Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Story is in the name

I am glad for the people who took a chance on me and contributed to making me who I am.

That being said, my mind takes me back to my primary school years, where I was taught to pray and greet in English. My teacher would only be referred to  Mam'. On my first day Mam asked me what my name was. With the confidence of a toddler I stood up with my chest in the air and shouted Mathukhwane as loud as I possibly could as if for the whole school to hear me. Ears in the air and eyes fixed on me, the whole class froze as if I had just announced that I was an alien. After a few moments of what seemed to me like a decade, my Mam asked me to repeat what i had said. Mathukhwane, I said again, only this time the volume was low and with a self consciousness because of the obvious attention I got from the class by just saying my name.

Mam' summoned me to her desk and asked that I please tell her what my English name was. As a kid, I had always thought that my middle name, Masutane, passed as my English name. It was a special name that only people in town would be comfortable with pronouncing. To me back then, middle names equaled English names. At six I wasn't exactly a Einstein. After a chat with Mam that day, it was concluded that I did not have an English name. How I felt is how any kid would feel after finding out that fairy tales are not reality. I was broken and couldn't wait to go confront my mother for this grave error.

When I asked my mother, why on of all her six children was I given strange names, she insisted that I was special and that she wouldn't have done a better job even if it was up to her. I had cried for those names, she said. Couldn't she have shoved a bottle in my mouth to suck on while she called me Elizabeth. Apparently its not as simple as that. I was never an easy one. I was born weighing less that the acceptable 1 Kg, but had been more than what one person can handle. Such stories I suspected were used to justify this mistake of not giving me proper "names". But my grandmother never missed an opportunity to let me know what work I had been and how I spent the first three months of my life wailing until someone had the sense to call me Mathukhwane. She used to tell me this story like it was one of those cooked up legends.

As the story goes, lot of people including the ancestors had to be consulted for this names. Someone once even threw in the story of how a goat had to be slaughtered  to appease the ancestors.  Many wrong names later the right one was discovered and I forever remained silent. I used to listen to such stories with much irritation because I could not find logic in them. Whoever said wisdom comes with age was right. I appreciate this heritage a lot more now. Its sad that many words of wisdom from those know know are now seen as legends that we can do without. Times have changed, we say.

We tired quicker now, and age sooner than ever before. Life expectancy in our lifetime has dropped drastically and yet we doubt those who have walked these roads before us.

My mother said I could change my names when I turned 18 if I was still unhappy. I decided on Savannah Brooke Modjadji. Argggh! Today it sounds too ridiculous to admit I wanted that. How could I have ever wanted to be anything less than who I am? My biggest fear was that I was going to be an outcast. I would always have to repeat my name a dozen times before people got it. And how indignant I would be when someone from another race couldn't pronounce my name. Silly! These were my fears when I didn't know better.

If you have asked me the meaning of my name before, you know my answer. My name is special and its the story of my life. That's what my mother told me when I asked her the same. I'm glad I didn't throw my heritage for a name that sounds easy on the tounge.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff. Soon you'll have enough to publish as a book: The Rural Girl - blogs by MMM. from The Rural Boy