What’s in a name?
South Africa-Part 3
What’s in a name? Apparently, in South Africa, a lot.
As you can imagine, South Africa is full of unusual sights, sounds and experiences. When visiting, you are delighted, but not surprised, when a monkey races over to your picnic table, deftly opens a pack of sugar with his hands and empties it skillfully into his mouth. You come to expect, when you see a mini truck drive by, 40 men stacked in the back. It’s nothing to see mopane worms and grasshoppers in your ostrich egg omelet. Yes, this country is FULL of exciting and memorable adventure. One expects to confront many new experiences and challenges.
What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty it would be to call my African friends by their given names. Two problems for me: the first was keeping my jaw hinged when I was introduced to people with names like, “Surprise, Precious, Wonderful or Don’t-Worry.” (Lovely names to be sure, but quite unexpected if you’re not accustomed. I have no problem with people calling me Wonderful, but I don’t want just anyone at church coming up to me and calling me Precious.)
I have a dear missionary friend who has met a number of people with unusual names: First Girl, Sonny Boy, Big Boy, Confident, Of Course, Never Mind, Cry…imagine how difficult it would be to stifle a giggle after being introduced to a masculine, African man, with a deep voice as, “Cry.” Can you imagine having to live up to the name, “Confident,” or “Beautiful?” Of course not—another African name!
After hearing the name, “Never Mind,” I pictured a scenario like Abbot and Costello’s, “Who’s on First:”
“Can you help, Never Mind?”
“Did you hear me, Never Mind?”
“Pick me up at 6pm sharp, I CAN’T be late, Never Mind!
My second problem was pronunciation. South Africa (Swaziland) has several languages known as, “Clicking Languages,” among which are Xhosa, Zulu and Swazi. Depending on the symbols and consonant blend, the sound will be different. Mncobi, Lenhle, Gcinile, and Ncobile are examples of names with consonant blends that have clicking sounds (these are also the names of friends I had to learn). Seeing them written doesn’t help. Pronouncing these names is like dental gymnastics. Limited by paper and ink, I can’t show you how (if I even could) or let you hear how it sounds, so I will use Wikipedia, who describes it better than I can:
Some clicks are sharp (high-pitched), squeaky sounds made by sucking on the front teeth. Other clicks are squeaky sounds made by sucking on the molars on either side (or both sides) of the mouth. For another click, the tip of the tongue is pulled down abruptly and forcefully from the roof of the mouth, sometimes using a lot of jaw motion, and making a hollow pop! (Like a cork being pulled from an empty bottle.) These sounds can be quite loud. Yet another click is made with a flat tongue, and has sharp popping sounds, like sharply snapped fingers.
You have to believe me when I say that Wikipedia makes it sound way easier! It is NOT!!! To LISTEN to the Africans is a truly AMAZING thing! When they speak, it is smooth, lovely and flowing; almost musical. When I do it, it sounds like I got stung in the mouth by a bee. If you could have watched the proficiency and the patience of the Africans as they tried again and again to show me how to say their names… Most South Africans (Swazis) are AT LEAST bilingual and speak English VERY well. They had my admiration, I had a headache, sore mouth and wet shirt. BUT! By the time I left South Africa and Swaziland I was actually able and enjoyed pronouncing the names; now it was their turn to stifle the giggling.
I’m back from South Africa and miss the clicking and cheery, descriptive names! So, from now on, you can address me as Wonderfully Sweet Peach, and while you’re at it, give it a click!