That’s in a name?!

2013-09-27 13:07

“It’s on the side of your mouth, like when you’re angry and you just go…” and then she clicked, and then it clicked. I got it. I finally said the word “Xhosa” correctly. Since then I’ve been bragging with my clicks, except for the “Q” one. My tongue, like my resolve, is not strong enough yet. That was in 2008 when I realised that I can’t keep saying Xhosa as if it were named after Irvin Khoza.

I am, however, ashamed that my Xhosa language acquisition has since stalled.

I took German literature at Uni because I assumed that I would just learn African languages naturally, by diffusion, with friends. This was not the case. For some reason the many German and Xhosa speakers I’ve met don’t seem eager to be my language instructors.

The learning has slowed down and now my German is even better than my Xhosa. So if ever you’re in a situation where you need to introduce yourself, I’m your man.  Therefore a conversation with me will go something like this: “Asikhulume Muvhango Khulubuse Medupi Generations Isidingo Ndiyaxolisa”. I’m still damn proud of that click though.

____

When we step outside of our comfort zones is when we learn the most, but also when we fear the most. The unknown is scary in any culture or situation.

I have no excuse, because I should be making more of an effort. I haven’t because I still believe I have plenty of time, and friends, to learn. With my German, however, I only had three years to learn it from scratch. I had a deadline, and really good teachers.

This brought me to the subject of names. What will it take for certain people to get names right?

I wish that more people with “difficult” names would just say NO. Having an apparently conventional name, I’ve never been asked if I have a nickname, or alternative. You see, if it were business terminology, or an international client, I have a feeling that these people asking for a nickname, something easier (for them) would make the effort.

Growing up I always appreciated the way that the Afrikaans people in my life would insist on correcting others about certain words, yet butcher African names. However, although not very eloquent (or nice) this reminded me of that Afrikaans campaign with the pay-off line “Praat Afrikaans of hou jou bek”. And why shouldn’t Afrikaans people get to say something like that? My wish is that others would insist on the same. When I met someone with a six syllable Xhosa name, everything I thought I knew went out the window. For the first time in my life I had to sit down and practise a name. When I found out that her name was that of her clan, I appreciated it even more. Her heritage was literally her name!

Speaking to a friend who experienced this at a predominantly coloured school said of her cousins “Yolisa became "Yololisa". Busiswa was transformed into "Buzizwe". They always made a point to emphasise how they "can't pronounce y(our) names".”

Most of the people I know with names that “have meanings” are either Muslim, or black African. Recently I met someone who said that his name has no meaning. I completely disagreed, because even an omission of what he called “no meaning” still tells a story.

This is the key to a better South Africa. The things we take for granted and overlook like language, because our tongues have yet to catch up with redress. Instead of learning African names just for the sake of history, or business, we should do it for everyone, instead of going for what feels gentle and safe.  If someone takes the trouble to learn your name, and makes the effort to at least try and get it right, shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to everyone?

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