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A Voice From Africa - Gotta Have a White Name!

Mukiwa is Peter Godwin's story about what it was like growing up white in Zimbabwe - the son of a country doctor and an engineer. Peter grew up in Zimbabwe during a time when white settlers, mostly from England, had taken over power from the Africans who had lived there for thousands of years. In the section below, he describes how the Africans he knew got their English names.

"Older Africans, whose parents couldn't speak English, tended to have an arbitrary English word as a name. They believed that having a name in the white man's language would attract the white man's power. So they were called by any English word their parents had chanced across: words like Tickie, or Sixpence, Cigarette or Matches were commonly used as names. The next generation of Africans, who were the target of Christian missionaries, tended to have Old Testament names; Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah and Zephaniah. Baby girls were often called after the emotion felt by the mother at birth - Joy, Happiness, Delight. But, as far as I know, there were no girls called Disappointment, Pain or Exhaustion. Finally, Africans began taking ordinary names popular with European settlers. Usually they would retain an African name as well, which only they knew... Names were often corrupted by semi-literate District Assistants at the Department of Native Affairs, where births were supposed to be registered. My mother had a medical orderly called Cloud, who should have been Claude but for the slip of a clerk's pen. And on Violet's documents she was called 'Vylit'...


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