They say a Rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. I do not dispute this. But a Kathleen by any other name would not be a Kathleen. She would be someone else. As conscious beings, surely our names cannot be just identifiers. Our names are a large part of our communication and interaction with others. Some names will blend, others will stick out like a sore thumb. Some names will roll off the tongue with ease, others will need conjuring spells to aid in their pronunciation, a miracle to make them form on your lips. Names that sound like songs, sweet melodies. Names that cause a lump to form in your throat, then all that comes out is a slight burst of air, the syllables in hiding, not confident enough to let themselves be voiced.
Xavier. Xavier, when it comes to alphabetical order, will likely always come last, or very close to last. A few weeks ago I did an exam for which they ranked us in alphabetical order. K, comes somewhere in the middle so you never really know when your name might come up among everyone else’s. There might be many people before K or none at all. These things are random, so as a K, I silently sit close by and wait for my name to be called up.
Not Xavier. Xavier sits back and watches everyone, ears perked up, waiting for their name to be called. He watches all this from a distance, taking a smoke, wondering what he will have for dinner perhaps. If there’s anything he knows with absolute certainty, it is that his name, if not completely last on the list, will at worst be among the last three.
Back in school, whenever exam papers were being returned, Xavier would confidently reach for the very last one. When registration numbers were dished out upon admission to high school, he did not need to scan all four sheets of paper pinned up on the noticeboard to find his name. He went straight to the bottom of the very last sheet. He always knows to start at the bottom.
Mwende. Mwende whose name is as common as can be in Kenya. You cannot have lived in this country and not heard of some names. Mwende is one such name. It is the kind of name no Kenyan could possibly mispronounce or misspell. Mwende can only be Mwende. Yet a continent away it is a name that will be mauled and morphed by foreign tongues until it becomes foreign to the ears of any Kenyan native.
“Muuhhh—weeenn–deeeyyy? Is that right?”
“Don’t you have an English name? An easier name? A shorter name?”
Gloria Marie Eduarda Delgado Ramirez. The feisty Colombian that sings her name. All of her name. In her thick, Spanish(Colombian) accent. First to last. She entrances you with it’s melody every time you ask. And you ask often because taking it all in at once is not something you are yet equipped to do. She never let’s you off with just one name, heavens forbid two. Anything less than all of them, anything less than Gloria Marie Eduarda Delgado Ramirez, and you are selling her short. She will stand at a community meeting where her peers will introduce themselves only by first names. Richard. Julia. Bob. Perhap they will add identifiers. Hi, I’m Hilda, from just down the street. But not her. Gloria Marie Eduarda Delgado Ramirez. Always a full palate of her.
Shanaynay. A name associated with lower class African-Americans. I wonder if it is politically correct to say ‘from the ghetto’. A name that puts her in a box even before she walks into a room. Read it on an interview list and already preconceived notions abound. Shanaynay has no time for stereotypes. Think all you want about other ‘Shanaynays’, or what they say about girls named Shanaynay, but she will reserve the right to be her own woman. To wear her name on her sleeve. To embrace her name. To make you say her name no matter how black or ghetto you may think it. ‘Sha-naeeey-naeeeyyy’, with an extra serving of attitude…that is how you say it!
Kathleen. Kathleen is a fairly common name to the rest of the world, but a conundrum to Kenyans! Besides having to spell my name out or give tutorials on its correct pronunciation, there’s a certain group of people that will always think that I have shrubbed my name. Battles that certain ethnic predispositions have already made sure I will never win. *sigh*
My life is riddled with having to have certificates, identification cards, badges and the likes taken back and corrected. Kathleen may outright be turned to Katherine, or someone may insert an extra ‘E’ in there. Embellishments. Let us not even start on my other names. Achieng’i vs the normal Achieng. Siminyu vs the more common Simiyu. How does one person end up with so many almost common but not quite common names? Huh? Parents of mine, are you reading this? Heh heh!
At the end of the day, the way I see it, every name comes with something. Some names, like mine, come with a war. A war that one may choose to fight or to ignore, but either way, this choice plays a role in who you are and who you become.
I’m still debating whether or not my children shall have simple names or world war spurring names.