What is in a name ~ By Rachel Jere

What is name? Is it an homage to the past, an acknowledgement of the present, or a prayer for the future?

I don't know.

What I know for a fact however is that I am a child with many names. To my birth father I am Sibongile (a prayer of thanksgiving after years of childlessness, as instructed by his Swazi mother). To my mother I am teasingly NyaLongwe, in homage to her paternal Nkhata Bay roots. To those who question my Malawian heritage I am NyaChirwa (my birth father's surname) born in the clan of Chiozo, also from Nkhata Bay. To my Ngoni relatives, who hail from Mchinji, I am the granddaughter of AnaPhiri, whose father was part Chewa from the Undi clan. To my Danish relatives I am Rakel, the adopted daughter of the late Hans Andersen (no, not the writer of fairy tales, but same name). He in turn would call me Lackie, short for Lakelo, which for the life of him he could never pronounce with the correct Nyanja intonation (I was born in Lusaka). To some high school mates I am remembered as Roach (as an affectionate compliment, if you can believe that). To my kids I am Moooommmmmmm and to my husband I am often "you" or "...er". And to all of you reading this I am probably one mixed up woman.

And you could be right.

However, I am so thankful that someone (I have yet to establish who) had the foresight to give me a biblical name probably as a nod to my mother's and grandmother's Catholic faith. Rachael is a name that readily translates into many languages of the world. And I have deliberately chosen Old Testament names for my children, as well: Lea, Sarah, Hannah and Adam because theirs is also a mixed heritage. Even though for so many years I wanted to "fit in" with my African relatives and friends I knew that I would never gain full acceptance with either, nor would I spend my life in Africa. Yet I left the door open for my kids. The 3 smallest ones have African middle names which they can choose to pursue/use when they are old enough to appreciate that part of their heritage.

I go by the name Rachael because to insist on my African names would, in my opinion, be "begging black". I have grown up in Europe, my world view is definitely more European than African, and I make no apology for it. On some issues Europeans find me more African than your average black immigrant, and I make no apology for that either. I dip in and out of the cultural references at my disposal, and along the way I have woven a tapestry that borrows a strand from all my backgrounds. It is as colourful as it is liberating. I am not ashamed of my African roots, nor do I wear them as a badge (you would have to be blind not see the roots).

On the other hand, I am not a mzungu, but I refuse to "Africanise" my trans-Atlantic accent, give up my penchant for dressing down rather than up and abandon my pasta/bread/rice-heavy diet in order to be labeled African.

I am me. And I like me just the way I my am. A line walker.


Rachael wrote this as her comment to a Facebook discussion on the fact that Africans tend to have European names while it is rare to find an Anglo-Saxon with an African name.

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