A Catalogue of Names

A few years back , I stood in a queue with my daughter at the Zambian border. It was a warm, sunny day with clear blue skies. Both of us were dressed in blue jeans, T-shirts, sneakers and baseball caps.
Call it perfect timing, there were not more than ten travellers in the queue and before long, we were handing in our two passports to the immigration officer. He greeted us with a smile then combed through our passports one at a time.
As he handed my daughter her passport he said, “ Young lady, with this catalogue of names; you’re either the only girl in the family or the eldest child or the youngest .”
My daughter smiled, “I’m the only girl and the youngest of the three children.’’

Before setting off, I checked my daughter’s passport. She had six names in all compared to four in mine!
I even do not know how they had managed to copy all the names on the birth certificate straight into the passport. Instantly I remembered how we had arrived at these six names; her father had given her his maternal grandmother’s name, one of his aunt’s name and I had given her my mother’s name and one other name I had always admired. A week after she was born, one of the paternal grandmothers had come to welcome her into the family. She had taken one look at her and said, “Oh! She looks like my third sister. She should take her name.”
On seeing their interest and amusement , I accepted. For the aunt, a child symbolized the future while a grandchild symbolized continuity and conveyed permanence.
Names give us identity, roots and a sense of belonging. Each one starts off as an individual belonging to a family, community and a country. Belonging is being accepted as a member or part. The psychologists tell us that a sense of belonging increases meaningfulness of life. You go through life without feeling alone and this boosts your intellectual level, social skills, mental health and physical health.

I for one was the eldest girl in the family and I was named after my paternal grandmother, my only paternal aunt and my mother’s best friend in the Nursing and Midwifery Training School. The aunt also ended up as one of my godparents. She took her responsibility seriously and as I grew up, she became my friend, mentor and sponsor. She made sure that I grew into a well behaved, disciplined and helpful young woman. I admired her relative independence in the home and her kindness. I learned a lot of good things from her like sharing the little you have with others, putting your family first and using your talents and skills to lift others up. Looking back now, I have to admit that she influenced my life positively.

The names we are given give us multiple dimensions of our identity. The surname or family name links you to your family and lineage. This has been going on for generations and in the Bible when the boy who later grew up to become ‘John the Baptist’ was given the name John, the friends and neighbours were surprised. They raised their concern, “But you have no relatives with that name!’’
Marcus T. Cicero( 106BC-43BC) said: “ The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.’’
The living has to pay attention to the names he/she is given and grow into them without losing her/his identity. Indeed you belong somewhere and it should make sense to you.

Thank you for reading this post. I would like to hear the story behind your names. Please feel free to share this post among family and friends.



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