Friday, March 4, 2011

What is your name ?

Have you ever wondered about what would happen if people didn’t have names and everybody was a random he, she, him, her, that girl, this lad? And every one would identify each other as the square faced, crooked nosed or the granny smile? Making everything and every bit of distinct feature that a person has, to be used for identification? Weird.

It would have been chaotic and deranged. There wouldn’t be any validation, accountability or trustworthiness and definitely there would be so many unstoppable crimes as there would not be a legitimate way of knowing who is who. Imagine that in a world where 7 Billion people live in, fortunately our generous ancestors have long figured that and have started giving names to themselves and their children.

Given names have different origins. The Greeks names can be derived from Greek and Roman gods, Germanic names are mostly about strength and will, consequently every name that ends with –bert has something to do with these virtues.Chinese names are the combination of the meaningful Hanzi and Hanja characters and Ethiopian names are mostly related to occasions.

Ethiopian names
Occasions can vary, it can be the season or the year the child is born. If a baby girl is born in spring then she would be named Tseday or Abeba. Hilarious, hilarious as it is unusual, to know but there is the equivalent name for winter – and the name is Keremet. Occasion can also be the current situation in the town/city or country so if a child is born at the time of war, the child’s name would be Demesachew or Delaregachew and if they add some vengeance spice the name would be Teqteqachew (ጠቅጥቃቸው).

Some names are used to magnify the names of the parents.For instance if the surname (father’s name) is Hailu (ሀይሉ) then the child name would be Ayele(አየለ) or if the father's name is Girum(ግሩም) then the first name would be Yserah (የሥራህ) .Some take this a little further and share this trend for a given name to magnify the father’s which is used to magnify the grandfather's name which finally result in names like these

Biweta Ayalqebet Biru(ቢወጣ አያልቅበት ብሩ)
Asedesache ZenaMarkos Tesema (አስደሳች ዜናማርቆስ ተሰማ)

It is helplessly unavoidable to see such names and not wonder what their extended name would be, or in the other hand be a little creative and the outcome can be something like these:

ቢወጣ አያልቅበት ብሩ ሺነው ሐብቱ ንብረቱ ወርቁ ቱሩፋቱ

አስደሳች ዜናማርቆስ ተሰማ ሕዝብ ደስአለው በጣሙ


Certain names are blocked because of legal naming convention. In Sweden a couple named their son Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, pronounced [albin] which, according to the parents , was an expressionistic development of a pregnant. For the obvious reason the name was rejected by the court. The parents then tried to change the name to A which is also pronounced as [albin], yet again it was rejected as one-letter naming was prohibited. It is not only a 43 character name that needs a diminution but also some names that are difficult to pronounce.

Diminutives (Nick names)

Needless to say, if the situation requires a person to interact with different people from different countries who apparently will have names that originate and relate to their mother tongue then some diminutives intervention is required to avoid mispronunciation. For instance Alemayehu can be Alex, Tegene - T ,Yewedyanesh - Yodi and Temtim – Timmy. Diminutives are also used for the purpose of expressing affection but sometimes are also used to oppress and destroy identity.

Slavery and Missionaries
Slave owners assigned names to the people they enslaved as a means of not only identification and not wanting to bother to learn African names but also a means of defining their authority in the new relationship of the master and slave. For that reason they give them names like "Pete," "Jem," or "Joe" used, instead of "Peter," "James," or "Joseph." "Rebeccah," "Virginia," and "Abigail" became "Beck," "Gin," and "Abby" .The names are deliberately shorted as they don’t consider the slaves worthy of having proper complete name.

Missionaries in Africa....

will continue....


  1. Interesting observation. Just to add, those kids who were born during or soon after the great Ethiopian revolution, the time the Derg took power, used to have names that indicate the event and the leaders associated with it. Names like Abyot, Dergu, Mengistu, etc were very common then but no more. I think those names can be categorized as 'endangered'.

    I think Donald Levine also said something about names, how they differ in different geographical locations in Ethiopia, and what those names say about the culture of the society where they come from etc. It is an interesting read and hope it may spice up your future writing on the subject.I think the book is titled Wax and Gold.

  2. Yeah Tarea,

    In fact you will see that in the next section and the gradual transition(extinction) of those names and newly emerged names


  3. Emi, you remind me two names which I never forget for opposite reasons: The best and the worst. The best full name I ever heard is (Tewahedo Haymanot Mulu Mengiste)four generation. The worest name is (Yemata Mamaru). I know it meant good but teenegers understand it differently.So she (yemata) was insulted by her name almost every day. semwa Anegetwan yasdefat neber.

  4. Interesting! I just recommend the text to be posted with a better format, spaced and more appealing.Thanks anyways!

  5. Yeah Naodea,

    Isnt it sad when a person gets victimized by his/her name.Dont get me started with those ..LOL

    Thanks for the recommendation
    Can you suggest me what format ?
    I normally go with what seems nice to me so I might not get it right but I definitely would like to improve it

  6. I like it more now, with the spacing!
    No need for more advanced formats, just keep on sharing ur views.

  7. It is a nice pick. Yeah Ethiopian names are mostly related to occasions and magnifying parents. but recently and specially in urban areas, you have no idea how parents pick names for their kids. what about some names which looks funny to other language speakers . Look at these ones: Sara with father names, Adera, Nega, Taye.

  8. Oh I know what you mean but most to tend to have some Biblical based names which I find some a little hard to grasp easily.

  9. wow, nice analysis. It reminds me one sad name. I know her mother died during her birth (delivery). So her name is: Kerealem.......
    Imagine every day it reminds you the death of your mom is you---
    To me this is terrible.....