The other day that scene from Romeo & Juliet in which the star-crossed lovers secretly meet in the Capulet garden popped into my mind. Yes, I randomly remember dialogue from Shakespeare. I’m strange like that. But I digress… in this particular conversation Juliet, distressed by the fact that she could not be with her lover because of nothing more than his name, declares, “What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”
How romantic! But was she right? Is a name nothing more than a label to be distinguished from the substance? I shall dare to disagree with Shakespeare the Great and instead agree with the relatively unknown Gianni Eugenio Marco who says “Bestowing a name captures the spirit of a being. And through this holy and dangerous ability wisdom sometimes moves imperfectly like a misstep in a beautiful dance. We never name ourselves, this activity belongs to others who either bless or curse us with their designations.”
“Bless or curse.” Such an interesting turn of phrase. Growing up in Zimbabwe, it was pretty common place for people to give their children a vernacular name and an English name. I grew up in the Catholic Church, and if your parents neglected to give you an English name at birth (as my mother did. Rookie mistake she could be forgiven for since I was her first-born child) they certainly had no choice but to give you one on your baptism. I never thought much of some of the English names my peers had until I left Zimbabwe to study.
One day, while I was in varsity, a fellow student from a different country asked me a question that changed my perception forever. “Why do Zimbabwean parents give their children such strange names?” When she asked the question I drew a complete blank. Not one “strange” name popped into my head. So she helped me and listed a few. Liberty. Freedom. Evidence. Freeman. Lovejoy. At that point, the pattern that had always eluded me because I was too close to see it jumped out at me for the first time. It was so obvious that I couldn’t help but wonder why I had never noticed it before.
My mother named me Victoria, rather tamely might I add. She named my sister Isabel so she certainly is of no use to me in my effort to try to work out the answer to my varsity friend’s question. The truth is I don’t know why so many of my fellow Zimbabweans have such unusual names. I can only imagine that no parent, who isn’t a Hollywood celebrity, would willingly subject their child to a name that they imagine would be a curse to that child in the future. That means they must have applied their minds and despite the seeming lack of logic, there’s an answer buried somewhere.
Perhaps Goodman’s parents wanted a name that embodied the kind of man they hoped to raise. Maybe Moreblessing’s parents considered her an additional blessing to the family. It could be that Rejoice’s parents could think of no better way to capture their feeling at the birth of the first child. Just maybe, Liberty’s name was an obvious choice given he was born a mere 2 years after Zimbabwe gained its independence. Evidence could have been born after a long struggle to conceive; evidence of their eventual victory. Perhaps, it was never their intention that strangers would take photos of her name tag every time they dine at the restaurant at which she works. I could keep going but Microsoft Word keeps auto-correcting what it thinks are just nouns and verbs but which to me are names to be respected and capped.
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