“My name belonged and so I belonged, drawn into a web of relationships, alliances, and grudges I did not yet understand,” Obama wrote in his memoir, Dreams: From My Father, about the airport encounter when he first visited Kenya some 30 years ago. He was astounded that a woman recognised his name and was able to trace his roots in Kenya and the rest as they say, is history. During his recent visit to Kenya, Obama admitted that that was the first time his name meant something.
So, what is in a name? I had this conversation with some friends who swore vehemently that there is no way in this life that they can ever name their children after any of their relatives because doing so means transferring the ‘demons’ and bad behaviour from their relatives to the children.
I remember my father telling me that back in the days when people could not write down their family tree, naming a child after a relation was part of keeping the family history and a way of tracing the family tree. And this is not just about the surname but the first name too. My father calls me ankhanzi (aunt) because I am named after his aunt and my mother calls my sister Janet amama (mother) because she is named after my mother’s mum and so on and so forth. Everyone in my family is named after a relative either distant or close and that is how we trace and build our family tree.
Every time I go to my village, I meet people that are able to tell my family’s history and connect me to relations I wouldn’t have otherwise known all, courtesy of names. There are many Sellinas in my village that trace their roots to the single woman whose name was Sellina and that has helped us belong and be drawn into a web of relationships.
I know people are at liberty to name their children, some even naming them after their favourite cars, animal or celebrities, what I am against is the deliberate distortion and misinformation that names are a catalyst of bad behaviour.
There is a tendency among many of us to always put blame on someone or unforeseen ‘creatures’ for our failure to raise the children. There are children who are not named after anything or anybody, but they are so unruly. I tend to wonder then how can one justify and link a child’s unruly behaviour.
Without any scientific proof that points to link between a name and behaviour, I am inclined to believe that those who claim that naming a child after a relative transfers demons to the child as superstitious people with no knowledge of the power of a name to help someone trace their roots.