What’s in a name?

Ephrem Endale Contributer

 “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any name would smell as sweet.” Te Bard said it all, and after hundreds of years there are those of us who think that calling a rose in another name would make it smell less sweeter! Or using local names in this age of AI and all the technological gadgets would be unpardonable. “What! You are using such a name in this age of sophistication!” I had this friend who presently must be somewhere on earth who believed that our names should be computer friendly! I wonder what name he’s using in the place where he resides!

In an earlier article I remember writing about a father who named his two sons Ho Chi Minh and Ché Guevara. The entire country was in the height of the revolution and such behaviors didn’t come as strange or unique. No one really knows if the father was a real fan of those two greats of history for principles or whatever he believed they have accomplished, or knew anything about them. But during those turbulent years such questions never occurred to anyone. (Riding in taxis you see that famous picture of Guevara and just try to ask the drivers who the hell he is and the answers could be so hilarious it would brighten you up even though it’s a drab and cloudy day.)

Later such names of revolutionaries and those supposed to be heroes were cast aside and ‘contemporary’ names took over. Ha! People especially younger girls start replacing their original names with Western names they hear all over the big screen. It was an epidemic of sorts. Even girls who knew about half of their country let alone other counties and cultures changed names usually at the instance of others.

Once I wrote about this same issue in an Amharic paper. By that time the name-changing trend was so out of bounds that many were really disgusted by what they were seeing and the older generation feared local names would probably be dumped and replaced by Western substitutes. (“Those damned imperialists!” Sorry, that just slipped out from the farthest depths of memory.) But the trend was so foolish and self-defeating I had to say something.

To hit home with my message I had to use some examples. So based on conventional wisdom of the times I write the first couple of local names that came to mind and their western substitutes. Now I had no particular person in mind when choosing those names and in fact knew no one using them. But since I have heard about scores of such local/foreign mix there was nothing wrong in using the examples. It was an article that brought some innocent smiles among readers. But the smile wasn’t universal.

A few days later a lady I was fairly close to phones and after the ‘mandatory’ niceties between friends she asks me if I knew a girl named by one of the examples I used. “No; why do you ask?” Well she had her reason. One example both the original and the substitute of one of my examples fitted a girl in real life. So what! After all I have heard of girls named as such and there is no reason to take this one any differently. But there was a reason, a very disturbing one too.

The father of the girl using those names phones this friend of mine and asks her if I knew his daughter. Now the father being a reader of the Amharic articles I wrote was aware the lady was friends with me. Now his question was a little unsettling. I mean the first thing that comes to mind is that the girl may have gone off the rails indulging in all those behaviors parents are scared of and dad has every right to find out who was the Lucifer behind all that might have happened to his dear daughter. But this was a story that was different in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

It so happened that his daughter, for reasons the family had no idea at all, had taken her own life a couple of weeks earlier and they were still mourning. And when he saw my article, as the grieving father he was, he thought I might have known her and could give him some insight as what she had been going through. As shaken as I was it took me a couple of days to collect myself. I then phoned him and after expressing my condolences I told him I was not familiar with his daughter. But he already had made some rethinking. He said he was wrong to ask such a question and apologized. He was taking the blame and that didn’t give me any comfort as I wasn’t after any apology! I tried my best to tell him that he did what any father would do in the circumstances. Anyways finally things cooled down and I started taking great care when dealing with such issues.

These days young girls don’t have to go through all the stages to change their local names into western ones. (Dear Halley Berry, I’m still waiting to hear that some local girl back hear has chosen to be called by your name!) The talk is that some families are doing it for them! And when you hear about names some of them are giving their daughters you don’t know how to react. I mean even if they choose that baptize their daughters with western names wouldn’t it be better if there was some rhythm between the two! But Nancy! Jenifer! Come on; they can do better than that.

Recently a young woman in her mid-twenties left for the US for good. I knew her elder and he was the one who told me that his little sister made her longtime dream come true. However it took me some precious minutes to find out about who he was talking since he used a name so Hollywood-some! (I’m not to tell you her real or even ‘amended’ name even if as to lose a dear friend.) “I never knew she changed her name!” He said that about three years back she was so optimistic of going to her dreamland she decided to change her name. Why? Well she is going to America and she has to have a name which wouldn’t be difficult to catch.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any name would smell as sweet.”

The Ethiopian Herald June 4/2023

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