A recent spurt of interest in Misungwi and Mwanza about my American name vs. Kisukuma name, Brian (Buhlayani) vs. Masanja, has had me thinking a lot the past few days about names in Tanzania.
I have attempted, over the course of the last few days, to try to come up with some general classifications for the names that are either very common among Tanzanians, or ones that have impressed me as especially interesting or unusual. It is a work in progress, but this name research as led me to devise the following 'name groups':Local/tribal names:
This group, while perhaps not the most interesting or amusing, is my favorite. The novelty of these names has not yet rubbed off on me, and I continue to be both tickled by them and often bewildered by their pronunciation.Examples
: Nyanda, Mabula, Mkote, Masele, Bahebe, Nyanjige, Majebela, and many moreLocal/tribal names with meanings that I understand:
Most of these local names have meanings. Most of the meanings are in Kisukuma, and so I have no freakin clue what they are. Like my name, Masanja - it took me a while to pinpoint the meaning of 'agreeable'. However, there are some names that I do
know the meanings of, both Kiswahili and Kisukuma. Meanings, in English, are included. These are names of people, mind you.Examples:
Pendo (love), Sahani (plate), Shibiliti (matchbook), Imani (belief), Shitungulu (onion), Chandarua (mosquito net), Jumapili (Sunday), Mashaka (doubt - apparently Mama wasn't sure if she was pregnant or not), Tabu (problem - apparently difficult delivery), Mwaka Mbaya (Bad Year - ok, this isn't a real name, a name of a person in a TV show, apparently born in a rough farming year. But Tanzanians don't seem to find the name unusual....), etc...Foreign/Wazungu names with meaning:
It doesn't stop at Swahili, though the meanings are typically a little less every-dayish...Examples
: January, Precious, Happy. Really, Happy leads this category, I hear it all the time...Old People Names:
I am not in any way passing negative judgement here. It just seems that a lot of Tanzanians, young Tanzanians, have names that I typically associate with my Grandparents' friends. Surprisingly, I've found that these names, which would induce extreme ridicule on my part in the States, are occasionally very well suited to the Tanzanians who possess them.
[Note: I have not heard any of my Grandparents actual names, Bob/Jan/Fred/Beverl. Except that in Kisukuma, when greeting my elders, they don't actually greet me but instead my paternal Grandfather. So I do actually use Fred, but it's more often 'Fuh-leddy']Examples:
Leonard, Wilhelmina, Herman, Eunice, Conrad, Edina, Winifred, Godwin, Agnes, Leon, Faustine, Titus, Ruth, Amos, Esther, Godfrey, Adelaide, etc.... (half of these names are those of high school students I teach)Common Religious Names:
As in pretty much every other part of the world, religiously-significant names are also common. Though not a huge variety here.Examples:
Abdallah, John, Hamisi, Therezia, Emmanuel, Ezekiel. Many more. Though not many Marys, maybe because it would turn out "Maly", which sounds like the Swahili word for 'boat'Boring Foreign/Wazungu Names:
Like mine!! Though I have to admit, saying 'Buhlayani' makes it more exciting. Sorry to those who might be offended to find their names listed below!Examples
: Christina, Elizabeth, George, Stanley, etc... (have only met one Tanzanian named Brian, a little baby in Misungwi town. Mama Brian is always happy to see me, tells her kid that looks, it's your namesake!!)More interesting names, but sometimes perplexing:
I think self-explanatory. This category expands every day, and I've pretty much gotten so used to these interesting monikers that I don't even think twice.Examples
: Sospeter, Deus, Selestine, Deogratius, Scholastica, Zephania, Constantine, Revocatus, Japan, Benedictor, Amerita, Singsbert (last name Themosticles), etc...My favorite name so far:
Students at the Secondary schools seem to enjoy giving themselves names. When I listened to a few wanna-be rappers doing an HIV/AIDS rap at graduation, each one managed to list at least 3 'aka's after their birth name. Often mimicking Tanzanian celebrity names (Mr. Blue, Professor J). Those names I don't like.
However, one of my Form 3 students uses a pen name when writing essays on health themes, and even on in class work.
Her name: 'Silgia'
Short for: 'Single Girl in Action'
Rock on girls' empowerment.