Your name, your heritage!

April 10, 2008 at 10:34 am 7 comments

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 plugged 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.

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Suspense and climax Are we blocked yet?

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Daniel  |  April 10, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    My good friend named his daughter Naomi.I never understood the reason behind calling the girl Naomi….malete, it is not ethiopian.Kaltefa sim Naomi! ….then followed, another ethiopian family i know in the States with Raceb.
    Whatever the reason behind, the only thing i have difficulty with now is,i don’t remember them very well.Malet when i start conversation, these names vanish from ma mind. “Endet nachew Lijoch”, has saved me alot of times.No kidding ,but i won’t forget ‘Aselefech’ for a name-:)

  • 2. abyssinia  |  April 10, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    I completely agree with you on the issue of parent NOT speaking Amarigna with their children at home or in public, but proudly bragging to friends and family that “my kid eats Tre Siga, Key Wet…lik ende abatu/a”. Like you said, I see the Chinese, Indians speaking their native language with their children and I ask Why can we do the same? Why are we ashamed of our KuwanKuwa? I still have no REAL answers to my questions…all I got so far is, you will know when you have your own kids. Ayeee, yene lijoch ema beye tichewalehu. Leza Yadersen!

    As for the naming, I am okay with biblical names as We/Ethiopian are religious people. But I’m against to parents using biblical names for the sake of giving their children a “cool” or “modern” name. I think that’s wrong and un-religious act.

  • 3. abesheet  |  April 11, 2008 at 7:27 am

    Lol. Daniel. Yeah.. Aselefech isn’t the kindda name the mind willingly forgets :-). BTW, I’ve always felt sorry for kids who have ..u know.. “huge” sounding names. Like, “Nadew” for a 2 year old, for example. You wonder if it doesn’t weigh him down. Just a thought!

    Abyssinia darling: I don’t have much else to say on religious names. Except maybe can’t we give Ethiopian spiritual names for our kids? Like “Geta Yawqal” for example? And, if we have to adopt one, do we have to adopt the “English” version. Isn’t Paulos as spiritual as “Paul”. Yohannes as loved by the Lord as John? Ermias less trusted than Jermiah? And Petros, any more “Qiliblib” (i say that affectionately) than Peter?

    Every parent has every right to bring up his child in the way he saw fit. Unfortunatelly!! You just wish if they know what they are doing half the time, if not it’s significance!

  • 4. abyssinia  |  April 11, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I think some parents adopt the English version to protect their children from being profiled just because their name sounds different or difficult to pronounce, depending which part of the world they live.

    Let be real, who would select “Shewangizaw” over “Jermiah” for an interview?

  • 5. suddie  |  April 12, 2008 at 3:19 am

    Thanx Abeshet. This is a good shot. It is really good to be multilingual and it makes the kids not only more competitive in their
    future carrier but also develop their content of personality.
    But,this epidemic odd naming of the kids is really somethiing.it shows deeply the dysfunctional thinking of the parents that came from negative emotions with “we are not good enough..” So with this, people throw one of the ferlnje names whic alienate the kids from their “manninte”.Here,you need to understand this.The name per se is not the problem.The problem is the name was given to galvanize the kids with the another color which usually not uplifting because deep down the lesson was “yo aint good enogh.” I recently saw a study that habishas kids in states are not
    doing great.Why? The bible says “Nebir zengurgurinitun habisha habishanetun Yitwal?”The notion is make your kid belive on his
    content of personality not on his name.We are witnessing a guy
    who goes by an odd name (just only odd for the voting people)
    running for presidentship in States. Libona yestin.

  • 6. Tsegaye  |  April 12, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Another wonderful post by Abesheet.

    “What’s in a name?” ale Shakespeare.

    First off, let me say there were plenty of names I wish were mine growing up. By the way, I liked the name Mekdela.

    Some names just sound cool. They are easy to “maqolameT.” Awetash, Kebedech, Ayush, Difabachew, Atalay…those are cool in their places of origins: BUT here, I think, we are talking about sefere-arada.

    Now, the real issue- foreign names. While changing an existing name to somewhat Arada sounding qulmicha is acceptable, adapting it to an obviously foreign name (western really) is kinda silly.
    African names, historical names and reletive names are an exception as well I think. Kids with partents of different origins (countries) have different heretages.

    As for the explanation to a preceived increase of frenenj names in Ethio…are more people moving back with their koteta-kotet ke sidet? Raising their kids in Ethiopia? Maybe.

  • 7. lebit  |  September 12, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    lol Tsegaye, Difabachew? that was a good one … on a more serious note, this phenomenon of diaporans and their kids within the habesha cultural context is just mind boggling. when i was home, a couple came from overseas and as usual, i was left in charge of entertaining the kids. before i knew it we were conversing in English and it completely slipped my mind something was very wrong. to add insult to injury, the mother arrives on the scene and declares to everyone, quite proudly too, her kids don’t speak amharic. ‘ou ou ite … inesu mech amarigna yichiluna, ay yanchi neger’ as if by trying to speak to them in amharic i had committed a grave act of injustice upon them. i look back on that day and consider it as a sort of epiphany i had … that we, as a people, are simply hypocrites. On the one hand we are SO proud as to think no other culture is superior to ours but at the same time bow down so low to the white culture its almost sickening to watch

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