes in the Eastern Cape have everyone talking. Photo: Misha Jordaan

It might seem like a little thing. The entire country has gotten involved in a heated debate about the name changes that were recently gazetted and it’s been interesting to watch.

It actually reminded me of a time where my name led to the biggest struggle with home affairs. Someone, somewhere didn’t believe that my name could be for a female and their one wrong tick became my nightmare.

The very first ID number I was issued was for a male and I spent years trying to correct the mistake. I had to get a doctor’s clearance proving that I was indeed female (weird right?) and get the media involved.

By the time I got my third or fourth ID issued with a correct ID, they had randomly included an H in my name and I just decided to go with it, simply because I didn’t have any fight in me.

All because of a name.

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Since then, I’ve been dealing with men and women asking me daily if I know I have a man’s name. Or call centre agents insisting on speaking to the right person when I say ‘I am Thulani’.

Those years showed me just how important a name is. It’s not just a tag we walk around with, it’s an essential part of our identity.

And this is what has got some folks in the Eastern Cape up in arms but mostly for the wrong reasons.

Soon after the minister of arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa gazetted the new names for Port Elizabeth (Gqebera), the airport (Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport), Uitenhage (Kariega) and Maclear to Nqanqarhu, everyone started talking about it.  

I don’t think Port Elizabeth (or in this case Gqeberha) has ever seen so much social media action since, well, never.

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And while I haven’t seen as many complaints about the name of the airport or the new Kariega, there have been plenty about Gqeberha.

The mayor has even taken it upon himself to object to the name changes for a variety of reasons, including that it doesn’t have ‘a meaning’.

I’ve been watching all this from the sidelines because it’s my hometown and I also low key remember seeing the public participation process and never getting involved.

One of the complaints I’ve seen over and over in the comments sections of news sites is ‘the name is not user friendly, it’s not good for tourism’.

Because it doesn’t roll of the tongue easily. That’s has go to be the laziest complaint ever.

It made me realise we’ve been user friendly with our names for way too long. While my name is easy enough, my surname has always been a bit of a struggle, with the worst pronunciation being ‘Gwarana’ one year.

And when people can’t say our names, we’ve become so used to it and are quick to forgive.

This is why we say ‘my name is Qaqamba but you can call me Q’, ‘I’m Xabisa but I go by X’, because we’ve let our names become user friendly for some people who don’t even try.

So people of Gqeberha, please go ahead and complain about the public participation process, or the fact that you already associate the name with a township within the same area. Or any other reason you can come up with.

But ‘it’s too hard’ cannot be one of them. You can do better than that.

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