Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Names and Meanings

The other day, I was at the clinic working with the home-based care nurse on a project, discussing the mobile clinic, and brainstorming future health trainings to do for the community. I spend a fair bit of time working with this nurse on various projects and have gotten close with her so mornings spent in this manner have become commonplace.

In the midst of a particularly insightful and hot debate on continued HIV counseling, she stopped and asked me what my "other name" means. (Note: in Botswana, it is common for people to have two first names and they go by both depending on the situation and/or preference. One is their Setswana name and their "other name" is their Westernized name.) I explained that my name didn't have a particular definition but that it was a combination of my parents' names and I proceeded to tell her the story of how my name came about. She looked at me questioning. She then inquired further - "How did you learn your name when you were young? Isn't it just random letters put together with no reason and no meaning then? That must have been confusing." I hadn't thought of it that way before.

Setswana names all have a meaning and children are often named for very particular reasons. For example, I have friends that are sisters. The first is a young girl named Neo, or "gift", and the second is another girl named Gape, or "again". Neo was named because a mother's first child is a gift and obviously Gape was named because the mother had another baby girl... Again!? Or take my Setswana name, Kamogelo, which means "you are welcome". My host family named me that because they were welcoming me into their home when I first arrived in Botswana.

Similarly, Batswana's "other names" are drawn primarily from the Bible. There are many girls named Esther and boys named Moses. There is something to point towards with each name and some sort of message or meaning behind them.

I told the nurse that my name did not have a meaning but that I don't remember having any problem learning my name when I was young. It was always just my name and pointed to me when said. After leaving the clinic, however, I continued to ponder this. Today, four days after this conversation, I have decided that my name means "Of Tina and Jeffrey".  I have also decided that "Westernized names" have a broader definition than Batswana can possibly imagine right now. It means creativity and uniqueness. My name is encompassed in that.

Happy Tuesday tidbit about Botswana - cultural exchange to both Batswana and Americans!

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