My fellow country men (and women too, at that :-)) tell this joke about how the Chinese give their children names (because they are over populated, you understand, and you can have too many Chens and Lins). They climb on top of the biggest roof in the village (or maybe their own roof) and throw, you guessed it correctly!, a china bawl into the street down below. If the crushing sound came up as “Kwa”, the kid becomes a “Kwa”. If, by some mischance, it was a “Kish”, well… you get the idea! It’s also been said that you can’t throw a pebble in a Chinese street (which is bound to be packed) without hitting atleast a “Lee”, and if you called out for one, atleast 5 oriental men would turn and scream “Main aapki kya seva ker sancta hoon?” at you. Wait! That’s in Hindi.
Stop. Rewind. We were talking about names, Chinese ones! By the way, have you noticed how the Chinese government seems to be plagued from all sides in a very old testament way these days?. From the Ethiopian government – which silently accused it, along with India, as being one of the reasons behind our “yewaga gishbet”; from Amnesty international – in relation to a couple of Tibetan monks who don’t seem to want to stay put (my version) and finally, but not in the least torn-in-the-flesh way, by our very own Haile Gebre Selassie – for it’s “assm” “qesqash” environmentally unfriendly cities.
When it comes to Ethiopian names, it’s a different story. There is no denying that our names, like our world and dress codes, are changing. And perhaps they should. It certainly isn’t a change we have any control over. However, when did “ferenji” names became cool (and not weird) on an Ethiopian and “ager beqel” names started sucking?! Take a stroll down to your nearest elementary school whose students wear sweater tops, instead of plain khaki, for a uniform. You won’t be able to throw a pebble without hitting either a “Nati” or an “Abigail” (and offending their respective “Mogzit”s).
This problem is getting worse, and sometimes awfully amusing, in the many up-and-coming protestant Christian churches that my many protestant cousins have a fellowship at. Most of their renowned pastors go by self-appointed names such as “Paul” or “Joshua” and, as if that wasn’t enough, are married to women who have somehow managed to “ferenjize” their Ethiopian names into: “Judy”, “Abbi”, “Maki”/“Maggi” and, according to one reliable source, “Hermela” (for a sister that used to go by the noble Ethiopian name “Asmamiw”). And the twain shalt bear a child & name it “Prince”, if it’s a boy and “Monica”, if it’s a girl!
I don’t know how this goes down with their God, but it sounds pretty dishonest to me.
Take my distant cousin “Ayush” for example (name changed from original for “abro menor” purposes ;-)). She is a 35+ Ethiopian female who lives in the states working two jobs and going to an evening nursing school to make ends meet. She gave me a call last night. And after exchanging the usual long abesha selmata mililiswoch (the lijoch, the kebt, the massa), she asked why I kept referring to her in her old name and not in her brand new one: a name taken from a female character in the bible. I asked what was wrong with her previous name! She said she grew up being teased that it sounds like “yebuna bet set sim”, thus absolutely hates it. I didn’t tell her how I thought it’s her attitude that needs a changing, and not her name. But asked, instead, if she can feel like a Yohanan, a Rahel or a Ruth after all these years. Her reply was a hysterical laugh (people find me funny, for some reason, when baring my soul), while I huffed and puffed over the fact that my fellow more-nationalistic-than-me (if appearances could tell you anything) Ethiopians preferred to call their children by Semitic names instead of their own proud Amhara/Oromo/Tigre/ Welaita/Shinasha/Dorze/Harari… ones!
These are people, according to http://www.jewfaq.org/name.htm, who consider a name as “not merely an arbitrary designation, a random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the being named.”. So I’ll bet my life on the fact that you won’t find a practicing Jew father naming his child “MeQdela” however cute he thought it sounds. Because, to them, there is more to a name than mere “sounding cool” or “modern”. Your name defines you. It defines your “yet meta”, “yet ale”, “yet yihed”.
I don’t get it! The fact that many an “Ager wedad Ethiopians” seem to be: giving their children ferenji names, encouraging them to communicate in English and not in Amharic (at home, of all places!!) and generally try to instill Western values in them than the “home grown” ones they might actually grow being proud of.
Are we trying to chop at our “maNiNet”, piece by piece, and destroy our heritage? Why?! Because we think adopting “ferenji”/“Jew” names would make us more.. sophisticated or spiritual? Or is it because, however proud we might have [claimed] to be of the fact that we’ve never been colonized, we are & were always as bad as they make them when it comes to worshipping at the colonizer’s altar?
You don’t need me telling you, I’m sure, that we can give no justifiable excuse for “ferenjizing” our kids. But maybe you can learn a thing or two from Artist Abrar Abdo who, only two weeks ago, said this on the twice weekly ETV program “Arhibu” (now that’s what I call an Ethiopian title! ;-)). He said “An illiterate Kenyan farmer speaks English. And a Chinese scientist speaks [only] Chinese…”.
You decide which your child should take after.