what’s in a name….

It’s a funny thing about names. You never know how important they are until someone forgets it, or calls you by a different one.
In my tribe, when a child is born, they have to have at the very least, two names. One must come from the mother’s side, and another from the father’s side. It’s understood that when you visit your dad’s side of the family, they will call you by the name that they gave you, and your mom’s side will call you by the name that they gave you too. 
It may sound confusing, but children adapt to things very easily. Besides, what is presented to you from birth becomes the norm very quickly.
I have seven known names: Mary Bernadette Muuka Kuliwa Namwene Mukankumba and Binachisuwo.   A mouthful, I know, but you get used to it and it just becomes part of who you are and part of the family history you carry. I grew up believing Muuka came from my dad’s side of the family because they always called me that, but I just recently found out that I was named Muuka after someone on my mum’s side of the family. However, the other Muka in my name (Mukankumba) comes from my great, great, great grandmother on my father’s side and might explain why my father’s side call me Muuka.
On my mum’s side, I’m also called Muuka on a daily basis, but formally I’m Namweene. This is my great, great grandmother’s name on my mother’s side. It’s a funny thing, when I was drawing up my family tree on my mother’s side, my grandfather (great uncle in the western sense) helped me, and he only knew the female members of the tree and who their children were. In my granny’s generation, the women didn’t carry their father’s surname. Sisters would have different surnames as dictated by the family tree. That’s how matrilineal the Tonga tribe is. 
Of course, the British happened to us too (ha!) and families were expected to use their father’s name starting with my mother’s generation. It’s a sad tradition to let go and I know that my granny Celine is lobbying to get us back to our old ways, and I really hope it works…not that there’s anyone standing in her way or anything…but I digress.
Anyway, women are very important in my family and although I have two gorgeous nephews, as the first granddaughter, there’s a little special something about Roz. When I was eight weeks pregnant, I flew to Zambia on impulse because I just HAD to tell Banene (my granny in Tonga) the news myself. I had already made up my mind that if the baby was a girl, we would call her after Banene and I wanted her to be one of the first people to know. The moment I told her, she said,
“Muuka, can I ask that you please call the baby after me if she’s a girl?”
Well, Of COURSE I was going to anyway, but it’s so nice to be asked isn’t it?
The day we found out Roz was a girl, I rang her and told her that her name was secure! 🙂
As I’ve mentioned, Krys and I are not religious, nor do we plan to be anytime soon, so we knew that there would be a ritual missing from our lives. The chance to show off the baby and have the families welcome her formally into the world would not be there because this is usually covered by a baptism/christening.
Immediately Banene saw Roz, she greeted her with a big, 
“How are you mukamukuwa!”
To which my little nephew JJ said,
“Her name is not mumukuwa (sic!) It’s baby Lia!”
And this became a running joke between the two of them till the day we left.
Cecilia Namonda giving her name to Namonda Cecilia
My grandfather, for most of his adult life, was a local court magistrate. He used to dress in a three piece suit for work, with a cane and hat for extra measure.  This earned him the name Mukuwa, meaning “white person” in Tonga, and Banene was always known fondly as mukamukuwa or “wife of the white person”. And since Roz is named after her, she automatically got this name too. My grandfather passed away four years ago, so it’s a bit special for Roz to be called this to. Gee, I’m getting emotional just thinking about this.
Anyhoo, because we were going home for my sister’s wedding, I decided it would be a bit unfair to then hold a full naming ceremony for little Roz and thereby take away attention from the bride. Everyone, and most importantly, the women of the family, got to meet Roz at my sister’s kitchen party. But I still wanted to get her formally named, so last Saturday, I asked Banene if she wouldn’t mind doing this. Its breaking tradition a bit as my Mum, as Roz’s granny, is the one supposed to name her, but what the hell. Isn’t the important thing that it gets done?
So last Sunday morning at ten o’clock (you’re supposed to only name first thing in the morning, but I’ve never been an early bird!), Krys, my aunt Mary, Banene, Roz and I threaded white beads and sat in Banene’s room to complete the ceremony. I sat Roz on my knee and Krys got the camera ready. Banene took the delicate string of beads, tied them around Roz’s left hand (the naming hand of the mother’s side) and said,
“I name myself, I am Namonda Cecilia. May you live long and have a happy life.”
And made a sign of the cross on Roz’s forehead in Vaseline.
Namonda Cecilia’s bling
Banene is very religious, I don’t hold that against her, and the moment was so beautiful that it didn’t matter in the least. What mattered is that she felt it mattered, and that Roz was finally named.
So not only is Roz sporting her new proper names, but also her first bit of bling!
When we got back to Ireland, I was updating the family tree to include Roz and a few newmembers I discovered in Zambia when I noticed a very sweet and touching detail. 
Namweene, the great, great Grandmother I was named after, had four daughters, the eldest was called Namonda.
Krys told his mom about the ceremony and I am very happy to say that she has agreed to complete the father’s side of the tradition and name Roz formally when we’re in Poland in a few weeks’ time. she will place the white beads on the right hand and the two bracelets will be together till they fall off of their own accord.
This time though, we will have a proper gathering in lieu of a chrzest or christening. I’m sooo looking forward to that, and to showing off my beautiful little girl to her other family.

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6 Responses

  1. I just came across this post now and was attracted by the name. I love the fascinating ritual and history that you describe and how the names ties the children to their ancestors. Very beautiful (and your daughter has a beautiful name)

  2. Humphrey Himwaaba says:

    Lovely description of the naming ceremony. I too identify myself with the Tonga tribe of Southern Zambia….and boy didnt you give a precise description of our naming tradition that is slowly eroding away. May Namonda Cecilia leave long and pass on the tradition to posterity. Apparently my mom’s name is Milambo Cecilia.

    • Muuka says:

      I really hope more people revive these lovely ceremonies because you’re right, they are disappearing slowly in only a generation! Ndalumba kapati biya, for your comment.

  3. Lovely history and name!

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