What’s in a Name?


I am seated on my usual chair in the living room typing this. My brother makes fun of me about this chair. He says it’s like I was cemented here, on the dining table. Anyway, it’s been a quiet weekend. I wanted it that way. I was rather irritable at the end of the workweek. It was a crazy one. I just wanted to shut everything out and move on to February. So far, so good. I remembered to write after reading Murithi Mutiga’s piece today. It’s been a minute since I read him, or anything in the newspaper for that matter. I like how he argues his points. Very legit. He will say something you disagree with and somehow you will just nod your head along. He wonders why there is no street named after Jaramogi in Nairobi. The other piece I read this weekend was pushed to me by B, this week’s piece by Ciku Muiruri. It’s about her name or rather our names. Names. Names. Names.

As you may know by now, I never introduce myself as Caroline. Ever since my last years of campus, I just decided to leave it to my documents and move with my other names. It was mostly a branding exercise more than anything. Everyone from my past, including my best friend, call me Carol. I was Carol all through primary school although to some teachers I was Kimori. Smh. I was Carol Ngigi in high school, not just Carol but Carol Ngigi. That’s because my front deskie was also a Carol and the distinction had to be made. In primary school, there was a class below me that had so many Carols, they were distinguished by using the letters of the alphabet. Caroline A, Caroline B, Caroline C. I am not even kidding. Ask anyone who attended Kidfarmaco Primary School back in those days.

Caroline is a beautiful name. I love the name. I have never dropped it and I am not planning to, it’s on all my official documents. Only that for unofficial purposes, there are reasons I decided I didn’t have to use it. And it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a foreign name and whatnot. I honestly couldn’t care less where it came from. All I know is my parents loved the name and it’s not up to me to decide that they didn’t know what they were doing. If there are people who know exactly what they are doing and have been doing with their children, it’s those two. I love that it can be shortened to Carol. In primary school I went through this phase (I think we all did) where I would write the name differently every few months. Carolyn. Carolyne. Carrie. I thought Carolyn was a cooler spelling.

The only problem is that, first of all, that name gives me trouble pronouncing sometimes. This also applies to most of my tribesmen too. Any word with the letters ‘l’ and ‘r’ in succession can give us sleepless nights. That is unless you’re my father and it’s the least of your concerns how you pronounce words as long as you communicate. That’s the spirit, right? I mean, all these words are foreign words, no? So if we are all dropping names because they are foreign we might as well drop this language too, no? That is why I did not agree with Ciku’s piece through and through.

The other reason I stopped introducing myself as Caroline is because I’d then have to say I am Caroline Wanjiku. There are like 1,000,001 Caroline Wanjiku’s in the world. I may be exaggerating but I would not be surprised if a count was made and that number was correct. 😀 I could say I am Caroline Ngigi but then I am stuck with Caroline, the name that will make me even more awkward than I always am when introducing myself to new people because I will definitely then pronounce it wrong. We are now left with two names, Wanjiku Ngigi. I hope I have not lost you. Now, why is this not the name I use? Because only one person calls me Wanjiku. My dad. Everyone in my family calls me Shiku. Or Ciku. Unless mum is angry and finds it necessary to use the name in its full form. At some point dad would write my name as Chiku in my nursery books. And now you begin to see that people even pronounce African names in different ways. Why? Because of foreign influence. The very same influence we want to insist we are not embracing by dropping the “English” names we were given.

Think about it. It was probably not Kikuyu before the “explorers” called it that. And that’s why we have two extra vowels in the Kikuyu alphabet and don’t use a third of the Latin alphabet. The letters that existed among Africans did not look anything like this. Did they even write? They must have, but that is a whole other debate. So whether we like it or not, we are all products of foreign influence. And that does not mean there’s something wrong with that. Otherwise, we would all be walking around naked. Is there something wrong with walking around naked? Nope. But it would be weird in today’s society. So Shiku is the way I chose to spell my name for no reason other than it makes sense. Those who want to spell it as Shiko can do so, even if it pisses me off, it is understandable because only we know that the ‘u’ is the other vowel in Kikuyu; ũ. Also, the only reason I am citing Kikuyu so much is because I am not versed in other languages but I believe these differences apply across many languages.

Now, will I give my children “English” names? I don’t know. Does it matter? Yes it does. Africans, Jews etc. attached meaning to names according to our history lessons. I always wonder why Wanjiku has no meaning though. I have a feeling it did have meaning but we all lost it in the course of history making. But you know what, your name does not, in any way, make you what you are, unless you let people make you think it does. It’s all in the head. Like if I got married and decided to remain Shiku Ngigi, it should matter very little. To everyone else. Whether I drop Ngigi or not. Whether I add a hyphen to it Ngigi-[TBD]. The only person whose feelings I should consider is my husband, in my humble opinion.

And is it your name or your names? In Kikuyu we say “kwa maritwa njitagwo Wanjiku wa Ngigi”. Anyway, I was having a quiet Sunday before I started ranting. 😀

What’s in a name?


17 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Kidfarmaco is still the funniest name ever given to a school. ??

    Kid+farm? Mmh. Or Kid+Pharm? Or Kid+they farm-a-little sometimes? Did you farm?

    Or was it a school that farms kids to ‘grown’ ups?

    LOL what’s in a name anyway? A lot.

    1. I’ve seen that name in your previous posts and always wondered whether it’s a real name of a real school… Maybe it’s a private school and the owners were trying to be unique and creative. Is it a private school?

      1. Very much public. It’s the name of the estate it’s in. It was quite Indian at some point, the area. And had something to do with a farm and cooperative. I think. Will find out one day.

    2. In case you are wondering, Amoit and Eumot are two different names. I was called Amoit after my grandma (you know the drill), and my father is called Eumot. So there, Amoit Eumot. There might be 100,000 Amoit’s out there, and slightly less than 100 Eumot’s, but I believe there’s only one who can claim the combination!!

      Before I forget, my English name gives people trouble too.

    3. I have a theory. KIkuyu Dairy FARMers COoperative. You know, from back in the days when Kikuyu was a land of farmers and not expensive rental apartments.

  2. Hmm,mixed feelings about the arguements presented. I use my name Nejri coz that is what i have always gone by, except in high school. I also love the name and all its variations. Honestly, i haven’t used my English name for so long that it always sounds strange when someone uses it plus it gives Kikuyus trouble lol! I even contemplated dropping it at some point but I am too lazy. Will i give my kids English names? Maybe not!

  3. What’s in a name?

    A name is the first and final marker of individual rights, one fixed part of the ever-changing human world. A name is the most basic characteristic of our human rights: No matter how poor or how rich, all living people have a name, and it is endowed with good wishes, the expectant blessings of kindness and virtue.

    – Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

  4. NAMES!!!!
    Whenever I introduce myself as Kerubo people always ask what’s your first name?..*rolls eyes right out of sockets* African names can be first names too you know not everyone was given an english name(is always my response)… I am just glad it is not Clandestine like a baby girl in my Sunday School class *hides*.
    I still think whatever name was given to anyone shouldn’t be what defines them otherwise I would be a swamp/fertile cattle feeding spot….’ekerubo’ *sigh*

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